The molcajete is a cooking tool that although not absolutely necessary this day in age, it does have its uses, benefits and looks. Mexico’s version of the mortar and pestle (the pestle being called tejolote) it has been used for thousands of years to pound, smash, grind and mix ingredients such as herbs, spices and chiles, create rubs, pastes and sauces.

It is traditionally made of basalt volcanic rock, which is very porous and rough and it makes it very heavy. There are however, newer versions of lighter material, that I am not so fond off. When new, there are many takes of how to “cure” them, so they can begin to be used. Some people grind white rice, while others grind peeled garlic cloves.  I like to do both. So just take either one or the other, or both, and grind them with the pestle. Then just wash with a soapy sponge and rinse under cold water.

Molcajetes stand on three short legs.

They are sometimes carved in the shape of an animal, most typically pigs, which can look friendly or quite scary.

piggy molcajete

A wonderful thing about molcajetes, is that since they are so porous they have a remarkable memory. They store within them, the essences, oils, smells and flavors of all that has been served or made in them. Maybe that’s why it is said that molcajetes season with time and use. Maybe that’s also why it is said that making a sauce or rub or paste in a molcajete makes it taste better…

While it is not an essential cooking tool in most homes, some people are adamant about their use for Mexican food, as it does make a difference in taste. Also, it is used as a serving dish for salsas and guacamoles both in homes and restaurants as well as hot sauces and dishes because it keeps food warm for a long time.

45 comments on “Molcajete

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  1. Hola Pati !!
    Where can I find those great colorful pots you use. You use them on your stove top and you use them in the oven. I love that!

    1. So many people ask me about this one Rose, isn’t it awesome? I got it in a street market in Mexico and have never seen it anywhere else 😉

  2. I watch your PBS TV show, have tried a few recipes & been enjoying your recent Facebook LIVE demo’s. Tonight I’m going to make Julio’s Albóndigas with Chipotle and Mint. Local Mexican market had some molcajetes so I purchased one. I’m going to cure with garlic, salt & rice. Can’t wait to taste the results. Good health to your husband, boys & the professional families that keep you “cooking” on my TV, computer, iPhone, laptop & tablet.

    1. Thanks Frank for the good wishes and for tuning in, glad you enjoy the show! Be ready because the new season is premiering this fall from the gorgeous state of Sonora 😉

  3. Hello Pati, I am wondering how many times does this take? I remember that when I was a little girl I “helped” my grandmother cure a molcajete but since I was so young I don’t remember how many times she actually did it, any advice?

    1. Hey Cindy, thanks for your question. Just cure the molcajete once before the first time you are going to use it, then it will keep curing itself as you prepare salsas, guacamoles, etc. Have fun!

  4. I was given a mocajete about a year ago. Use it once and my salsa have small stone grit on it. I’ve put it in the dishwasher, that still didn’t work. There’s still stone grit on it. Any suggestions to get rid of it. Otherwise, I’ll just throw it away. She got it in Mexico on her vacation. Thank you for a response.

    1. You need to cure the molcajete before using it. I cure mine by grinding white rice and peeled garlic cloves. Then just wash with a soapy sponge and rinse under cold water. I hope you enjoy your molcajete, Maria-Luisa.

  5. I purchased my molcajete in Can Cun nearly 30 years ago. I use it for all kinds of spices. Mexican, Indian, Japanese Philippines you name it. It has become a fusion tool.

  6. One tip I would offer on curing cookware is that if you are serving people with sensitive taste-buds, the general rule is not to use soap on such things (mortar and pestle, or cast iron pan, for instance). Fresh water is actually quite capable of safely cleaning things. Soap will speed up the process but it can also penetrate the surface of the seasoning or curing and alter the flavour of foods prepared on it.

    1. Hmmm…I’ve never seen one of his, so I’m not sure, Eleesheva. You can usually find one at your local kitchen store or Latin/International market.

  7. I have my molcajete for 55 years. It was given to me for a wedding gift. I use it all the time.
    I gave one to each of my kids and to my grandsons. They like it very much.

  8. I just bought my first Molcajete. Seasoned it with rice, salt, rice and more rice! Then I made a traditional salsa, using fire roasted serranos, tomatoes (from my garden), a bit of onion, some tomatillo and garlic. OMG! it is very spicey but so flavorful. Love it.

  9. Is it natural for the molcajete to have such big holes. My mother in law gave me her old one, it’s heavy and beautiful but the holes are so big, I feel like I’m wasting food. And forget about grinding spices. What can I do?

    1. Holes are natural since the molcajete is made of volcanic stone. But they shouldn’t be so large that you are loosing food in them…maybe it’s time for a new one.

  10. I’m on it! Let’s pray my son falls in love with the salsa and all the other uses of this wonderful gift he gave me. Also
    hopefully it will be used and be passed on for years to come. Thank you Pati! 🙂

  11. Hola, Pati! I just bought an authentic molcajete at a tiny Mexican food store in Tupelo, Mississippi but don’t know how to properly season it. One online site says you should grind dried beans four times (using a fresh batch of beans each time and discarding the ground stuff), dried corn times, dry white rice four times, then grind water-soaked white rice several times to be sure there is no rock residue remaining, rinse with warm water and dry upside down. We’re willing and able to follow the instructions but I trust you like no other when it comes to authentic Mexican food and cooking utensils. Is this a traditional seasoning method or is there a good way to do it without all that labor? Thanks!

    1. Congrats on your molcajete Meg! You will love it. There are so many takes on how to cure a new molcajete, but I always like to take both rice and garlic to season and prep my molcajete.

  12. Pati, do you have any recommendations of where to buy an authentic Mexican molcajete online? Looking for my father in law who is from Cotija and always has had them taken away from him at airport customs! I would love to buy one for his birthday, but he won’t be happy unless it’s just like the one his mother used in Cotija! Any input is appreciated! Thanks Pati, you’re the best!

    1. Cynthia I recommend looking online or at a cooking store for a good molcajete. I hope your father-in-law enjoys it!

  13. Where can I get an Authentic Mexican basalt lava rock molcajete? I want the real deal…not a composite. I am an avid Southwestern cook (living in the South now) and my shopping resources for Mexican cuisine items here are nil. Lots of Internet sights are deceiving. Please help me find a reliable source. Thank you!

    Yours truly,

  14. I bought my molcajete from a steak restaurant in Sonora. It was an interesting trip back with it…but we’ll worth it. It was already seasoned from the restaurant use!

      1. A treasure indeed! I love watching your show. I could watch hours on hours of it and I enjoy preparing the recipes as well.

        Keep up the great work! Banderita’s all around!

  15. Hi Patricia
    I Love your page and love your guacamole recipe; I also lived in Oaxaca Mexico for some time and learned how to make some salsas, but nothing compare to yours; I also learned that a molcajete must never be wash with SOAP, since it will leave residue and actually change the taste of your future recipes. Here is a suggestion
    How to clean a molcajete:
    Rinse all of the food and spice particles out of the molcajete. To do this, simply run tap water over the surface of both the bowl and the pestle. Your goal here is to remove excess food particles that rinse off easily.
    Plug up the kitchen sink, and place the molcajete in the sink. If your sink is easily scratched, place a dish towel on the bottom of the tub, to prevent the rough stone of the molcajete from scratching the sink’s surface. Fill the sink with hot water. Allow the molcajete to sit in the hot water for approximately five minutes, to soften up any particles that are trapped in the craters
    Use the stiff-bristled brush to scrub the molcajete bowl and pestle. This will remove the stuck-on food, as well as any residue that might be left on the molcajete.
    Drain the sink and rinse the molcajete in warm water.
    Gently scrub the lemon on the surface of the bowl and pestle of the molcajete. Lemons have natural odor-absorbing properties, and this will help absorb the scent of any Mexican spices that were ground up in the molcajete. The lemon juice can be allowed to dry on the molcajete before putting it away.

    1. If odor is a problem or you have really stuck on stuff, then a simple application of baking soda and water mixed to form a paste and spread over the surface will work. Just leave the paste on there for 10 minutes or so then scrub the area until it is clean, rinse well. If your baking soda is especially active this may “exfoliate” your hands, so you might want to wear gloves if you have sensitive skin.