Grocery store tamales can really save the day sometimes.

When you're out of the stash you made at the last tamalada you attended or that your neighbor brought over or that you picked up from your favorite restaurant, the everyday tamales available at local grocery stores are an ideal (and easy) dinner or lunch.

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But I've had some pretty terrible store-bought tamales, to be honest. Dense and greasy, filled with very little meat or wrapped in minimal masa, those tamales I've learned to avoid simply by looking at the package.

In recent years, however, I've discovered some really good tamales sold in the freezer aisle or the deli, depending on the store and the time of year.

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Earlier this week, I collected five kinds of tamales from five local stores — Fiesta, H-E-B, Central Market, Whole Foods, Trader Joe's — to do a side-by-side taste test for my weekly livestream on the Austin360 Facebook page.

Rather than microwaving them, which is how I usually heat them up when I'm making a quick lunch, I steamed all the pork tamales in a metal basket nestled in a large pot of boiling water. (If I were reheating a large batch of them at home, I'd use my rice cooker or Instant Pot to steam them rather than pulling out my large soup pot and colander.)

I asked my newsroom colleagues to pick their favorites, and unlike some of the other recent grocery store taste tests we've hosted, where we had a clear winner for rotisserie chicken or pumpkin pie, the tamales were more of a draw.

Some people preferred the mole-like filling of the Trader Joe's tamales ($5.99 for six), which had a lightly colored masa and cinnamon-spiced red sauce inside. Others couldn't get enough of the richer Fiesta tamales ($9.99 for 12), whose masa was well seasoned and completely enveloped the braised pork inside. The H-E-B and Central Market tamales were both saucier than the others, especially the Central Market ones ($12.99 for 8) that had a combination of beef and pork inside, almost like chile con carne. The H-E-B pork tamales ($8.49 for five) are higher quality than the store's Hill Country Fare brand of tamales, which I have had and do not prefer, with a good texture in the masa and a good masa-to-filling ratio.

My least favorite of the bunch were the only tamales I could find at Whole Foods. From a company called Padrino ($5.99 for six), they were the only non-store brand in the taste test, and they were in that category of overly dense masa with ho-hum filling. I tried to include tamales from a few Mexican meat markets, and although they do sell them by the dozen, the tamales I found were served hot and ready-to-eat from the prepared food counter, much like you might order them from a restaurant, so I decided not to include them.