iowa ham balls

Iowa Ham Balls with Sweet Sour Glaze

“No, ga-hrose! Ham Balls?” Yeah, my sister didn’t hold back when I told her I made them. Too bad she’s so far away coz I know I could convert her with these little lovelies. They’re the real, deal Iowa Ham Balls with Sweet Sour Glaze, heritage style. No soup or ketchup.

Iowa Ham Balls with Sweet/Sour Glaze

Iowa Ham Balls with Sweet/Sour Glaze

Whaaat? You’ve NEVER had a Ham Ball? Then you’re probably not from Iowa and probably didn’t grow up with them. And you’re probably missing out. Think of pure comfort food, like a meatloaf but with ham, spiked with the warm holiday flavors of clove and allspice and lovingly napped with a sticky sweet/sour sauce that’ll knock your socks off.

As my sister knows, Ham Balls are down-home cooking at its best or at it’s worst, depending on who’s made them and your own personal beliefs. Honestly, they’re the kind of down-home cooking you’re either proud of or slightly embarrassed by, or maybe even both if you’re a conflicted soul like me…

Plus, there’s that name. Ham Balls might easily lead your mind south in a way that Meat Balls don’t. And now, your mind probably just went there. See what I made you do, lol! Well, these aren’t those kind of balls. Which makes me wonder, what DO they do with those? It makes me wonder, too, why meatball sounds so good and ham ball sounds, well, maybe not so much.

Iowa Ham Balls with Sweet/Sour Glaze

Iowa Ham Balls with Sweet/Sour Glaze – Not to worry, they’re supposed to be pink in the middle.

I’m in a mood, I guess, so forgive me. If only we had some of these Ham Balls left, I’d be eating them instead of getting into trouble on the internet. Seriously, it’s hard to stop. Serve them hot from the pan with something carby and delish like mashed or baked potatoes and a simple side – broccoli would be good. 🙂 If you want to be really down-home, add a slice of white bread and some butter to the party!

These Ham Balls make a bunch, so come hungry. They freeze well & are a great use of leftover ham. They’re easy peasy to make (bonus, I know) especially if you have a food processor to pulse up the ham into fine shreds (or maybe you have a meat grinder? Use that.) If you can’t get good ground pork, do the same with some loin or shoulder. And don’t worry when your Ham Balls are pinkish in the middle. That’s how they’re supposed to look.

If you’re a feeling particularly kitschy (And by that, I mean retro!) serve these in a tiny size at your next party.  And now my sis is going to call me and really let me have it. Because even though they’re delish, we always make fun of meatballs at parties. Usually after we’ve gone to a party and eaten a lot, lol!!

Iowa Ham Balls with Sweet/Sour Glaze

Iowa Ham Balls with Sweet/Sour Glaze

Iowa Ham Balls with Sweet Sour Glaze

  • Servings: 5-6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

This recipe will make 18 good-sized ham balls, allow 2 to 3 per person.

  • 1 pound ground ham
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 1 3/4 cups fresh breadcrumbs
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • scant cup milk
  • pinch ground allspice
  • pinch ground cloves


  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups cider vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons dry mustard powder

To make the glaze, mix the brown sugar with the mustard powder. Slowly add the vinegar, whisking well as you pour it in. Set aside & whisk again before using.

To make the ham balls:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease or spray a 9 x 11″ pan.

Combine ham, pork, breadcrumbs, egg, milk, and spices. Mix only until combined. Shape into roughly 1/3 cup sized balls (divide mixture into half, then each half into 8 portions.) See note, below, on mixing.

Place in greased baking pan (the fit will be close) and bake for 30 minutes, covered. Uncover, add glaze, and bake for an additional 45 minutes, basting every now and then with the glaze. (the glaze will smell strongly of vinegar as you baste – don’t breathe in and don’t worry, it will dissipate.) The balls should be looking shiny and somewhat brown when done.

Remove from oven, let cool a few minutes, then serve warm. (Glaze with slightly thicken as the temperature lowers.)

Note: the ham, pork & breadcrumbs can all be pulsed up in the food processor. Chunk up and pulse a bit at a time until broken down. I normally pulse up the ham, add some of the ground pork and whirl it a few times to combine, then mix all ingredients together. It makes for a more cohesive ball.


I’ll be bringing Iowa Ham Balls with Sweet Sour Glaze to our very own Throwback Thursday as well as to Fiesta Friday. Our Fiesta Friday co-hosts this week are Caroline @ Caroline’s Cooking and Tânia @ Iwanttobeacook.

Helpful Links:

If you came to this recipe looking for a way to use ham, be sure to check out the link below for 12 Days of Ham. You might want to see the sister post for 12 Days of Turkey, too.

The real deal Iowa Ham Balls with a Sweet-Sour Glaze. No soups or strange stuff, Just great home cooking! #HamBalls #IowaHamBalls.

The real deal Iowa Ham Balls with a Sweet-Sour Glaze. No soups or strange stuff, Just great home cooking! #HamBalls #IowaHamBalls.

28 thoughts on “Iowa Ham Balls with Sweet Sour Glaze

  1. You’re right Mollie– count me in the people who had never heard of ham balls (until now!) They do sound scrumptious! We’re having a ham for Christmas breakfast– see if you have any leftover to grind up and use! And— I feel like I’m getting to know our sister just reading your blog! Are you keeping warm– we keep hearing amazing temperatures from the mid west!! Happy Christmas there!

  2. Pingback: Iowa Ham Balls with Sweet Sour Glaze | My Meals are on Wheels

  3. Oh, really?! Hamballs exist?! 😂😂 Hey, I’d eat them, especially if they look exactly these. Seriously, they look really, really tasty, Mollie. Maybe it’s the glaze. It’s all in the glaze, lol. I think it’s a GREAT idea for leftover ham. Mollie, you’re a genius!

    • Ha, Angie! Yes they exist – just like Santa Clause! So maybe I’m finding my Xmas spirit! They’re an old heritage recipe and I think they’re probably handed down from the German pioneers in Iowa, so no credit to me – although I have a few special touches! Our family has always made them in one form or another, although I don’t think I’ve had one for 40 years… The glaze just “makes” them and that sweet/sour with the hint of clove & allspice in the ham balls is heavenly. Some people make that glaze with tomato soup or ketchup…and it’s so wrong! Some people use pineapple which is more recent but interesting!

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