Skip to Content

Hunt For Iowa’s Famous Ham Balls + Recipe

Of all the Iowa food I’ve encountered, ham balls are the oddest concoctions yet. Or maybe it’s just the name of the dish that’s weird. Sweet meatballs made of park might not be that strange after all. 

Iowa is the nation’s top producer of pork. And there’s only so much pork tenderloin a person can eat. So what to do? Make ham balls?

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. At no extra cost to you, a purchase made through an affiliate link earns bloggers like me a small referral fee.

A ham ball on a toothpick

I’m just making that up (the part about eating ham balls instead of tenderloin sandwiches…it’s a fact that Iowa is the top pork producer).

Some try to attribute it to Nebraska or say, rather broadly, “it’s Midwestern,” but we all know it in our hearts: It’s as much an Iowa specialty as loose meat sandwiches. You can learn more about them in Darcy Dougherty Maulsby’s book, “A Culinary History of Iowa.”

What’s in a ham balls recipe?

Ham balls are a classic comfort food of sorts. Ham balls typically consists of some ground-up ham, and typically mixed with a concoction of graham cracker crumbs, brown sugar, eggs, mustard, vinegar, and tomato soup. That’s all scooped into balls, cooked, and then served.

A serving tray of ham balls


Ham balls and RAGBRAI

I’ve tried to find it on a regular menu, but ham balls aren’t a crowd pleaser unless you’re serving them up to people in spandex.

Specifically: Cyclists.

RAGBRAI riders arrive in Nevada, Iowa in 2018
Photo courtesy photolibrarian

Churches often serve it as part of a fundraiser during RAGBRAI each year (including one church in Villisca and another church in Manson). It was described by an Orlando reporter recalling the foods she had on the route as “like the best meatball I’ve ever eaten.”

RAGBRAI, for the uninitiated, is one of the longest bike rides on earth, a weeklong of cycling, beer, pie, and apparently, ham balls.

Make your own famous ham balls

Ham Balls

A traditional Iowa recipe for the side dish or potluck favorite, ham balls.
Course Side Dish
Cuisine American
Servings 12


  • 1 9×13 casserole dish
  • 1 small sauce pan


Ham Balls

  • 1 1/2 lb Ground beef
  • 1 1/2 lg Ground ham
  • 1 cup Graham crackers crumbs
  • 2/3 cup Milk
  • 1 Egg
  • 1 tbsp Minced parsley


  • 1 can Tomato soup
  • 3/4 cup Brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup White vinegar
  • 1/2 tbsp Yellow mustard


  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  • In a large bowl mix together the first 6 ingredients until well combined.
  • Scoop into 2 inch balls.
  • Grease a 9×13 casserole dish.
  • Place ham balls into the baking dish.
  • Bake for 45 minutes.
  • In a small sauce pan, mix together all sauce ingredientsCook over medium heat until smooth and slightly thickened.
  • Pour over baked ham balls and bake for 15 minutes.
  • Remove to serve.
An easy recipe for the Iowa potluck staple: Ham balls!
Recipe Rating

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.