All tortilla warmers aren't created equal. They come in a variety of materials and designs, and some fulfill their main purpose of keeping tortillas warm more successfully than others. Some can be used to heat the tortillas they hold, while others can only keep tortillas warm once they've been heated elsewhere. Get to know the pros and cons of the different types of tortilla warmers before you need to use one.
The Spanish name for tortilla warmer is calentador de tortilla, which translates to "warmer of tortilla."
Types of Tortilla Warmers
- Plastic. Plastic tortilla makers are inexpensive and offer the advantage of being microwaveable, so you can heat your tortillas and store them in the same vessel. Both plastic and microwave ovens are relatively recent inventions compared to the length of time that tortillas have been a staple food, but this combination offers the serendipitous combination of heating tortillas quickly and also keeping them warm.
- Terra-cotta. Terra-cotta tortilla warmers are thick-walled vessels made from clay. Like plastic warmers, you can place them in the microwave to warm your tortillas, but, unlike, plastic, this type of warmer can also be placed in a hot oven. Unlike the plastic version, terra-cotta warmers can keep tortillas warm for the entire length of a leisurely meal because the thick clay holds heat longer.
- Foil. While aluminum foil isn't designed as a tortilla keeper, it does a respectable job of keeping tortillas warm. Use a conventional oven or a toaster oven to heat tortillas wrapped in foil. The foil will keep your tortillas warm and moist for up a half-hour if you're not planning to serve them immediately.
Heating Tortillas in a Tortilla Warmer
When heating tortillas in a tortilla warmer, your goal is to keep them warm without letting them grow dry or brittle. Although not quite traditional, microwaves do an excellent job of warming tortillas in the plastic or terra-cotta tortilla warmers mentioned without allowing steam or moisture to escape.
Whatever vessel or heating technology you use, heat your tortillas until they're thoroughly warmed but not long enough for them to actually cook. The tortillas you buy (or even make) will be fully cooked by the time you put them in your warmer, so heating them longer than necessary can make them dry and brittle, unsuitable for tacos.
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Holding Tortillas in a Tortilla Warmer
Cold tortillas are unappealing, and they can take some of the joy out of an otherwise perfect taco. A tortilla warmer on your table serves the dual function of not only keeping your tortillas warm and moist, but also showing that you care about your meal. It's a serving dish with a dedicated purpose, and it can be both functional and visually appealing.
A plastic tortilla warmer will keep your tortillas warm for about 20 minutes, long enough for everyone to get their first round of tacos and possibly seconds. A terra-cotta warmer keeps tortillas warm for an hour or so, or possibly longer, but after that length of time, the tortillas start to dry out even if their temperature is still OK. A foil packet actually keeps tortillas warm for 45 minutes, but if you're serving guests, it can look like a hasty makeshift solution rather than a thoughtful serving dish on your table.
Types of Tortillas
Both corn and flour tortillas are most appealing when they're warm and moist, so a tortilla warmer that works for one usually works for the other. However, there are some nuances and variations in the way the two types of tortillas behave and the ways they should be handled. Flour tortillas don't hold up to moisture as well as corn, so check them often to see if they're getting soggy, and if they are, take the lid off your tortilla warmer for a few minutes to help them dry out a bit.
Devra Gartenstein is a self-taught professional cook who has authored two cookbooks: "The Accidental Vegan", and "Local Bounty: Seasonal Vegan Recipes". She founded Patty Pan Cooperative, Seattle's oldest farmers market concession, and teaches regular cooking classes.