What If You Put Graham Cracker Crumbs in Your Meatballs?

I primarily associate graham crackers with cheesecake and after-school snacks. Traditionally, I didn’t associate them with meatballs, let alone ham balls, an Iowa delicacy I only learned about a few days ago.

Ham balls are what they sound like – a combination of ham and ground beef rolled into balls. Simple enough, but the real highlight is in the crumbs, which are not made from stale or dried bread, but from graham crackers. (They’re also topped with tomato and brown sugar frosting. I love Iowa.) “Isn’t that really sweet?” you ask. Yes. Yes it is. But sugar, salt and fat go well together. I thought the nutty flavor of graham flour would go great with meat. (I was right.)

Instead of making my own ham balls (it’s already been done ), I decided to take a hint and use graham crackers in a simple meatball recipe with a 50/50 mix of ground beef and pork, plus some kosher salt, white pepper, and Worcestershire sauce. . . I didn’t soak the crumbs in milkā€”the recipe for the ham balls didn’t call for that, and it didn’t seem necessary either, as they were delicious. I mixed everything together, divided the mixture into balls, then fried them in oil until they were browned and fried.

They were incredible. The graham cracker crumbs did the trick, and they did it well. The meatballs were juicy and tender but held their shape during cooking, even when rolled around the pan with a spatula. And yes, they were a little sweet.

In fact, the first batch was too sweet for my taste, which led to the addition of Worcestershire sauce. The stinky taste of anchovies and the punchy smell of tamarind counteract the baking spices and sugar, creating a balanced, some might say nuanced, meatball.

I have the recipe, but you can play with the meat and cracker crumbs yourself. Try replacing half of your regular breadcrumbs with graham crackers or go all in. I wouldn’t try this with Nona’s meatball recipe (to be honest, I wouldn’t even bring it up with Nona), but I think it would come in very handy in a Swedish meatball riff.

Graham Cracker Sweet and Salty Meatballs (makes about 5 large servings)

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 pound ground sausage
  • 1 cup graham cracker crumbs (about 7 whole crackers)
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon white pepper
  • frying oil

Mix all ingredients except butter in a large bowl. Divide the meatballs however you want – I use this method – but don’t make them larger than 1 1/4 inches in diameter.

Melt a tablespoon of butter in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Once the butter starts to foam, add the meatballs, working in batches so there aren’t too many. Cook on all sides until they are browned and no pink remains in the center. (You’ll have to sacrifice a meatball to inspect it. Such is the life of a chef.) Repeat until you’ve cooked all the meatballs, or as many as you want to eat. (Meatball mix keeps very well in the freezer.) Serve with sauteed butter from the skillet.

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