My Quest To Understand Ham Balls

I’m on a ham ball quest.

Ham balls are a food I’d never heard of until I moved to North Iowa. Growing up in Minneapolis-St. Paul, we rarely ate pork. It never appeared on our school lunch menus, except in the form of Mr. Ribs, and we missed out on pork burgers at picnics. My friend Val of Corn, Beans, Pigs & Kids introduced me to my first ham ball at a blogger potluck.


After looking at some recipes, I created my own version with a spicy cranberry fruit glaze and called them “Iowan ham balls.” My friend Katie was like, “Oh no, those may be good ham balls, but those are not quite Iowan ham balls.” She even left her family’s recipe in case you want to try them.

Hamballs watermarked

If you think I’ve been talking about ham balls a lot, you’re right. When something piques my curiosity, I tend to pursue more information about the subject with tenacity. Remember my obsession with learning about the Lincoln family after visiting Springfield, Illinois last summer? My friend observed that I was dedicated to the subject of ham balls, to which my genuine answer was, “I must understand them.

Friends continue to suggest their favorite family recipes as well as local stores from which to purchase ready-made ham balls. I stopped by Louie’s Custom Meats and Fareway in Clear Lake, Iowa to try two popular versions. These balls are pre-cooked and available to purchase by the pound.


Fareway, $4.99/lb: I’ve received so many suggestions to try Fareway’s ham balls. Each ball is larger than a golf ball. The meat’s grind is finer and the sauce is sweeter with a maple note.

Louie’s, $3.99/lb: These ham balls are the size of typical meat balls with a courser grind. Their flavor is smokier and the sauce is slightly less sweet.

I’m not quite done investigating ham balls. Val has graciously accepted my plea to learn how to make real Iowan ham balls and invited me into her kitchen later this month. There will be a blog post and video to document our adventure. In the meantime, here’s a silly little video explaining my quest to understand ham balls.

JeniEats Investigates Ham Balls from JeniEats on Vimeo.


  1. Val - Corn, Beans, Pigs and Kids

    I’m looking forward to our ham ball adventure! I hope my mother-in-law’s ham ball recipe doesn’t disappoint!

    • Jeni

      They will be perfect, because we will have fun:)

  2. Katy Flint

    You and your ham ball obsession crack me up! My dad’s family always used to make ham balls for Easter dinner when I was growing up and I couldn’t stomach them. The rest of the family just thought they were the best! I still am not a big fan, but if I’m going to eat them, I want them to be Val’s!!

  3. Megan Holz

    This is great! Ham balls are truly an Iowa special. Can’t wait to see more on this quest!

  4. Kristin G

    I love, love, love ham balls. My mom’s recipe is more on the sweet side. To the ham loaf you had egg, tomato juice and graham cracker crumbs. The sauce is tomato soup, brown sugar, a little dry mustard, and vinegar. I prefer Fareway’s ham loaf to Hy-Vee’s. I’m anxious to hear about your adventure in making them.

    • Jeni

      Thanks Kristin! I didn’t even think to try Hy-Vee’s. I should have added them to the mix. So many people have suggested Fareway. I must compare them all:)

  5. Monica Jertson Cateron

    I so love ham balls. Some people, my chef included, just hate em. My sister . So of course I rarely cook them. Our little small town grocery store sells the ham ball “mix” uncooked so you have to roll your own but I haven’t tried it. Now I’m hungry for ham balls, so I better try it !! Can’t wait for your next ham ball video!

    • Jeni

      I love that you can find the mix here too so you can add your own seasonings.

  6. Haley @ Cheap Recipe Blog

    Awesome! Anticipating the recipe… My mom just confirmed that they’re a rural SD/MN thing too.

  7. Donna Hup

    I had never heard of ham balls until then either. I’m looking forward to the video 🙂

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