How To Select A Tortilla Press

tortilla press
photo credit: gourmetsleuth

About

A tortilla press, called a "tortilladora" in Mexico, is a simple metal or wooden tool has a base, top, and handle used to make corn tortillas. Balls of masa are placed in the center of the press, pressure applied and the dough is flattened into a round, flat tortilla. The press is used to make only corn tortillas. Flour tortillas are normally rolled thin with a wood rolling pin.

Before The Mexican Press

The traditional method for making corn tortillas (tlaxcalli is the Indian word and tortilla is the Spanish word) was to flatten balls of fresh dough between your hands. A skilled tortilla maker can pat the dough back and forth and create a perfectly round, thin, corn cake (tortilla). Another method was to flatten the dough on a banana leaf, turning the leaf with one hand and patting with the other to form a nice round tortilla. The "modern" way to make tortillas is with a press, or to buy them from the local tortilla factory.

There is a great little Mexican cafe in Santa Barbara, California that Julia Child used to frequent called La Super Rica Taqueria. There is a woman there that makes all the corn tortillas for each order, all by hand, no press. It's worth the trip just to watch her (and the food is fabulous and fresh too). Seating is outdoors in a covered patio area.

Cast Iron Tortilla Press

Rick Bayless, author of "Authentic Mexican" as well as star chef recommends using a traditional cast iron tortilla press for making fresh tortillas. Small rounds of masa are inserted between the two plates and with one simple press... a fresh tortilla is made!

The primary advantage of the cast iron press is "leverage" and weight and makes your pressing job a little easier. If you are making lots of tortillas frequently then this may be a good way to go. The down side is the press is heavy to lift and move around (about 6 - 8 pounds).

Cast Iron Tortilla Press Sizes

Typically the tortilla press ranges in size from 6" up to 8".  The traditional versions are still made in Mexico and South America although products are being made in China now as well.   Most of the Chinese made products are aluminum or plastic so we suggest you steer clear of those.

Selecting The Right Finish

  1. Classic Silver Coating - The typical Mexican tortilla press has a "silver" painted on coating normally "crudely" applied. The purpose of the coating is to prevent the cast iron from rusting. Don't be concerned about the "paint job" because you never put dough directly on the surface. (See tortilla making instructions). The "rustic" nature of the "authentic" Mexican made tortilla press is part of the fun of Mexican cooking.  These presses tend to be less expensive. We don't sell this style of press.
  2. Powder Coating - Powder coating is actually an electrostatic applied finish. It is more smooth to the touch but more important does not flake like the more common silver coating.  If you dont' like a flaky surface this is a better choice for you.  View this product
  3. Unfinished - Some manufactures are now offering an un-coated tortilla press.  The press has a light seal coat on it but no painted surface. This is a good choice if you prefer no painted coating. These presses must never be soaked in water and always dried well before storing or they will rust.  View this tortilla press

norpro tortilla pressCast Aluminum Tortilla Press

The aluminum press is light and easy to handle. It is pretty and shinny but you have to press harder so you get a bit more exercise using this press. Too much pressure may actually snap and break the press. There are some aluminum presses made in Mexico although the preferred is cast iron. A popular cast aluminum version is made by Norpro, made in the Orient.  Our advise is unless you think you'll make tortillas once then never again, then buy a better quality press.

The Wooden Tortilla Press

mesquite tortilla press

The wooden press is pretty with an overall larger footprint than the cast iron versions. Wooden presses are still commonly used in Mexico.  Even when we travel to outdoor Mexican markets in the U.S. we still see them in use for making fresh corn tortillas and also for making epanadas.  Our version as shown above is made from solid blocks of hard mesquite wood. Many common presses are made of pine but that is a very soft wood and they just don't hold up for long periods of time.  The better press as shown above is made of mesquite or oak, both of which are much heavier hard woods. With an 8" x 8" platform it will make a very generous sized tortilla.  

The downside to the wood press is that they are commonly more crude than the one shown above.  The bolts and hinges are normally steel and are prone to rust. This does not affect the usefulness of the press but just the aesthetics.  Also this press is pretty big and bulky and takes up a lot of storage space. 

Encino Wood Tortilla Presses

encino wood tortilla press

Another good quality (but very hard to find) is the "encino wood" tortilla press.  Slightly smaller and more compact than our larger mesquite version but still features an ample 8" platform. Encino wood is a hard white oak native to Mexico. The overall dimensions are 11" long x 8 1/4" wide. The actual tortilla making surface is about 8"" square.  (Currently out of stock)

The other more common wooden press is made out of natural soft pine and is the type of press frequently found in small Mexican grocery stores.  The wood is almost white in color and unfinished and very light weight.  Pine will eventually warp and become unusable so we don't suggest that type of press.  You are much better off with a cast iron product than a light-weight wood press.

Bottom line, if you feel you need or want this type of press, only purchase a hardwood product (mesquite or oak).

The Electric Tortilla Press

electric tortilla press

It was only a matter of time....There have been several versions of the electric tortilla press available in the last several years.  A new version has hit the market that is worth consideration.  Although we are proponents of the "traditional powered by humans version" we think that this electric press has some virtues.

To use this gadget you plug it in, place a ball of dough between the plates, press, bake, all in one step. Beyond use for making tortillas you can make other nutritious flatbreads like  pita, Roti, Foccacia, Gryo and Moo Shoo pancakes.  The press plates are 10" in diameter and are made of heavy weight die cast aluminum for even heat distribution.  The press can sit on it's end for compact storage.  Buy the Best Revel CTM-660 8" Tortilla Maker/Flat Bread Maker

How To Make Corn Tortillas

This is an overview of how to make corn tortillas. For a complete description including pictures view our Corn Tortilla page.

  1. Prepare the corn, make the masa dough or use masa harina, corn flour.
  2. Take a small amount of dough and roll it between your hands into a ball.
  3. Place a sheet of plastic wrap, or a plastic bag and cover the plates of the press to prevent sticking.
  4. Place the masa ball on the center of the press base, sit the top of the press on top of the ball and press the handle downward to "press" out the tortilla.

Care For Your Tortilla Press

  • Cast Iron Press:  Using the plastic "baggie" method for making your tortillas you cleanup will be quick and easy. Simply wipe off the bags so you can reuse them (no need to toss them out each time). Then wipe the press clean and place paper toweling between the plates to absorb any moisture.
  • Wood Tortilla Press: The same basic care is used for the wood press.  You may want to give the interior an occasional light sanding with fine grit sand paper.  The exterior can be maintained with wood-block oil. 

About Corn Flour - Masa

The Spanish name for corn flour dough is masa. The traditional method of making masa is to boil field corn in a solution of "lime", called "cal" and water.  The corn is then washed thoroughly and crushed with a metate y mano, or a corn mill (molino). The process can be lengthy but rewarding.  The flavor of fresh corn tortillas is by far superior to the pre-made flour variety (masa).

Pre-Made Masa Flour

If you are lacking time or inclination to make homemade masa then you may want to consider buying a premade masa flour.  The two most common store brands are Quaker and Maseca, with Maseca being the superior product. To use this product you just add water, stir, let the dough rest, then roll and flatten.  It is much less work than grinding your own corn and still a rewarding process.  Both the store brands use GMO corn.

Organic Masa Flour

Recently organic masa flour has become available. The quality is excellent, all non-GMO.  Read more about our organic masa flour >>

The Oaxacan Steel Tortilla Press

We receive quite a few requests for a larger tortilla press. Normally this is because people want the press for making flour tortillas.  As we have mentioned before, presses are for corn tortillas or any flour that does not have gluten. (Any tortilla made with a flour with gluten needs to be rolled, not pressed).  That said if you want a really large corn tortilla, these monster presses from Oaxaca may be what you are looking for.

heavy steel extra large tortilla press from oaxaca

Image by: The Mija Chronicles 

We have seen these presses as small as 10" and up to 12".  The are made from painted rolled steel and weigh in excess of 20 lbs.  The weight of the press allows you to make very thin, large tortillas.

author

Barbara Bowman graduated with degree in Foods and Nutrition from San Jose State University. As CEO of GourmetSleuth.com she spends most waking hours writing, cooking, eating, gardening and traveling.