We have been making Swedish Meatballs in our family for decades! This is a slightly-changed recipe from great-grandma Prudy that I’m SO excited to share with you. The sauce is homemade with real cream and is the best. It actually comes together really fast and easy. I can’t believe we were cheating on the gravy for so many years when it’s very simple to make from scratch! I remember Nana rolling out hundreds of these meatballs every Christmas. Originally posted January 23, 2013.
Table of Contents
- Swedish Christmas Eve Dinner Menu
- What are Swedish meatballs?
- Swedish meatballs sauce and sides
- Ingredients for easy Swedish meatballs
- How to Make Swedish Meatballs
- What to serve with Swedish meatballs
- How to store the best Swedish meatball recipe
- Can you freeze Swedish Meatballs?
- Frequently asked questions
- More Swedish recipes from Grandma Prudy
- More savory main dishes to try
- Canned Soup Version
- Homemade Swedish Meatballs Recipe
- EASY SWEDISH MEATBALLS RECIPE
Happy New Year! How was your Christmas season? I was just telling my daughter Charlotte yesterday, I feel like January is moving soo sloowww, and I am totally here for it. November and December are always a blur! Right??
We are still in recovery mode over here. After 14 years of traveling every single December, we finally hosted for the first time. 19 days worth of house guests coming and going, 18 people in the house at the very height. Dozens of gifts for 4 families shoved under the tree, more toilet paper than you can imagine, children cartwheeling and hoverboarding in every hallway, and literally hundreds of cookies exploding out of my kitchen. That chaotic opening scene from Home Alone is the closest thing I can compare it too. It was SO MUCH FUN, but mama needs a nap this whole January 😂
Just kidding. I’ve been bustling away (in between doing yet another load of towels) perfecting my recipes for Swedish Meatballs, Rye Bread, and even the Liver Pate. These are all part of the traditional meal Eric’s family makes every Christmas Eve, and I’m so excited to finally share them with you! My mother-in-law Kris was here for the holidays and helped me record all the important details.
Swedish Christmas Eve Dinner Menu
Eric’s family is Swedish-American, and they have been serving the same meal on Christmas Eve for generations now. Here is the menu, every year, without changes:
- Relish Tray (Black and green olives, green onions, pickles, sweet peppers, radishes,)
- Rye Bread, that is served sliced with butter (but Eric and I usually sneak over to the toaster)
- Liver Pate
- Pickled Herring with saltine crackers
- Flatbread, a Swedish cracker with anise (if we took the time to make it; it’s quite labor intensive!)
- Swedish Meatballs
- Boiled potatoes (I prefer to serve Mashed Potatoes but I get glares from my mother-in-law when I do; her right as the matriarch and leader of this show for decades)
- Lingonberry or Cranberry sauce
- Reesy’s Sauteed Carrots and Shallots
- Tomato Aspic (How 1950s is this! Someday I will share the recipe! It’s actually very tasty as a garnish to the meatballs.)
Meatballs and heathen mashed potatoes on the left, sauces top to bottom: Cranberry sauce, jarred lingonberry, and tomato aspic in the middle. Then to the right: my selections from the relish tray, some Liver Pate on a Flatbread cracker, pickled herring on a saltine, Reesy’s Carrots, and Prudy’s Rye Bread.
Do my kids eat all of this stuff? Hardly. Except for Truman. We joke that Truman is an 80-year-old man trapped in a 10-year-old’s body:
Just look at that serving of pickled herring.
Even if the kids take a few years getting used to these not-so-American flavors, I think it’s worth it to keep the memories alive. I can just hear Tevye in the background: “TRADITION!” (“…Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as a fiddler on the roof!”)
My first Christmas Eve at Eric’s parent’s house, I think I only ate carrots, meatballs, and cookies. I’m from California and always had Tri Tip on Christmas. I was in a bit of shock (and only 20, a picky baby!) But over the years I’ve made a pretty strong turnaround; I love it all now. (Except the pickled herring. Not into that. Give me another 15 years.)
This year was the first time Eric and I were in charge of menu planning and shopping for the big meal, and I forgot to get the pickled herring. We realized this the night before Christmas eve at about 10:30pm.
Eric drove to 3 different grocery stores and could only come up with herring. The package said “Kipper style!” “Delightful seafood snack!” I asked him if he was sure it wasn’t meant to be cat food. People eat this stuff??
But even then, regular herring would not do. Eric was committed. He looked up a homemade recipe for pickling spice and brined it overnight. His dedication to this tradition is the only reason I was able to choke down the tiny morsel you see on my plate up there.
Even if it’s not my favorite, I love how his family keeps this meal tradition alive every single year.
My mother-in-law, Kris, is in the red skirt and glasses. Prudy was her Swedish grandmother.
Now let’s dive into the BEST part, the one menu item that NO one argues or complains about: the beloved meatballs.
What are Swedish meatballs?
So, just how are Swedish meatballs different than other meatballs? I’d say that here in the U.S., when someone just says “meatballs” the first thought is of an Italian style meatball with red sauce. Which are delicious, of course! But there are some slight differences.
Swedish meatballs are made with beef and pork, torn bread, milk, eggs, and seasonings. The fattiness of the pork, plus the milk soaked bread make for a SUPER soft meatball! They absolutely melt in your mouth. (This also makes them a beast to fry without falling apart, but I promise it’s worth it.) They also have different seasonings: nutmeg and allspice. No basil or oregano here, no sir. And if you’ve ever been to Ikea, you know Swedish meatballs are often rolled smaller as well. We roll ours about the size of a ping pong ball, really any size is fine.
I would love to tell you that you can make life easier by swapping in your favorite store bought meatballs in this recipe! But unless they are labeled Swedish meatballs, they aren’t going to have nutmeg and allspice in them, and the flavors will be way different.
Swedish meatballs sauce and sides
Meatball differences aside, what really makes Swedish meatballs special is all about how you serve them up! We’re going to ditch the red sauce for this recipe. Instead, the drippings left after frying the meatballs are used as a base to make a delicious, creamy gravy sauce. Butter, cream, and beef broth make the sauce super rich and flavorful. In Sweden, they often serve meatballs and sauce separately or with no sauce at all, especially if it’s part of a smorgasbord.
The classic sides to go along with the meatballs is of course lingonberry preserves, and boiled or mashed potatoes.
At some point after coming over to the states, Prudy (or possibly Nana, her daughter-in-law, Kris’ mother) started making life a little easier by swapping a homemade sauce for canned cream of mushroom soup. It’s the way Eric’s family has made it for decades! But being me, and not necessarily being anti– canned soup, but knowing we could do better…I wanted to try for a homemade sauce. Turns out it’s ridiculously easy and in my opinion, SO much better. The original (unoriginal?) recipe with the canned soup is in the recipe notes!
Ingredients for easy Swedish meatballs
The ingredient list may seem long, but none of them are hard to find. In fact, I bet you have a lot of these things at home already, which should make for a quick shopping trip. Be sure to take a look at the recipe card below to get exact measurements and instructions.
For the meatballs
- white bread
- ground beef
- ground pork
- large eggs
- kosher salt
- black pepper
- dry mustard
- tabasco sauce
- oil for frying
For the sauce
How to Make Swedish Meatballs
Start by tearing up some white bread in a big ol bowl, and pouring milk all over it.
This is the secret to super soft meatballs! A lot of recipes use dried breadcrumbs, but using bread and milk brings in a lot of moisture, making the meatballs oh-so-tender. Let the bread soak a while, then mash it all together.
Chop up on onion and sauté about half of it in a large skillet with some butter . These onions are going in the meatballs, and we want them soft and mild, not sharp and raw. Use a big nonstick pan, you will need it again later!
Add the onions and all the meatball ingredients to the bowl with the bread and milk.
Have you ever used fresh nutmeg? There is something kind of magical about it. Plus I always hear Hades in my head talking to Hercules’ girlfriend: “Meg, my little flower, my little bird, my little nut…MEG.” Ha. But seriously though, nutmeg is a major flavor component in these meatballs, so if you can’ get your hands on some fresh nutmeg pods, do it. You will need a fine grater, like a microplane. If not, powdered nutmeg works fine! Don’t forget the allspice too.
Now it’s time to mix it up! It’s best to use your hands. I know, I know. But it’s actually kind of fun, especially if you have disposable gloves, which I highly recommend.
Traditionally, the Swedish meatball mixture is pureed to be very fine. I tried it in my rather large, nice food processor and it didn’t go well (it wouldn’t mix all the way? Too thick I think), plus it’s a pain to clean. So I just stick with the glove method, it works for me.
Now it’s time to shape into meatballs!
I like to use a cookie scoop. I press the meat mixture in with my fingers (to help it keep its shape), then release from the scoop, and roll it a bit more in my hands. You can make the meatballs whatever size you like, just make sure they are uniform. We make ours about the size of a ping pong ball or smaller.
Now fry them up! In plenty of oil. I am still working on getting meatballs to be perfectly round, I think this takes a bit of practice! My best tip is to use a nonstick pan, so they release better after browning, and to shake the pan often to keep them moving. I read that rolling each meatball in flour also helps keep their shape. The most sure fire way is to chill the rolled meatballs on a plate for a couple hours before frying, but I was in too much of a hurry to eat these!
I transferred my fried meatballs to a baking sheet after each batch. But you can also skip frying altogether and just bake the meatballs at 450 for a few minutes. It’s much easier, but you do miss out on the amazing browning flavor, which is honestly pretty significant.
Now it’s time to make the meatball sauce!
I like to add chopped mushrooms to my Swedish meatballs, but this is not necessary. I’m used to it because we used canned cream of mushroom soup for so long! You don’t need to add them, and even if you do, don’t add a lot. Just about a half cup chopped is fine. We want the flavor of the meatballs to shine.
Add a stick of butter to your blackened pan. Saute the onions and mushrooms until they are soft, then add in some flour. You will have a pretty thick roux at this point:
Add in some soy sauce, beef base, and gradually add in some water (or use beef stock). Make sure you stir a lot and incorporate any liquid added before adding more. You need it to emulsify!
Finally, add in the cream or half and half. Give is a taste! Add salt and pepper if it needs it.
Add the meatballs back in, cook for a few more minutes to make sure they are done all the way through, and voila!
What to serve with Swedish meatballs
See the beginning of the post for our traditional Christmas Eve menu, with Swedish Meatballs, potatoes, rye bread, picked herring, and tomato aspic!
But I totally understand if you are not interested in making 1950s tomato jello 😂 If you’re looking for a more casual side for a weeknight, here are great options you can pair Swedish meatballs with:
- Instead of potatoes, try noodles. Egg noodles are most common, but any kind will do
- Roasted Red Potatoes in Oven >> tender in the middle, oh so crispy on the outside
- 3 Ingredient Roasted Potatoes with Crunchy Onions >> perfect to cook in the oven while you make the meatballs stovetop!
- Aunt Joy’s Creamy Cucumber Salad >> If you don’t want to go full pickled but want something green, try these super creamy and refreshing cucumber salad
- Easy Roasted Broccoli Recipe >> so super easy, and always a crowd favorite for a veggie side
- Oven Roasted Asparagus with Balsamic Browned Butter >> done in about 15 minutes, and probably the most heavenly way to eat asparagus
- Pressgurka (Swedish Pickled Cucumbers) from Kristy’s Kitchn – outside of our traditional menu, this is one side that over and over again is mentioned as traditional with Swedish meatballs!!
- Check out this post from True North Kitchen with side dish recommendations from an American blogger recording classic Nordic dishes!
How to store the best Swedish meatball recipe
Swedish meatballs make the BEST leftovers! Just like so many other recipes, a day in the refrigerator makes them even better. All you need to do is store them in an airtight container and stick ’em in the fridge, where they’ll last for up to 4 days. I like to reheat in the microwave on power level 5 for a minute or two until they’re hot (reheating at a lower power helps the meat stay tender).
Can you freeze Swedish Meatballs?
Yes, they freeze beautifully! It’s so easy to do. Add the meatballs and sauce to freezer ziplock bags. I like to fill the bag so all the meatballs make one layer when the bag is flat on the counter. It makes freezing and thawing so much easier. You can use whatever size bag makes a convenient future serving size for you, and fill as many bags are needed. Make sure it comes fully to room temperature, then put the bag(s) in the freezer. The meatballs will last 3-4 months there. Much beyond that they will start to get freezer burn and dry out.
To reheat your frozen meatballs, thaw the bag in the refrigerator overnight or for a few hours on the counter. Add to a sauce pan and heat on medium low til heated through, or add to a crockpot and heat on low for 1-2 hours. You will need to stick around and whisk the sauce a bit to get it to the right consistency as it heats. Don’t turn the heat up high, you want to reheat slowly to keep the meat tender, so be patient!
Frequently asked questions
It’s a pretty straightforward recipe! A mix of ground beef and pork, torn white bread, milk, special seasonings like nutmeg and allspice, and a few other ingredients all get mixed together and then fried in a pan til golden brown. After that, the drippings are used to make a truly amazing brown gravy made with butter, beef broth, and cream (yum) to pour over the top. See the step-by-step above in the post or below in the recipe card for more details!
Unlike the ubiquitous Italian meatball with its heavy oregano and basil seasoning and red sauce (delicious), the Swedish meatball uses warming spices like nutmeg and allspice, and is topped in a creamy, savory brown gravy. Not only that, but traditionally there are very specific sides that accompany the meatballs.
Swedish meatballs have a pretty set menu of sides! Potatoes are a given, or noodles are a good sub. Lingonberry jam. And traditionally, pickled cucumbers are served. In our family, our traditional menu includes boiled or Mashed Potatoes, Lingonberry or Cranberry sauce, Sauteed Carrots and Shallots, and Tomato Aspic. This is of course, after the traditional appetizers of a Relish Tray, Rye Bread with butter, Liver Pate, Pickled Herring with saltine crackers, and Flatbread.
More Swedish recipes from Grandma Prudy
Grandma Prudy was born in Minnesota to Swedish immigrant parents, and carried on their homeland food traditions her whole life. Read more about Prudy on my Rye Bread post.
- Crispy Swedish Cardamom Cookies >> these are one of my favorite all time Christmas cookies!
- Swedish Sour Cream Twists (Layered Yeast Cookies) >> another understated sweet pastry, perfect to go with hot chocolate
- Grandma Prudy’s Rye Bread Recipe >> I’m telling you, you’ve never had such pillowy soft bread!
- Grandma Prudy’s Classic Gingersnaps >> if you like ginger cookies that have all the flavor and truly snap, these are the cookies for you
- Grandma Prudy’s Classic Spritz Cookie Recipe >> I’m pretty sure Christmas can’t even happen without these classics
- Thin and Crispy Sugar Cookies (Grandma Prudy’s Recipe) >> buttery sugar cookies that are thin, and shatter in your mouth when you take a bite
- Butter Pecan Cookie Recipe >> brown sugar buttery shortbread goodies that are wayyyy to easy to pop in one bite
More savory main dishes to try
- Easy Salisbury Steak Recipe (30 Minutes) >> this is actually a really similar recipe flavor-wise to Swedish meatballs, such a great 30 minute option
- Baked Meatball Recipe >> my easiest no chop meatballs! You could totally add some nutmeg and use these instead of the meatballs in this recipe
- 1770 House Meatloaf (Ina Garten Meatloaf Recipe) >> meatloaf with garlic butter sauce is the stuff dreams are made of
- Ground Beef Orzo with Tomato Cream Sauce from Salt & Lavender
Canned Soup Version
Here is the original photo from when I posted these the first time back in 2013! (This canned soup version of the recipe is in the notes of the recipe card.) Here is the story I wrote from back in the day, when I was pregnant with Truman:
I think I might be nesting. Or maybe I’m just finally reaching what most people would consider a normal level of cleanliness. We’ll see how long it lasts. Today I scrubbed my oven within an inch of its life. I deep cleaned my Kitchenaid. I did all the laundry in the house. Changed all the sheets. I even cooked dinner. Yet somehow I managed to avoid the biohazard level of dirty dishes that were literally overflowing my sink. You know those days, when the dishes are stacked so high that it’s impossible to fill your water pitcher without bailing in water from a cup, and you can’t wash your hands without lifting up your elbows.
Sometimes I write about stuff on this blog that I think other people will relate to, but then I realize that no, I’m the only one in the world who is this disgusting.
These meatballs, on the other hand, are divine. Eric’s family is Swedish, and this is the special meal they eat every year on Christmas Eve. It is a nonnegotiable family tradition hailing from his beloved Grandma Prudy. They are awesome and delicious and guess what, they are super easy. Check out the section at the end of the recipe with instructions on how to make them in the slow cooker.
Homemade Swedish Meatballs
- 2 slices white bread
- 1 cup milk, I use whole milk
- 1 tablespoon butter, for softening onions
- 1 onion, chopped and divided
- 1 and 1/2 pounds ground beef*, I like 85%
- 1/2 pound ground pork*
- 2 large eggs
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 3/4 teaspoon dry mustard
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, I love to grate fresh nutmeg.
- 1/4 teaspoon allspice
- 10 dashes tobasco sauce
- oil, for frying
For the sauce
- parsley or dill, to garnish
- 1 batch Mashed Potatoes, or cooked pasta
- Make the meatballs: In a large bowl, tear up 2 pieces of white bread into pieces. Pour 1 cup of milk over the top and smoosh the bread into the milk to get it soaking. Let sit for a while.
- Meanwhile, chop an onion small. In a large, high sided 12-inch skillet (preferably non-stick), melt about 1 tablespoon butter (from a 1/2 cup stick of butter, save the rest of it for the sauce) over medium heat.
- Add a little more than half of the onions to the butter in the pan, and saute for about 4-5 minutes, until the onions are soft but not yet turning brown. Remove from the heat. (Save the remaining onions for the sauce.)
- Meanwhile, stir your soaking bread and use a spatula to break up the bread and turn it all to mush. Add the softened onions to the bowl with the bread (Don't bother washing the pan, we need it later).
- Add all the remaining meatball ingredients: 1 and 1/2 pounds ground beef, 1/2 pound ground pork, 2 eggs, 2 teaspoons kosher salt, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, 3/4 teaspoon dry mustard, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, 1/4 teaspoon allspice, and about 10 shakes from a jar of Tabasco.
- Put on your big girl pants and mix up these meatballs with your hands. A spoon will just not do. I like to wear disposable gloves for this task. Mixing meatballs with your hands and squeezing all the ingredients together really gives you the best meatball texture. Don't over mix, or your meatballs will be tough. But do make sure the ingredients are fully combined and the meat broken up.
- Shape the meatballs. Use a cookie scoop to form the meatballs, You want your meatballs to all be uniform in size so they cook at the same rate. I like to shape them to about 1 and 1/2 inches across. Use your fingers to press each meatball into the scoop, to help it create its shape. These meatballs are very soft and tender, making them a little challenging to work with, but you will appreciate this once you bite into one. If you are planning to fry, and you have a lot of time, chill your meatballs in the fridge for 1-2 hours. This will help the meatballs keep their shape.
- Fry the meatballs. (You can skip this step and move straight to roasting them in the oven, if you prefer. See notes)Heat the same pan you used for the onions over medium heat. Add about 1 tablespoon oil and swirl it around. Wait a minute, and when it is nice and hot, start adding in your meatballs. I scoop the meatballs as I go. Do not crowd the pan, you need to leave about 1 inch of space in between each meatball so that they are able to brown. You will fry in several batches.Let the meatballs fry undisturbed for about 1 minute, until the bottom is quite brown. Then use a spatula to gently scrape up the bottom and turn the meatballs onto their sides, not completely flipped. Do your best to keep the meatballs together. The more often you turn the meatballs, the more round the shape will be. Continue this process until the meatballs are browned on most or all of the edges. It should take 2-4 minutes for one batch. They do NOT have to be cooked all the way through. Remove the browned meatballs to a large baking sheet or tray.Continue with another batch of meatballs, repeating the process and adding oil as necessary.
- Make the sauce. Once the meatballs are done and removed from the pan, add the rest of the stick of butter (that you used for the onions earlier) to the pan. (Do not remove meatball drippings unless are is more than 1/4 cup). Melt over medium heat.
- Add a 1/2 cup of chopped mushrooms (optional) and the remaining onions to the butter. Season with 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Saute over medium heat for about 3-5 minutes until the onions are translucent.
- Slowly sprinkle 1/2 cup flour over the onions and mushrooms, using a wooden spoon to stir the flour in a little at a time. Add 1 tablespoon Better Than Bouillon Beef Base, and 1 tablespoon soy sauce.
- Gradually add 3 and 1/2 cups of water to the mushrooms. Start slow and stir in between every addition of water. You want the water you add to be mostly incorporated into the sauce before adding more.
- Add 1 cup cream or half and half to the sauce.
- Once the sauce has come together, add the meatballs back into the pan, including any resting liquid. Cook the sauce and meatballs over medium heat, making sure there are some slow bubbles happening, for another 10 minutes, until a meat thermometer reads 160 degrees F in the center of a meatball. If the gravy gets too thick, simply add more beef broth, a little at a time, stirring completely with every addition, until it is the consistency you want. The longer you cook, the thicker your sauce will get.
- Taste the sauce and decide if you want to add more salt and pepper. An optional and excellent garnish is chopped fresh parsley or dill, either adding it to the pan and stirring in, or topping each plating.
- Store meatballs in the fridge for 4-5 days.
- How to freeze: Meatballs and sauce freeze beautifully! Freeze in ziplocks. Thaw in the fridge overnight, then add to a pan with a bit of water. Heat over medium low, whisking the sauce in between meatballs as it heats. Add more beef broth if your gravy has become too thick.
EASY SWEDISH MEATBALLS RECIPEBelow is Eric’s family’s original Swedish meatballs recipe, which I published on the blog back in 2013. It uses canned cream of mushroom soup, because that’s what people did in the 50s and 60s! I prefer the from-scratch recipe above, but this one is awfully good too. (the meatballs are very similar, it’s the sauce that makes the biggest difference.) Here is the recipe, for all the family members who still like to make it this way (Britta, I’m lookin at you. :)
- 1 & 1/2 pounds ground beef
- 1/2 pound ground pork
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup milk
- 1/2 cup quick oats
- 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
- 1 & 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- 3-5 dashes hot sauce
- 3 cans cream of mushroom soup
- 1 & 1/2 cans water
- 5 lbs boiled potatoes