My Take On Iowan Ham Balls Glazed With Spicy Cranberry Sauce

Pork tenderloin sandwiches, Maid-Rites, and Greek-style steak. These are all foods Mason City has introduced us to since we moved here a little over a year ago. Now we can add one more to the list:

Ham balls.

I remember seeing recipes for ham loaf in my grandmother’s church cookbooks and ham balls in Jake’s family cookbook, but I’d never actually eaten one until I moved to Iowa. Val of Corn, Bean, Pigs & Kids actually introduced me to my very first ham ball at a North Iowa blogger potluck. I liked them so much that I helped myself to seconds.


My first taste of ham balls, courtesy of Val.

When I saw ham loaf mix for sale at my favorite butcher shop Louie’s Custom Meats in Clear Lake, IA, I felt inspired to make my own version. I combined a few different recipes and made a glaze with leftover cranberry sauce (yup, the canned stuff) which provided the perfect sweet and tangy counterpoint to the savory meat.

“Ham balls!?” exclaimed Jake, when he first caught wind of my dinner menu. He had never heard of ham balls before and was convinced he wouldn’t like them. As the ham balls baked, Jake commented on how “hammy” our house smelled and imagined I would serve him softball-sized chunks of ham. Not so.

As skeptical as Jake was about ham balls, he could not resist their charm. They were crusty on the outside and fluffy on the inside when I pulled them hot of the oven. They taste a little smokier than the typical meatball and hit all of our favorite sweet, savory and spicy cravings.

Spicy Cranberry Glazed Ham Balls
Inspired by Ken Enck & The Taylor House’s recipes for ham balls. Ham loaf mix seems to be equal parts ground pork and ground ham. It shouldn’t be too hard to find in Iowa, but if you can’t find it pre-made, try pulsing ham in a food processor and adding it to the pork. If you don’t want to use cranberry sauce in your glaze, use a different jelly or jam. I found other ham ball recipes that make the tangy glaze from canned pineapple, tomato soup, or brown sugar and vinegar syrup. 

Hamballs watermarked

Ham Ball Ingredients:
1 1/2 lb. ground ham loaf mix
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/3 cup oatmeal
2-3 tablespoons minced onion
2 eggs, scrambled
3/4 cup milk
Black pepper, to taste

Sauce Ingredients:
1 cup cranberry sauce
3 tablespoons yellow mustard
1 1/2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
Dash Worcestershire
2-3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon honey (or brown sugar, to taste)
1/4 water
Hot sauce, to taste
Hot pepper flakes


  1. Pre-heat oven to 350℉.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the ham loaf mix, panko, oatmeal, onion,eggs, milk and black pepper. It’s easiest to combine the ingredients by squishing them together with your hands. Allow the mixture sit for a few minutes so the breadcrumbs and oatmeal can absorb the liquid. If it’s still too moist, add some more oatmeal or breadcrumbs.
  3. Shape the mix into small balls. Place in a lightly greased pan in a single layer. It’s OK if they are close to each other.
  4. Bake for about 25-minutes.
  5. While the ham balls are baking, make the glaze. Combine the cranberry sauce, mustard, vinegar, Worcestershire, soy sauce, honey, water, and hot pepper flakes in a small saucepan. Gently heat and whisk until combined.
  6. If the sauce is too thick, add more water. Taste for seasoning and adjust accordingly.
  7. Drizzle the sauce over the ham balls and return to the oven, uncovered. Bake for about 25 more minutes or until the ham balls are cooked through.

Three of my friends shared their best ham ball making tips. Jenny of In The Kitchen With Jenny makes Pineapple Ham Loaf Patties which she says are easy to make-ahead and freeze. Barb suggests using graham cracker crumbs instead of breadcrumbs and adding diced green pepper, while Shannon‘s favorite recipe combines both ground ham and ground beef. How do you make your favorite ham balls? 


  1. Katie @ On the Banks of Squaw Creek

    You made these wrong. I will send you the correct recipe. 😉

    • Jeni

      LOL. I’d love to try your recipe! I’m sure adding oatmeal to them is kind of weird.

      • Katie @ On the Banks of Squaw Creek

        Ham Balls
        1 lb ham loaf
        1 egg
        1/2 cup milk
        1 cup graham cracker crumbs
        Mix together and form balls. Place in a greased casserole dish.

        1 can tomato soup
        1/8 cup vinegar
        1 tsp mustard
        1 cup brown sugar
        Mix together and pour over balls. Bake at 350 for about an hour.

        Yes, it tastes like dessert for dinner. The vinegar gives it a little kick, though. And I like to serve it with baked sweet potatoes…another dessert for dinner dish. 🙂

        • Jeni

          Fantastic! Thanks for sharing Katie. We will continue to make ham balls because they are so delicious:)

  2. Beth Ann Chiles

    Now that I know where I can find the mixture I am making a trip. These are one of my all-time favorites—we went to a church in Illinois that had an annual ham ball dinner. It was fabulous and theirs were the best. Of course the recipe is in the church cookbook and of course I have a copy of that cookbook. I am very excited about making these—-I just never had the ground ham source. Thanks!

    • Jeni

      I’m curious about what your recipe makes the sauce from. I saw so many variations, though each was sweet and sour. I might call ahead, though, since I don’t remember seeing it on every visit. Maybe they could mix it up for you too, if it’s not in the case.

  3. Katy Flint

    I grew up in a family that made ham balls every Easter and I can’t stomach them and never have been able…apparently I’m not as Iowan as one would guess!

    • Jeni

      That doesn’t mean you are less Iowan! I found SO many variations on ham balls and the sauces. Do you like ham in general?

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