Shortcut Swedish meatballs (köttbullar)

As much as I appreciate the crust on a beautifully pan-fried meatball, I just don’t have the time or the patience to stand over the stove and fry up all of those little darlings. My Swedish grandmother (born in the U.S. to Swedish parents) used to make her meatballs a “shortcut” way by broiling and baking them. I just can’t bring myself to give up that convenience for the pan-frying route, and my Swedish husband finds them entirely acceptable, as long as there is a crust on the top.

Meatballs are found in many world cuisines dating as far back as Roman times but they have not been definitively credited to any particular culture. Thanks to IKEA, Swedish meatballs are arguably the most well-known meatballs in the world. Initially they were only enjoyed by upper class Swedes but the increased availability of wood stoves and meat grinders in the 1850s made meatballs accessible to the middle classes as well.

Today they are standard fare, year-round in Swedish households and restaurants. Most commonly they are served with a sauce, boiled potatoes, lingonberries, and a plain salad. They are also a mainstay of the Swedish Christmas table, or julbord. Some recipes on the internet, and my grandmother’s recipe, advocate cooking the meatballs in the sauce at some point but that is uncommon in Sweden where the sauce is generally kept separate until serving. Leaving the sauce separate allows for easier freezing of the meatballs as well as the ability to adapt them to a popular open-faced sandwich (smörgås) finished with a mix of pickled beets, creme fraiche, apples and onion. Super tasty. I promise to post a recipe at some point.

There are several different brands of pre-made meatballs available in Swedish grocery stores but they are so easy to make at home, especially this way, that I can’t imagine purchasing a pre-made frozen bag of them. Every home cook seems to have a version of meatballs inspired by a family recipe. They can vary in meat-content based on geography. In southern Sweden they are most often a 50/50 mix of beef and pork whereas further north in Sweden 70/30 of beef to pork is typical. Of course you can also use veal, venison, lamb, or moose, but most common is a beef/pork combination. Then there is the choice of filler; bread, breadcrumbs, potatoes, or oats. You can use water, milk, or cream, cooked or uncooked onion, and a variety of seasonings including parsley, ginger, nutmeg, and allspice. Size-wise they aren’t typically larger than a golf ball or smaller than 3/4″ (2.5cm) across. In a pinch, they are even cooked as small, flat patties.

And then there is the sauce. I remember going to a Scandinavian festival in Oregon with my Swedish husband (then boyfriend) and he was shocked to see a white sauce being served with the meatballs. White sauce??? That was a foreign concept to him. He is very keen on a particular medium-brown shade of sauce. But the white sauce is an interesting manifestation of how dishes are adapted and changed when they migrate to another country. My grandmother’s sauce recipe calls for instant coffee and although Swedes LOVE their coffee, I think that ingredient would come as a surprise to most people in Sweden. That is one of the beauties of such a “simple” dish. There is endless variety and you come to love what you grew up with. Truly comfort food.

I must admit that during my time in Sweden I have veered from my grandmother’s recipe. It feels a bit sacrilegious to do so, but as depression-era cook who could whip up an amazing dish when there didn’t look like there was really anything of value in the fridge, I think she would appreciate that I have melded her recipe with a classic Swedish recipe in Vår Kok Bok to come up with my own version. I hope you enjoy it as written, or use it as a jumping off point for starting your own family’s Swedish meatball recipe. And keep in mind that meatball day in Sweden is August 23rd (although many Swedes don’t even know that).

Who knew there was that much to say about meatballs?!

Shortcut Swedish meatballs
serves 4

This is a “shortcut” way of preparing Swedish meatballs by broiling and baking them. Of course they can also be fried in butter on the stove top in the traditional manner if you have the time and inclination to do so. I have tried frying the meatballs in this recipe as well and don’t find it makes a huge difference taste-wise as opposed to the “shortcut” option. These meatballs freeze beautifully and can be used on sandwiches or as an easy picnic food since they are delicious cold as well.

For the meatballs
1/3 cup (25g) oats
1/2 cup (120ml) cream
1 tablespoon potato starch flour or flour
1/2 pound (250g) lean ground beef
1/2 pound (250g) ground pork
1 egg
1 tablespoon grated onion
2 tablespoons minced parsley
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger

For the sauce
3/4 cup water
1 tablespoon potato starch flour or flour
1/2 cup cream
3 tablespoons beef fond*

lingonberry preserves to serve

Make the meatballs

1. Preheat the broiler to the highest setting.

2. In a small bowl, mix the cream with the potato starch until it dissolves. Add the oats and mix well. Let it stand for 10 minutes.

3. Combine the remaining ingredients for the meatballs in a large bowl. Add the oat mixture and mix everything together gently with your hands. You don’t want to overwork it and compact the mix too much. Once everything is incorporated it’s a good idea to fry up a little piece of the meatball mix in some butter to make sure the seasonings are right. It’s a great teaser to the meatballs you will soon get to enjoy. Add more spices to taste and proceed.

4. Using your hands, shape the meatballs into the preferred size. One generous tablespoon or so of the meat mixture works well. If you rinse your hands with cold water and shape the mixture with your wet hands it won’t be so sticky to work with.

5. Place the meatballs in a large baking dish allowing a bit of space in-between each one. Broil them about 4″ (10cm) from the heat until the tops are browned and well-crusted, about 5-10 minutes. Keep a good eye on them so the tops don’t burn. Set the oven to bake and reduce the heat to 300°F(150°C). Bake until the meatballs are cooked through, another 5-10 minutes depending on their size. If you find they are getting too brown on top you can cover them with foil to finish baking. While the meatballs are baking, make the sauce.

Make the sauce

1. In a small saucepan, combine the water and potato starch stirring until the potato starch is dissolved. Stir in the cream and fond.

2. Heat the mixture over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the sauce thickens. Adjust the seasonings to taste.

Serve the meatballs hot offering the sauce on the side.

*Fond is essentially concentrated stock and is widely available in Sweden. If it isn’t available in your area, substitute 1-2 bullion cubes.

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Categories: meat & game, recipes, Swedish classics


I moved to Sweden in 2008. This blog is for people who would like to learn more about Swedish food and culture.


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32 Comments on “Shortcut Swedish meatballs (köttbullar)”

  1. January 20, 2012 at 8:39 pm #

    This sounds SO tasty! Thanks for sharing it!

    • January 23, 2012 at 10:20 pm #

      Thanks for stopping by! Let me know if you give it a try.

  2. January 20, 2012 at 8:47 pm #

    Heaven’s to Pete! That sauce! Those meatballs! What are you doing to me? There is a snow situation here. I can’t get the ingredients to make these IMMEDIATELY. Arg!

    • January 23, 2012 at 10:23 pm #

      Hopefully your snow situation is under control now. Perhaps it’s a good time, between Cinderella rehearsals, to whip up a double batch of meatballs so you have some in the freezer for the next snow situation seeing as it’s only January. *sigh*

      • January 24, 2012 at 2:46 pm #

        Today it’s pouring with rain. And I kind of miss the snow…

  3. January 20, 2012 at 9:26 pm #

    Yum. Marking this one to make! We had some really tasty ones in Stockholm so I’m hoping these match up! Interesting post. I love the idea of a short cut!!

    • January 23, 2012 at 10:25 pm #

      There are so many different variations in making meatballs that they proabaly won’t be like the ones you tried in Stockholm, but hopefully you will enjoy them anyway. 🙂

  4. January 21, 2012 at 2:40 pm #

    Great article about meatballs and a very good idea to make them in the owen, like your grandmother did. Will try white sauce with them one day
    I sometimes make them with soda water instead of cream or milk, makes them less stodgy.

    Swedish meatballs are great for an outdoor lunch/picnics toghether with pasta *skruvar, red pepper and green peas.

    (Mr F wears a black T-shirt with the text ‘Köttbulle’ [schut-bhu-lee] to honour the Swedish national Dish!!)
    I wonder if there is a dedicated Köttbullens Dag in Sweden, if not maybe we should suggest that.

    • January 23, 2012 at 10:27 pm #

      Thanks Eva. Good idea with the soda water. I’ll have to give that a try some time although I’m admittedly a cream addict. I haven’t heard of a köttbullar day, but we do have days for Prinsesstårta, kanelbullar, and waffles. 🙂

  5. Caryn
    January 21, 2012 at 7:16 pm #

    Can’t wait to try this out (with tofu and lactose-free cream though)! I’m making the apple cake for my husband’s birthday next week. Thanks again, I really look forward to each new post!

    • January 23, 2012 at 10:28 pm #

      Thanks Caryn. I hope the meatballs work out for you with your adjustments and that the apple cake is a hit for the birthday!

  6. January 27, 2012 at 12:39 am #

    The day of the Meatballs is the 23rd of August, *in Sweden only.

    • January 27, 2012 at 8:32 am #

      Good to know! Where did you find that information? I did a quick search myself, but didn’t come up with anything.

  7. February 14, 2012 at 7:20 pm #

    i like meat ball , thanks for recipes I will just try

  8. February 22, 2012 at 11:05 pm #

    The only frozen food I buy are Ikea meatballs (we live in Canada), yes it’s embarasing, but my six year old loves them. No more IKEA food, these look amazing!

    • February 23, 2012 at 9:31 am #

      No need to be embarassed! I’m a big IKEA fan, but these are so much better. Give them a try and see if your daughter is keen on them as well. Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment.

  9. heybeautiful
    February 23, 2012 at 8:53 am #

    Thanks for the recipe and the picnic tip! Finally I don’t have to eat the typical fare and can bring something different to family events in the summer! What day is Waffle Day btw?

    • February 23, 2012 at 9:32 am #

      Waffle day is coming up on March 25th. I have yet to make them myself, by my mother-in-law makes fantastic ones. I’m pretty sure she will share her recipe so I’ll try to get a post up about it in advance.

      The meatballs really are a great picnic option. You can eat them cold as they are, or slice them and put them on a sandwich. Welcome back to the site any time!

  10. February 23, 2012 at 6:28 pm #

    I’m going to have to try this recipe it looks great! I’m glad I found your blog your recipes look wonderful. I’ll have to mark my calander for Waffle day.

    • February 23, 2012 at 8:40 pm #

      Thank you so much. If you do try some of the recipes, I’d love to hear what you think. A lot of them are Swedish so you can add some more Swedish items to your repetoire in addition to your grandfather’s pancake recipe. Welcome back any time.

  11. February 23, 2012 at 6:30 pm #

    These look wonderful!!!!! I will definitely try them!

  12. February 24, 2012 at 12:50 am #

    Thanks for sharing this recipe. I tried it last night and it was perfect. the taste of the sauce complements so well with the meatballs…

    • February 24, 2012 at 7:31 am #

      I’m so glad you enjoyed them. The leftovers are tasty too, even cold, or on a sandwich. Thank you for coming back and taking the time to comment.

  13. April 4, 2012 at 3:40 am #

    We did the broiler/baking thing in my household when I was growing up, too. I’ve kind of gotten away from it but will try it the next time.

  14. Jessica
    September 28, 2014 at 4:33 pm #

    Tack! My sister and my husband have decided that my meatballs at the last 2 julbords, were not as good as 3 years ago… I’m pretty sure that my Swedish mother made them without an official recipe, so there’s no use searching when I now have you! Thank you so much!

  15. June 12, 2015 at 3:29 am #

    Hey Maia, thanks for the recipe. I made a few tweaks like using allspice instead of nutmeg and ginger and just posted it on our blog. Prepared it yesterday and served it with lingonberry jam, pressgurka (pressed cucumbers) and potatismos (mashed potatoes). That was absolutely DELICIOUS! So, ready to celebrate Midsommar next week? 😉

    • June 13, 2015 at 7:58 am #

      Nice to hear you have taken the base and are making it your own. Definitely looking forward to midsommar and crossing fingers for nice weather. We finally have warm weather and midsommar is notoriously rainy and cold.

  16. Ann
    November 27, 2018 at 5:06 pm #

    my nana made swedish meatballs and also she made her own pickles and beets!

  17. October 28, 2020 at 10:49 pm #

    My grandmother (immigrant) and mother both often broiled/baked their köttbullar for the very reasons you described. Their recipe is also one that uses allspice in place of the finer and nutmeg. Tak for these recipes!

  18. February 24, 2012 at 7:33 am #

    What an interesting twist. Thanks for commenting.


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