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Growing up, I never realized that food is utterly regional. Take this ham balls recipe for example. I always thought everyone had ham balls and knew what they were. In Iowa, we were able to buy ham loaf from the local grocery store and quickly make ham balls.
Little did I know that not everyone could easily buy ham loaf to make ham balls as my mom did so easily at the store. When I went to college halfway across the country and tried to buy ham loaf, the butcher looked at me like I was crazy. Thankfully, ham loaf is easy to make at home!
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. While these three types of meat together sound like an interesting combination, the mixture results in a flavorful and perfectly-textured meatball.
If you have not had this recipe, you’ve just found your new favorite meatball!
The ingredients in these ham balls
- Ground ham is the reason these are called ham balls. The ground ham carries the flavor of cured ham and can be purchased in most meat departments. If you cannot find it pre-packaged, ask a butcher to grind it for you.
- Ground beef and ground pork are mixed with the ham to create a richer, more complex flavor as well as a better texture. Just like in traditional meatballs, the mixture of meat is essential in creating a good meatball.
- Graham crackers are crushed and act as bread crumbs. The graham crumbs have a sweetness that works well with ham. This is totally a Midwest thing!
- Milk adds richness and provides a soft texture when mixed with the cracker crumbs. If possible, use whole milk for the best flavor.
- Eggs help the ham balls hold together without being too firm.
- Tomato soup is a surprise base ingredient that creates ham balls’ iconic sweet and tangy sauce. The premade soup can be store-bought or home-canned. Tomato soup has good acidity but also a mellow tomato flavor on which to build the sauce.
- Apple cider vinegar adds some additional acidity to help create a sweet tangy sauce.
- Brown sugar is the sweetness that creates a depth of flavor that only molasses can impart.
- Dijon mustard rounds out the sauce and finishes it without anyone knowing there’s added mustard.
This is a recipe you need to make in order to truly understand and appreciate it. Traditionally, Easter is a day when ham is served. Ham balls were always my family’s way of changing up the menu while still sticking to tradition. Maybe it’s time you switch it up this year too!
What should be served with this recipe?
Ham balls should be viewed as the main dish, but there are so many complimentary side dishes. Here are some of my favorites:
- Homemade scalloped potatoes
- Classic deviled eggs
- Asparagus spring salad
- A spring cobb salad that has a delicious creamy herb dressing
- German potato salad
- Herb and vinaigrette peas
Watch how to make these ham balls
For the ham balls
- 1 lb ground ham
- 1 lb ground beef
- 1 lb ground pork
- 1 cup graham cracker crumbs
- 3 tbsp grated onion
- 2 large eggs
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 ½ tsp salt
For the sauce
- 1 ¼ cup condensed tomato soup
- ¾ cup brown sugar
- 1 ¾ tbsp Dijon mustard
- ½ cup apple cider vinegar
- ½ tsp salt
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9×13 baking dish and set it aside.
- In a large bowl, combine the ground ham, beef, pork, graham cracker crumbs, onion, eggs, milk, and salt. Combine until well mixed and homogenous. The important step is to make sure all ingredients are combined.1 lb ground ham, 1 lb ground beef, 1 lb ground pork, 1 cup graham cracker crumbs, 3 tbsp grated onion, 2 large eggs, 1 cup whole milk, 1 ½ tsp salt
- Evenly portion into 15 balls and place in the prepared baking dish.
- Prepare the sauce in a large measuring cup by combining the tomato soup, vinegar, brown sugar, mustard, and salt. Whisk to combine and pour over the ham balls.1 ¼ cup condensed tomato soup, ¾ cup brown sugar, 1 ¾ tbsp Dijon mustard, ½ cup apple cider vinegar, ½ tsp salt
- Bake uncovered in the preheated oven, basting with the sauce every 20 minutes. Bake until the ham balls are firm and reach 160°F internally, 45 to 60 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve.