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! 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!
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!
Ingredient Notes & Substitutions
- Ground Sausage & Beef – I’m not using just ham. We’ll throw in ground sausage and 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 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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
Ham Balls FAQ
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.
Or you can freshen things up with veggies! Any salad can be served on the side to balance out the meal.
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.
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 off of the meat that requires the highest temperature for safe consumption. In this case, it’s beef – which needs to get up to 160°F.
With love, from our simple kitchen to yours.
Other Meatball Recipes
Iowa Ham Balls
- 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.
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.
Originally published October 2022
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