Don't worry if you've never heard of ham balls. They're well known in the Midwest for their unique sweet-tangy flavor, and they may just become your new favorite meatball.
Iowa Ham Balls Recipe photo by Taste of Home

If you grew up in the Midwest, ham balls might have been on the menu for Easter or Sunday dinner. And if you didn’t, this iconic regional food could become your new favorite meatball recipe! This recipe is as delicious as it is unique. It features a ground ham-and-beef mixture bound together with graham crackers. These crisp, honeyed crackers might seem like an odd addition to a savory recipe, but bear with us. Graham crackers give ham balls their characteristic sweetness, and they pair perfectly with salty ham to create a delightful twist on a classic meatball.

The ham balls (also known as “Iowa ham balls”) bake in a sweet-tangy tomato sauce that’s somewhat reminiscent of a meat loaf glaze. The sauce’s light acidity adds depth to the meatballs. Meanwhile, the molasses-rich brown sugar complements the graham cracker flavor to tie the whole dish together. You’ll want to spoon up every last bite of this sticky-sweet sauce.

How to Make Ham Balls

Like other meatball recipes, ham balls are easy to make. However, depending on where you live, it may be difficult to find ground ham. Some butchers will grind boneless ham for you, but there are several ways to grind meat a home. Many stand mixers offer grinding attachments, and you can use a food processor to grind meat without a grinder.

You can make ground ham with leftover ham, ham steak or a store-bought boneless ham roast. For bone-in ham, remove the meat from the bone, then cut the meat into 1-inch cubes. Chill it in the freezer for about 30 minutes. (Chilled meats grind more easily, and they have a better texture once ground.) Finally, pulse the cubes in a food processor until they reach the consistency of ground beef.

Ingredients for Ham Balls

  • Ground ham: Ground ham is an essential ingredient in this ham ball recipe. It gives the meatball mixture its rich, salty and savory flavor.
  • Ground beef: Ground beef adds flavor and texture to the ham balls. You can use any type of ground beef. Our advice for the best ground beef for burgers also applies here: Lean ground beef works just fine, but an 80/20 blend will be juicier and more flavorful.
  • Eggs and milk: You’ll find this combination in most meatball and meat loaf recipes. Eggs and milk are binding ingredients that hold the other ingredients together.
  • Graham cracker crumbs: Graham cracker crumbs are another binding ingredient. They absorb moisture from the eggs and milk to help the meatballs hold their shape. They also add a lovely sweetness that’s unique to Iowa ham balls.
  • Tangy tomato sauce: These ham balls bake in a sauce made with undiluted tomato soup, vinegar, brown sugar and prepared mustard. It glazes the ham balls with a sweet-tangy flavor and gives them a gorgeous hue.


Step 1: Shape the ham balls

Mixing meat with ingredients TMB Studio

Preheat the oven to 325°F. In a large bowl, mix together the ground ham, ground beef, eggs, milk and graham cracker crumbs.

making balls out of meat mixtureTMB Studio

Scoop the mixture using a 1/3 cup measure, and shape into 2-inch balls. Place the balls in two large shallow roasting pans.

Step 2: Prepare the tangy tomato sauce

Making Sauce for ham ballsTMB Studio

In a large bowl, whisk together the tomato soup, vinegar, brown sugar and mustard.

Pouring sauce over ham ballsTMB Studio

Pour the sauce over the ham balls.

Step 3: Bake the ham balls

Ham Balls served in a large bowlTMB Studio

Bake for one hour, basting frequently with sauce.

Editor’s Tip: Cook ham balls until they reach a food-safe cooking temperature of 160°F.

Recipe Variations

  • Change up the crackers: If sweet meatballs aren’t your thing, swap in Ritz crackers or saltine crackers for the graham crackers.
  • Make pineapple-glazed ham balls: Skip the tangy tomato sauce, and make the sauce with crushed pineapple or pineapple juice instead. You can use the glaze from our pineapple-glazed ham as inspiration.
  • Use ground pork instead of beef: Substitute ground pork for some (or all) of the ground beef. Just don’t skip the ground ham, because this recipe simply isn’t the same without it.

How to Store Ham Balls

Store ham balls in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to three days. Reheat ham balls in the microwave, or gently simmer them in the sauce on the stovetop, until they reach an internal temperature of 165°.

Ham Balls Tips

Ham Balls served on plates with beverageTMB Studio

Is ground ham the same as ground pork?

There is a big difference between ground ham and ground pork. Ground pork is made by grinding raw cuts of pork, usually from the pork shoulder. Ground ham, on the other hand, is made from a fully cooked, brined type of ham known as city ham. The meat is not raw, and it has a salty, seasoned flavor from the curing process.

What to serve with ham balls?

As a main course, this ham ball recipe can be served with your favorite vintage side dishes, such as loaded red potato casserole, Parmesan roasted broccoli or cauliflower au gratin. You can also serve ham balls as an appetizer. Simply place them on a platter with toothpicks, or keep them warm for a party in a slow cooker.

Iowa Ham Balls

This is a special recipe my whole family likes. Every time they visit and I make ham balls, they're all smiles. When I take this to potluck meals, I'm always asked to share the recipe. It's very appropriate for my region, too, since Iowa farmers raise prize-winning pigs and cattle. —Helen Koehler, Liscomb, Iowa
Iowa Ham Balls Recipe photo by Taste of Home
Total Time

Prep: 15 min. Bake: 1 hour


15 servings


  • 3-1/2 pounds ground ham
  • 1-1/2 pounds ground beef
  • 3 large eggs, beaten
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 3 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 2 cans (10-3/4 ounces each) tomato soup, undiluted
  • 3/4 cup vinegar
  • 2-1/2 cups packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon prepared mustard


  1. In a large bowl, combine first five ingredients. Using a 1/3 cup measure, shape mixture into 2-in. balls. Place in two large shallow roasting pans. Combine all remaining ingredients; pour over balls. Bake at 325° for 1 hour, basting frequently with sauce.

Nutrition Facts

1 serving: 632 calories, 29g fat (10g saturated fat), 128mg cholesterol, 1671mg sodium, 60g carbohydrate (46g sugars, 1g fiber), 32g protein.