Ham Balls | A Classic Iowa Recipe - Mom's Dinner (2024)

Published: by Susie Weinrich · This post may contain affiliate links. 80 Comments

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Ham Balls are a classic Midwestern meatball recipe. It is even more specific to Iowa and Nebraska. It is an unusual recipe that turns out so incredibly delicious. Ground beef and ground ham are mixed with graham crackers crumbs and formed into meatballs, they are then baked with a tomato brown sugar glaze.

I grew up in Iowa and this is a recipe that we had often! It is a typical Sunday night family dinner recipe.

Ham Balls | A Classic Iowa Recipe - Mom's Dinner (1)

Ground Ham for Ham Balls

Ground ham can be hard to find in the grocery store. Actually I don’t think I have ever seen it in the store, unless you are in Iowa!

We are talking ground ham here, not ground pork! Ground pork is made from the shoulder (aka. pork butt). The ham is cut from the leg and is dry or wet cured and sometimes smoked. Ham has the distinct flavor that you are looking for in ham balls.

Ham Balls | A Classic Iowa Recipe - Mom's Dinner (2)

You will want to purchase a 1-1.25 lb. ham steak or bone-in ham steak. Once it is ground you will want it to be the consistency of ground beef. You have a couple options to make ground ham.

  • Grab a ham steak at the grocery store and ask the meat counter to grind it for you.
  • If you have a meat grinder attachment to your stand mixer you can grind the ham steak that way.
  • I prefer to “grind” it in my food processor. Cut the ham steak into 2 inch chunks then pulse the processor about 40-50 times. You will have perfectly ground ham! (see the photo above)

Graham Cracker Crumbs

Unless you have had these Ham Balls you are probably thinking that graham cracker crumbs are a really odd choice! Just trust, they add a sweetness to the ham balls that perfectly compliments the salty ham and the tangy vinegar in the sauce.

If you need to make graham cracker crumbs you can crush a couple plain graham crackers into a fine crumb. Or you can pulse them a few times in your food processor.

How To Make Ham Balls

This ham ball recipe is pretty simple, it is just a matter of mixing the ingredients and baking.

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In a large bowl lightly mix together 1 lb ground beef, 1 lb ground ham, 1 cup graham cracker crumbs, ¾ cup milk, and 1 egg.

Form large meatballs, about ⅓ cup in size, and place in a 9×13 baking dish. You should have about 12-15 meatballs.

Ham Balls | A Classic Iowa Recipe - Mom's Dinner (4)

In another bowl mix together 1 can tomato soup, ½ cup white vinegar, 1 cup brown sugar, and 1 teaspoon dry mustard. Whisk it all together and then pour the sauce over the meatballs.

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Place in the oven at 350 degrees for 1 hour, basting the top of the meatballs with the sauce once or twice during cooking.

Let the meatballs cool for about 5 minutes and then serve with mashed or baked potatoes and veggies.

Ham Balls | A Classic Iowa Recipe - Mom's Dinner (6)

Other Meatball Recipes

If you love meatballs here are a few other recipes to try:

  • Instant Pot BBQ Meatballs
  • Baked Chicken Meatballs
  • Instant Pot Turkey Meatballs
  • Easy Meatball Sub Sandwiches

Ham Ball Recipe

Ham Balls | A Classic Iowa Recipe - Mom's Dinner (7)

Ham Balls

Ham Balls are a classic midwestern meatball recipe. Ground ham and ground beef are mixed together with graham crackers and topped with a tomato brown sugar sauce.


4.90 from 56 votes

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Prep Time: 15 minutes minutes

Cook Time: 1 hour hour

Servings: 5 people

Author: Susie Weinrich



Ham Balls

  • 1 lb ground ham see note about finding and/or making ground ham**
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 cup graham cracker crumbs finely ground
  • 1 egg
  • ¾ cup milk



  • Preheat the oven to 350°

  • Combine the meatball ingredients. In a large bowl lightly combine the 1 lb ground ham, 1 lb ground beef, 1 cup graham cracker crumbs, ¾ cup milk, and 1 egg.

    Make large meatballs. Form the mixture into large meatballs, about ⅓ cup in size each. Place into a 9×13 baking dish. You will have about 12-15 meatballs.

  • Whisk together the sauce ingredients & pour over meatballs. In another bowl whisk together the can of condensed tomato soup, 1 cup brown sugar, ½ cup white vinegar, and 1 teaspoon dry mustard. Pour the sauce over the meatballs.

  • Bake 1 hour. Bake in the oven, uncovered, for 1 hour, basting the tops of the ham balls with the sauce once or twice during cooking.

  • Cool & eat! Let the meatballs cool for about 5-10 minutes and then serve with mashed or baked potatoes and veggies.


Ground Ham

Do not buy ground pork, you want ground ham. This can be hard to find in the store. You can buy a ham steak or bone in ham steak and grind it to the consistency of ground beef.

  • Have the butcher grind it for you.
  • Use a meat grinder attachment to a stand mixer.
  • Grind in a food processor by cutting the ham steak in 2 inch chunks and pulse the processor 40-50 times. (this is the method that I use)

Did you try this recipe? Connect with me & let me know how it turned out by commenting below!

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If nutrition facts are provided they are calculated as an estimate to the best of our knowledge.

Originally Published December 2019, Copy Updated and Republished December 2020

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About Susie Weinrich

Susie Weinrich is the recipe developer, food photographer, and content creator behind Mom's Dinner. She has over 20 years experience in the food industry. Currently, Susie shares all her recipes and food knowledge on Mom's Dinner. You will find her recipes are easy to follow and full of tips and tricks to make sure the recipe you are making turns out perfect!

Reader Interactions


    We would love to have you comment & rate the recipe!

  1. Bev Backer

    Are there do ahead things that should be done in a certain way? Otherwise, I plan on making the meat balls and rolling them so the next day all I have to do is put them in the pan and add the sauce.
    Is that OK?


    • Susie Weinrich

      100% that will work great! You may need to add 5 minutes to the baking time when cooking straight out of the fridge. Happy Holidays, Bev!


  2. Mamma T

    I’m from Iowa but using your recipe since I have misplaced my own and this I’d the most similar I could find quick. My only suggestion is to brown the ham balls in a skillet or a sheet pan first then sauce and bake. The mix of textures and flavors is amazing. I do spice my sauce up a bit with Sriracha sauce.


  3. delighted in Minnesota

    Ham Balls | A Classic Iowa Recipe - Mom's Dinner (13)
    absolutely wonderful – my family loved them! They wanted to take home leftovers. Not enough left. Next time 2 pans.


  4. Karen

    Ham Balls | A Classic Iowa Recipe - Mom's Dinner (14)
    These were so delicious! My husband and I just kept saying how good they were. Such a simple recipe also. We used leftover ham that he had smoked. We simply ground it up. Now he needs to smoke another ham so we can make these again!


  5. Nancy

    This sounds so interesting, but I’m wondering, can the sugar in these be greatly reduced? I usually prefer things to be significantly less sweet than most people; that 1 cup of sugar is giving me pause as that’s more than I use in an entire year.


    • Susie Weinrich

      This is a “sweet meat” dish. If you reduce the sugar you will probably want to reduce the vinegar amount too, as the sugar balances the vinegar content.


  6. Cheryl Somers

    Ham Balls | A Classic Iowa Recipe - Mom's Dinner (15)
    I have whole pan that were cooked in sauce and then frozen.. didn’t eat them all. What is best way to reheat for dinner


    • Susie Weinrich

      I would let them thaw in the fridge as long as you can. Then cover with foil and bake at 350 until they are warmed through, could be 15-30 minutes depending how frozen they are.


    • Janet

      I make these all the time .they are delicious. Sometimes I get lazy and use mini bread pans and make ham loaf instead of meatballs…and one I didn’t have everything for the sauce but I had cookies bbq sauce so I used it and it was quite tasty


  7. Lisa

    Ham Balls | A Classic Iowa Recipe - Mom's Dinner (16)
    My husband has become very picky in his old age, I was fascinated with the ingredients and had left over Easter ham saved for bean soup so decided I was going to make these even if I’d end up eating them all myself. Ha! I got 2. He loved them and ate them up as leftovers too. Definitely a keeper recipe. Thanks! Can’t wait to try them on grand children.


  8. Sherri

    Ham Balls | A Classic Iowa Recipe - Mom's Dinner (17)
    Totally new idea/concept (being from Arizona) for us and really liked these. Pulsated ham. as suggested and looked just like ground beef, per say. used 93% ground beef (what I had) and cinnamon graham crackers as it did not specify but again what I had (and others added cloves so figured it would work). Perfect

    Really loved these but need to double the sauce recipe as not enough to actually cover the meatballs and leave as a sauce. So reason for only 4 stars. Now have to make the sauce again for the remains’/left overs.

    Will definitely make again just double the sauce.


  9. Janet

    Ham Balls | A Classic Iowa Recipe - Mom's Dinner (18)
    My family loves these. I use some of the left over ham from the holidays


  10. Pam

    I have made these for sometime. My family loves them and they freeze well. The sauce is more of a sweet and sour sauce. Different than putting on beef meatballs. Yummy! I use leftover ham a lot and we have our own lean home raised beef and I add ground pork sometimes. Allow about 3 ham balls per person.


  11. Jenny Stoops

    Ham Balls | A Classic Iowa Recipe - Mom's Dinner (19)
    I looked forward to making these because the ingredients intrigued me, I love ham loaf and (to overcome my hesitancy with the unusual combination of ingredients) all of the positive reviews. I followed the recipe exactly – they looked beautiful! They were not greasy (based on reviews I splurged on a high brand lean ground beef). The texture of the meatball was perfect and the sauce looked beautiful. But….they were not good. They were very strange tasting and not in a good way. Maybe it was the beef/ham combo – maybe it was the Graham cracker – not sure but We literally could not eat them. Disappointed. I hate to waste food- I hate to post negative reviews (nothing against the author ) – but if you are on the fence about the combination of ingredients – follow your instincts.


    • Pam

      Right there with you. They are awful.
      Pretty. Cooked well…… taste terrible.


  12. Brenda. Hughes

    I’ve had these before. So delicious, you can’t get enough of them


« Older Comments

Ham Balls | A Classic Iowa Recipe - Mom's Dinner (2024)


What are ham balls made of? ›

Ham balls are like meatballs but with a different mixture of ground meats: ground ham, ground beef, and ground pork. The main meat is ground ham. Since ham is a cured cut of pork with a smoky quality, it contains a different flavor than ground pork alone.

Is ground ham the same as ground pork? ›

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!

Can you grind your own ham? ›

Grinding your own ham at home can be a rewarding and cost-effective way to create delicious ground ham for various recipes. With the help of a food processor, you can easily achieve the perfect texture and flavor.

Are fareway ham balls precooked? ›

Ham balls. Ham balls come fully cooked, so all you need to do is warm through prior to serving.

Is spiral ham real ham? ›

What Is a Spiral Ham? A spiral ham is, in a nutshell, a bone-in ham that's been sliced with a special spiral-slicing machine, which carves the meat into perfectly thin slices while allowing it to retain its show-stopping centerpiece shape for optimal presentation.

Is ground pork healthier than beef? ›

WebMD explains that pork still contains high amounts of zinc and iron, as well as niacin, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, selenium, and phosphorus. While both types of meat offer rich amounts of vitamins and minerals, if you compare them side by side, ground beef wins almost every category, except one – sodium levels.

Which is healthier ground turkey or ground pork? ›

As you can see, the most significant difference between these two meat sources is their fat content. Otherwise, they contain many of the same vitamins and minerals in comparable quantities. The main exception is that turkey usually has a much higher concentration of B vitamins.

Can I use ground pork instead of pork sausage? ›

While it's optimal to choose the correct pork product for the fare you're making, there are times when ground pork and ground pork sausage can actually be used interchangeably. And knowing this can save you at the grocery store if your desired product is out of stock.

Why is ham only sold cooked? ›

The answer, in short, is if it is cured, smoked or baked, ham is considered “pre-cooked,” and would not technically need to be cooked. This includes the ham that is purchased at the deli. In fact, most ham that is sold to consumers is already cured, smoked or baked.

Can ham become bacon? ›

No, ham is already precooked. You can make fried ham out of it, but that's about as close as you can get. It's kinda similarly brined/cured, but different. Bacon is pork belly.

Why don t they sell raw ham? ›

Pork is also tender when fully cooked, so the specific qualities of the meat don't really encourage people to eat it raw, or medium.

What are the white balls on deli ham? ›

These spots can be caused by a number of factors, including the presence of amino acids like tyrosine. When the protein in the ham breaks down during the curing process, it can result in the formation of these white spots. The short answer is yes, white spots on ham are completely safe to eat.

What are sausage balls made of? ›

Sausage: This sausage balls recipe starts with a pound of ground pork sausage. Use hot ground sausage for a spicy kick. Baking mix: Use a store-bought mix, such as Bisquick, or make your own at home with pantry staples. Cheese: These sausage balls wouldn't be complete without shredded Cheddar.

What is the slime on packaged ham? ›

Get rid of it. Slimy, super-wet, or oily textures on the outside of your ham might indicate bacteria growth. Juice can just be congealed oils, so use your senses to see if anything else is off. Slimy ham that's growing bacteria will usually have a smell that indicates spoilage.

How are football hams made? ›

This ham begins with a select leg of fresh Ontario Pork. Skin, excess fat, H-bone and hock are removed. The ham is then cured, smoked and fully cooked.


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