Iowa Ham Balls Recipe (with Brown Sugar Glaze)

This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure policy.

Ham Balls are like nothing you’d tried before! These are huge ground meatballs with a sweet edge coated in a tangy tomato glaze – juicy, moist, and full of flavor inspired by our trip to the great state of Iowa! Not only is this easy appetizer recipe totally pantry friendly, it’s absolutely perfect all year long. Whip these up for a potluck any time of the year, and your friends are sure to be pleased!

ham balls recipe.


Iowa ham balls are a testament to the character of Midwestern cuisine! Sweet and unique, they make use of ingredients you’re not so used to seeing in your meatballs. 

But I promise – it all comes together in the most delicious and appetizing way.

You have to try these and see! The first time you make this delicious recipe, you’re going to be hooked.

ham balls ingredients.

Ham Balls

Let’s talk ham! This is one protein that guarantees flavor in every ham ball recipe.

The recipe card below proves how simple and easy this savory ham recipe is – and I think they’re so much better than traditional meatballs! 

The salty ham adds loads of flavor, in a great way – making you want more. You can easily make this for Easter dinner, the holidays, or for special occasions. 

Try my copycat of Denny’s Moons Over My Hammy or just a simple ham and cheese quiche to see what I mean!

Or if you really want more Iowa favorites and don’t want to wait until the next time you’re in the Midwest, check out our crock pot Maid Rite copycat loose meat sandwiches.Iowa food is some of the best food there is! 

mixing iowa ham balls.

Ingredient Notes & Substitutions

  • Ground Sausage & Beef – I’m not using just ham.

    We’ll throw in ground sausage and ground beef to help give dimension to the flavor, a sturdier texture, and to bring everything together. 

    You could use all of one or the other, if necessary – aside from the ham!
  • Ground Ham – So ground ham is not the same as ground pork! Ham is almost entirely lean and is saltier than plain ground pork. 

    Which is just what we want! Try not to substitute if you can – it’s what gives Iowa old fashioned ham balls their tell-tale taste!
  • Graham Cracker Crumbs – You likely didn’t expect to see such a sweet crumb to bind these meatballs!

    But they’re part of the “wow” factor in any ham balls recipe instead of bread crumbs. 

    Plain graham crackers are the way to go. Get them pre-crumbled, or crush your own in a baggie with a rolling pin.
  • Condensed Tomato Soup – You’ll need two 10oz cans to get enough for a good glaze. 

    Make a substitute out of tomato sauce with a bit of cornstarch for thickness and brown sugar for sweetness. 
  • Apple Cider Vinegar & Dijon Mustard – These sour and salty ingredients are an absolute must to cut through the sweetness here. 

    There’s some wiggle room with what vinegar and mustard you use, though! Use what you like or whatever you have on hand. 
scooping ham balls.

Ham Balls Recipe Tips & Tricks 

  • Size Matters – These meatballs are a bit large – that’s part of their appeal! 

    They also need to be large to make sure all of the wet ingredients hold up after baking. You can decrease the size to about ¼ cup or so, but not any smaller! 
  • Love A Thick Glaze? Any glaze can be made thicker with a bit of cornstarch! This is the best part! 

    Make a slurry out of equal parts cornstarch and water, adding the mixture in very small quantities until it thickens to your liking. 
  • Grind Your Own Ham – Ground ham can sometimes be hard to find. 

    You can make your own by putting diced or a sliced baked ham into a food processor and pulsing until the texture is similar to that of ground pork. 
pouring sauce on ham balls.

Storing and Freezing Leftovers

Iowa ham balls can be kept chilled for up to 5 days in an airtight container. 

Store all of the leftovers along with the glaze so that they can continue to soak up all of its zesty, sugary flavor! 

These can also be stored in the freezer for up to a month!

If you would like to make these ahead of time to freeze, then wait to prepare the tomato glaze until the day of baking. 

To freeze, form the balls and lay them on a baking sheet to freeze for 30 minutes or so. Then, add all of the partly frozen meatballs to a freezer bag. 

Let them thaw in the fridge overnight before baking!

This will help to cut down on your total time prep and these leftover ham balls will be ready to enjoy in no time at all. 

ham balls in casserole dish.

Ham Balls FAQ

What goes good with ham meatballs? 

I always love to serve meatballs with fresh bread! Try Italian bread, cornbread, a French baguette, or a deliciously buttery garlic bread.

Other starches are good as well – mashed potatoes or baked potatoes, for example. Green bean casserole is another awesome addition and is great if you’re looking for some healthy eating options. 

Or you can freshen things up with veggies! Any salad can be served on the side to balance out the meal. The best thing is the versatility of these ham balls!

How do you heat a fully cooked ham ball? 

The best way to reheat ham balls is to simply stick them back into the oven! Heat at 350°F until warmed through to the center. 

These sweet meatballs can be paired with a simple sweet glaze or served with any other Iowa classic dish that you want. You can even use this as the main dish or an appetizer, depending on the type of party that you’re at.

I like to make this as one of those special meals to end the week. This is my favorite way to enjoy this yummy recipe. And I love that they don’t take a lot of time to make! 

How can you tell when ham balls are finished cooking? 

Because of the glaze and combination of meats, it isn’t as easy as taking a look at color or texture. If you want to make sure they’re done after an hour of baking, use the internal temperature of the meat as your guide. 

It’s a bit tricky, as we’re working with more than one protein, so we’ll base it on the meat that requires the highest temperature for safe consumption. In this case, it’s beef – which needs to get up to 160°F.

Iowa ham ball cut in half.

With love, from our simple kitchen to yours. 

Don’t miss a thing! Follow us on
Facebook | Twitter Pinterest | Instagram 

Iowa ham balls in sauce.

ham balls recipe.

Iowa Ham Balls

Donna Elick
Ham Balls are a sweet and savory midwestern recipe you just have to try! Iowa ham balls put a tangy twist on your classic meatball.
4 stars from 1 review
Tried this recipe?Please comment and review!
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Total Time 1 hour 15 minutes
Course Appetizer
Cuisine American
Method Oven
Servings 8 (2 meatballs each)


  • 1 pound ground sausage
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 pound ground ham
  • 1 onion, diced small
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 2 cups condensed tomato soup, two 10 ounce cans
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • chopped parsley, optional (for garnish)


  • Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  • In a large mixing bowl combine the tomato soup, brown sugar, apple cider vinegar, and Dijon mustard with a whisk and set aside.
  • To another large mixing bowl combine the meats, eggs, graham cracker crumbs, onion, milk, and salt. Mix well.
  • Use a 3 Tablespoon scoop to portion out meat approximately the size to fit in the palm of your hand. Shape into 15 balls and set 3 rows of 5 snuggly into a 9×13 casserole dish.
  • Pour the sauce over all the ham balls, covering completely.
  • Bake in the oven for 1 hour uncovered, basting half way through.
  • Garnish with parsley if desired.

Donna’s Notes

These ham balls are really are quite large. That’s the “thing” about them, aside from being sweet. You can make them smaller but not less than ¼ cup. It’s a wet mixture, so to stay together, the balls do need to be bigger than the average meatball.


Serving: 1 | Calories: 528cal | Carbohydrates: 29g | Protein: 35g | Fat: 29g | Saturated Fat: 10g | Cholesterol: 157mg | Sodium: 1303mg | Sugar: 20g | Fiber: 1g | Calcium: 73mg | Iron: 4mg

All nutritional information is based on third party calculations and is only an estimate. Each recipe’s nutritional value will vary depending on the ingredients used, measuring methods, and portion sizes.

Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!
iowa ham balls recipe.

Originally published October 2022, updated and republished November 2023

Disclosure: Posts may contain affiliate links. If you purchase a product through an affiliate link your price will remain the same and The Slow Roasted Italian will automatically receive a small commission. Thank you for supporting us, it helps us keep creating new recipes.

The Simple Kitchen cookbook affiliate linked banner


  1. 4 stars
    I think the recipe is really great, but since you have made the print so pale, I can’t be sure. I’m 86 years old, but still love to cook and often cook for others, but I can’t read your recipe. I’m blind in one eye and have macular degeneration in the other. Please go back to the bolder print for we the handicapped..

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recipe Rating