These Swedish meatballs are made with beef, veal, pork, allspice, cream gravy, and cranberry sauce. You’ll never go to IKEA for lunch again.
Before I cook these meatballs, I gently press a little indentation in the top of each one, to make a little holder for some of the fruit sauce. After the meatballs are cooked, I roll them lightly in the “gravy” (as my Minnesota Swedish neighbors called it), then spoon a little cranberry sauce in the indentations. The trick with this recipe is to have everything ready and waiting for the meatballs the moment they come out of the oven. I prefer cranberry sauce, but lingonberry jam is classic and any tart jelly or jam would be good. I like the hint of allspice in meatballs. That spice isn’t used much anymore, and it should be. Here, the meatballs are a first course, but they would make a good main course, too.–Cindy Pawlcyn
For the Swedish meatballs
- 1 to 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup minced yellow onion
- 2/3 pound ground beef
- 2/3 pound ground veal
- 2/3 pound ground pork
- 1 1/2 cups fresh bread crumbs
- 1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
- 3/4 cup whole milk
- 2 large egg yolks or 1 large whole egg
- Olive oil for the baking sheet
- Dill leaves chopped, for garnish
For the gravy
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 cups homemade chicken stock or canned chicken broth
- 1/2 cup whole milk or heavy cream
- 1 tablespoon chopped dill leaves
For the cranberry sauce
- 1 pound fresh or frozen cranberries
- Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon preferably organic
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar plus more if needed
- 1/4 cup water plus more if needed
Make the meatballs
- In a large sauté pan over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon butter. When the foaming subsides, add the onion and sauté until softened, about 5 minutes. If the pan seems too dry, add the remaining 1 tablespoon butter. Remove from the heat and let cool.
- In a big bowl, combine the beef, pork, veal, bread crumbs, salt, a few grinds of pepper, nutmeg, allspice, milk, and egg yolks and gently mix together with your hands until the ingredients are evenly distributed. When the onion is cool, work it into the meat mixture.
- Preheat the oven to 425°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and lightly brush with olive oil.
- In a small skillet, sauté a smidgen of the meat mixture and then taste and adjust the seasoning of the mixture accordingly. When you’re happy with the flavor, form the meat mixture into balls 1 1/2 to 2 inches in diameter and place them on the prepared baking sheets, spacing them about 1 inch apart. You should get about 36 meatballs. Press a little indentation in the top of most or all the meatballs to form a groove to hold the cranberry sauce later.
- Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until lightly browned all the way around but still tender and pink on the inside.
Make the gravy
- [Editor’s Note: If you like gravy, you may wish to double this recipe.] While the meatballs are in the oven, melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Sprinkle in the flour and then stir constantly with a whisk or wooden spoon until the mixture is smooth and the color of caramel, 3 to 5 minutes.
- Still whisking or stirring constantly, gradually pour in the stock in a slow, steady stream and bring to a boil. Add the cream, increase the heat to medium-high, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 to 15 minutes, until the gravy is a nice, thick consistency. Remove from the heat, stir in the dill, and set the sauce aside until you’re ready to serve the meatballs.
Make the cranberry sauce
- In a saucepan over medium-high heat, simmer the cranberries, lemon zest, lemon juice, sugar, and water, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes, until every cranberry has burst. Take a taste and, if desired, add more sugar. If the mixture seems dry, add more water. Remove from the heat and cover to keep warm.
Serve the meatballs
- Bring the gravy back to a gentle simmer. Arrange the meatballs in a dish or deep-sided serving platter and pour some of the sauce over and around the meatballs. Top some of the meatballs with a bit of cranberry sauce (in the little indentation), leaving some without for variety. Sprinkle with the dill. Serve any remaining gravy and cranberry sauce on the side.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
I love how flavorful and simple these meatballs are. Baking the meatballs in the oven is so much easier than pan-frying, and they still get nice and brown. The gravy is so simple to make but tastes rich while the dill adds a bright flavor and color.
I’d never made Swedish meatballs before. Where have they been all my life? These were delicious! The gravy is a snap to make and comes out beautiful. It took about 4 1/2 minutes cooking to achieve the caramel color. The cranberry sauce on its own is tart, tart, tart but is perfect with the finished meatballs. I could only find a 12-ounce bag of cranberries, so I increased the sugar to 1/3 cup and the water to 1/3 cup. Because the meatball mixture was very sticky to work with, I used my cookie dough scoop to form the meatballs and place them on the baking sheet. This worked very well. When all 3 components of the recipe are put together, the result is a stunning presentation with an incredible balance of flavors. The creamy, silken gravy is complemented so well by the tart cranberry sauce, and the meatballs are filled with flavor. These are even better the next day. Watch the heat while cooking the gravy and cranberry sauce. I had to lower it a couple of times.
Those of you rolling your eyes at the thought of whipping up some Swedish meatballs, please take a breath and hear me out. If, like me, your memories of this classic recipe are dominated by dense, dry, flavorless meatballs drowning in an equally uninspired and overly thick béchamel, then this recipe will be a revelation. Each element of the dish comes together quite quickly and with little fuss. The cranberry sauce requires nothing more than a few quick measures and an occasional stir while it cooks on the stove. The gravy, with only 5 ingredients, demands only about 3 minutes of active time while you darken the roux to a lovely caramel brown; from that point on, an infrequent whisking while it thickens to silken perfection is all that’s required. As for the meatballs, they’re perfectly seasoned and tender, delicious on their own and positively addictive with a generous coating of the gravy. My one slight complaint about the dish would be this: the sauce is so good that the next time I make it, I’ll be tempted to make a double batch so that there’s plenty to be sopped up with the bread that always accompanies our dinner. Put aside your chafing dish nightmares of Swedish meatballs past and make this recipe yourself. You’ll be so glad you did.
My family loved these meatballs so much that I’m thinking of making this for Christmas Eve dinner. The meatballs were light and flavorful (though don’t expect a round meatball). The cranberry sauce added just the right amount zing to brighten the flavors. The gravy was deceptively good given its simplicity. I just wish there had been more gravy to go with the meatballs and egg noodles. I also was surprised at how quickly everything came together. It really took no more than an hour to get it on the table, but the dish looked like I had spent all day in the kitchen.
These Swedish meatballs are simple to make, easy on the eyes, and bursting with flavor. I used 2 pounds meatloaf mix and made bread crumbs from a 2-day-old bâtard. I didn’t make the cranberry sauce, as no one in my house will eat it. I questioned whether the gravy should have salt and pepper added, but after tasting it with the meatballs I discovered it’s the perfect accompaniment as-is. Definitely the best meatballs I’ve made. Lovely over egg noodles (or zucchini noodles for the health-conscious).
These Swedish meatballs would be a wonderful make-ahead appetizer or entrée for a party. The flavors only get better after a day or two. I served them with buttered and herbed noodles for dinner. My family snacked on the leftovers throughout the next day. I received a unanimous vote to keep this recipe. If you are a person who loves gravy, make a double recipe of the gravy, but for an appetizer, the single recipe is perfect. When I make this next time, I’ll use beef stock instead of chicken stock. Although the gravy recipe didn’t ask for salt and pepper, I did season it in the end. I also may try these meatballs as a holiday dish and serve them on top of herbed bread “stuffing.” I think with the dab of cranberry and gravy, the meatballs may make a wonderful holiday alternative to turkey.
Meatballs are a wonderful food to explore. Every culture has a version, and then there are the variations of the same recipes within a country, and even variations within a family’s repertoire. Sitting at dinner with a Finnish friend, she explained how the Finns don’t add allspice to meatballs. “We don’t like it,” she said. Ah. There you have it—staunch nationalism over the meatball. Alas, this recipe was delicious—allspice and all. There’s a bit of work involved, but frankly, the cranberries can be done a day in advance if you’re sketchy about preparing 3 components for a dish at the same time. Hands down, the gravy was the highlight for me. Perfect instructions and tasted amazing. I served the Swedish meatballs with simple boiled, smashed russet potatoes. I was pleased to experience this food culture.
This recipe is a little complicated to prepare, but most Swedish meatball recipes are. It’s very tart; if you don’t like it quite that tart, add more sugar to your taste and perhaps cut back on the lemon a little. The cranberry sauce came together quickly and easily. I found that after simmering for 15 minutes, the gravy wasn’t very thick. The flavor of the meatballs was very good. The combination of the meatballs, gravy, and cranberry sauce worked very well together. I decided to complement the meatballs with some homemade egg noodles tossed with butter, dill, and thinly sliced green onion.
When I saw a photo of this eye-catching recipe, I just had to make it for a potluck dinner event I was attending. It received rave reviews. I absolutely love the presentation of this dish and I served it in a similar casserole dish. The flavors of the meatballs, gravy, and cranberry work so well together. I thought this recipe would be on the bland side, but it surprising yields a flavorful and comforting dish. I made a few adjustments: I added the juice of one orange and another 1/4 water and 1 cup sugar to the cranberry recipe to take out the tartness of the cranberries. My only other tweak was to add a tiny grating of nutmeg and black pepper to the gravy and additional salt to taste since I used a low salt chicken stock
The combination of meats made for moist meatballs covered with gravy and dollops of a cranberry jelly and made for interesting flavors combining.
Originally published December 04, 2014