Making homemade corn and flour tortillas is easier than you think, and the results are above and beyond anything you can buy at the grocery store.

By Jackie Freeman
April 19, 2015
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Chef John's Corn Tortilla | Photo by Chef John
| Credit: Chef John

What's the Difference Between Flour and Corn Tortillas?

There are two basic types of tortillas, flour and corn:

Flour tortillas are most often made with a mixture of all-purpose wheat flour, baking powder, and fat. Lard is the traditional fat used to make flour tortillas, and it helps the dough roll easily at room temperature. But, if you don’t have lard on hand or want to make a vegetarian option, you can swap it out with vegetable shortening or butter. Flour tortillas are usually made larger and thinner than corn tortillas because the gluten in the wheat flour allows the dough to be stretched without falling apart, plus the fat in the dough keeps it from cracking and tearing when you're rolling it out.

Corn tortillas are made with masa harina, water, and sometimes but not always a little fat. Masa harina is dried hominy that has been soaked, washed, and treated with slaked lime or ash, then ground to produce a flour or dough. Don’t mistake it with cornmeal or corn flour – tortillas made with these other flours will not turn out right. Some stores even offer pre-mixed masa harina dough, so all you have to do is roll and cook.

And, there’s no reason to stick to just masa harina or all-purpose flour. Have some fun and experiment with different grains, which change the flavor and texture, like Mexican Whole Wheat Flour Tortillas or Oat Bran Tortillas. You can even make tortillas for special diets, like Keto Tortillas or gluten-free Cassava Flour Tortillas.

How to Make Tortillas

HOMEMADE FLOUR TORTILLAS
| Credit: Holiday Baker

Whether you’re making flour tortillas or corn tortillas, or any other homemade tortilla recipe, the steps to making tortillas are basically the same.

This recipe for flour tortillas is made the traditional way using lard. Watch the video to see how to mix the ingredients to make the flour tortilla dough, how to knead the dough, divide it into balls, roll the balls flat into rounds with a rolling pin, and cook the tortillas in a hot, dry skillet.

1. Mix the dough. Mix your ingredients for the dough. Start with combining any dry ingredients, and then add the wet. If you're making corn tortillas, slowly stream in the liquid (usually water). If you're making flour tortillas, mix in the lard or butter with a fork, pastry cutter, or your hands until it resembles coarse crumbs, then slowly add the water. Use your hands or a wooden spoon to mix the dough until it comes together in a ball.

2. Knead it. Once the dough has come together, turn it out onto a work surface and knead until it’s smooth and elastic. This will just take a minute or two. It should spring back, like Play-Doh, and won’t be sticky. Wrap it in plastic and let rest at room temperature to let the flour absorb all of the water and let the dough relax.

Tip: If at any point the dough becomes dry and brittle, you can add a little more water to make it pliable again.

3. Divide and press. Divide the dough into the number of tortillas your recipe calls for. If you own a tortilla press, let it do the work for you. If you don’t have this pretty specific kitchen gadget, no worries! Working with one piece of dough at a time, place it in a large plastic bag or in between two pieces of parchment paper, very lightly dusted with corn or all-purpose flour. Use your palm to flatten it a bit, and then roll it as evenly as possible with a rolling pin. Aim for 4 to 6 inches for corn tortillas and 8 to 10 inches for flour.

Tip: No rolling pin or tortilla press? No problem. You can place a ball of dough between sheets of plastic, a gallon zip-top plastic bag with the sides cut open, or parchment paper, and press it flat with the bottom of a glass, metal pie plate, or cast iron skillet. If you plan to make tortillas frequently, this cast iron tortilla press will help speed the process.

4. Get cooking. As soon as you begin rolling out your tortillas, you can start cooking them. A cast iron pan is best – whether it’s a large skillet or a flat griddle that lays across two burners. (You can use a non-stick skillet, but it might cause the tortillas to get a little tough.) Stick with cast-iron, if you have it. Heat your pan over medium-high heat. There’s no need to add any oil. Cook the tortilla until brown spots appear on the bottom, 1 to 2 minutes, then flip and cook on the other side.

Tip: Hot enough? To know if your skillet or griddle is hot enough, flick a few drops of water on the cooking surface. The water should sizzle immediately when it’s at the right temperature.

5. Wrap ‘em up. While you’re still cooking and before you wrap your tortillas around delicious fillings, keep the hot-off-the-griddle tortillas wrapped in a dry towel. This not only keeps them warm but also helps to steam and soften the tortillas, as they can be a little dry and brittle right off the grill. If you’re not planning on eating them right away (though, it’s hard not to), let them cool completely then store tightly wrapped in the fridge for up to 3 days.

Tip: If you want to reheat your tortillas, wrap them loosely in a damp kitchen or paper towel and microwave in 30-second bursts until warmed through.

How to Make Corn Tortillas

CHEF JOHN'S CORN TORTILLAS
| Credit: Chef John

For corn tortillas, mix the dough as directed in your recipe, but divide the dough into smaller balls — about the size of a walnut. Keep the dough wrapped in plastic while you work with one piece at a time so the masa doesn't dry out.

Chef John shows you how to mix the corn tortilla dough, plus a special trick for laying the flattened tortilla in the hot pan to cook.

Made too many? If you have leftover tortillas, turn them into chips to serve with salsa, guacamole, and other dips. Simply cut them into wedges and fry or bake them. Don’t forget to sprinkle the chips with a little bit of salt right after they have cooked!

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