100 Techniques

Technique #68: Make Tortillas without a Tortilla Press

You don’t need specialized tools for the perfect tortillas at home.

Published Aug. 25, 2023.

This is Technique #68 from our 100 Techniques Every Home Cook Can Master

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While supermarket tortillas are undeniably convenient, they taste like cardboard compared to homemade versions.

Luckily, making both corn and flour tortillas is far easier than you think.

The ingredient lists are short, the doughs are forgiving, and you don’t even need a tortilla press.

Testing the Variables

Recipes typically call for dry ingredients and water to be kneaded together into a dough, which is then pressed into thin tortillas using a tortilla press. But the specialty equipment isn't necessary. We also tested other variables, including whether to add salt (yes), how long to rest the dough before pressing the tortillas (not long), and how best to cook them (a cast-iron or nonstick skillet).

A Necessary Ingredient

When making corn tortillas, there’s no substitute for the masa harina. This is large field (not sweet) corn that has been dried and then cooked with an alkaline solution in a process called nixtamalization, which turns it into hominy and unlocks big, toasty corn flavor. The hominy is ground into masa harina, a type of corn flour.

Fresh homemade white corn tortillas.
Fresh homemade white corn tortillas.

Household Items Come in Handy

We found that for shaping the soft dough for corn tortillas, a plastic zipper-lock bag cut down the seam on both sides will give your tortillas a better release than parchment paper will. Pressing the dough flat using a glass pie plate gives you control over the process.

Don’t Skimp on the Fat

While developing our recipe for flour tortillas, we learned that too little fat produces brittle tortillas, too little salt yields tasteless ones, and baking powder makes them doughy and thick. Lard is the traditional fat, and it lends the greatest tenderness, but the shelf-stable supermarket lard that’s most readily available gives tortillas a sour flavor, so we decided on shortening instead. 

Warm Up with Water, Then Cook Down

Adding warm water to the dough melts the shortening, which then coats the flour and prevents it from absorbing excess moisture. This results in less gluten development and yields more tender tortillas. A brief rest in the refrigerator firms up the shortening again so that the dough won’t be too sticky to roll. In fact, you can simply roll out individual tortillas with a rolling pin.

Layering or covering your just-cooked tortillas with dish towels will let the tortillas steam and finish cooking. By the time you’re ready to stuff them with fillings, they’ll be pliable and still warm and moist.

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Step by Step: How To Make Tortillas without a Tortilla Press

It only takes a few small adjustments to the recipe to ensure that not only are your tortillas delicious, but they can be made completely without speciality equipment. Using the right ingredients and respecting a tried-and-true process will yield perfect results every time.

See below for ingredients and measurements for our homemade corn and flour tortillas. Then return here and follow our step-by-step guide.

Step 1: Combine Ingredients 

For corn tortillas, combine masa harina, oil, and salt in bowl. (For flour tortillas, combine flour, salt, and shortening, rubbing fat into dry ingredients until mixture resembles coarse meal.) Fold in water with rubber spatula until combined.

Step 2: Knead 

For corn tortillas, knead dough in bowl until dough is soft and tacky but not sticky. For flour tortillas, knead briefly on counter to form smooth, cohesive ball.

Step 3: Roll Into Balls 

Divide dough into 12 equal portions. Roll each into 1-inch ball between your hands. Keep dough balls covered as you work.

Step 4: Press or Roll

For corn tortillas, place on 1 side of cut-open zipper-lock bag and fold other side over top. Using pie plate, press dough into 61⁄2-inch-wide tortilla (about 1⁄16 inch thick). For flour tortillas, roll into 6-inch circle on lightly floured counter.

Step 5: Cook 

Cook tortillas in hot skillet until spotty brown on both sides (corn tortillas will puff up; flour tortillas will bubble).

Watch Lan Lam make perfect tortillas without a press in the video above.

Recipes That Use This Technique

Ready to make perfect tortillas without the press? Give one of these recipes a try.


Homemade Corn Tortillas

Get the Recipe

Homemade Taco-Size Flour Tortillas

Homemade flour tortillas put store-bought versions to shame with their chewy yet supple texture.
Get the Recipe


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