Finnish Meatballs

How to make Finnish Meatballs from scratch, baked in the oven and cloaked in a cream gravy that's contrasts so well with tart lingonberries. Suomolaiset Lihapullat are a traditional Christmas food in Finland and below you'll find my Christmas menu that pairs these light and tender meatballs with other typical Scandinavian recipes, perfect for festive family meals and holiday entertaining, either as the main course served in a shallow skillet or slow cooker or shaped as mini meatballs for an appetizer. Best of all? Finnish Meatballs freeze well so can be made ahead of time, that means no last-minute cooking!

Finnish Meatballs ♥, made from scratch with three easy tricks to produce light, tender and flavorful meatballs, then baked in the oven and cloaked in a cream gravy for a traditional Finnish Christmas meal. Easily made ahead of time, perfect for entertaining. Low Carb. High Protein.

Traditional Finnish Recipe, a Favorite at Christmas. Three Easy Techniques for Light, Tender Meatballs. Great for Meal Prep, Great for Freezing, Great for Mostly Hands-Off Party Food. Potluck & Party Friendly. Low Carb. High Protein. Weight Watchers Friendly.
Finnish Meatballs ♥, made from scratch with three easy tricks to produce light, tender and flavorful meatballs, then baked in the oven and cloaked in a cream gravy for a traditional Finnish Christmas meal. Easily made ahead of time, perfect for entertaining. Low Carb. High Protein.

How I Fell In Love with Finnish Meatballs

In Finland, meatballs are celebration food. I first fell for them when I lived in Finland for a year as an exchange student. Now I also fell hard for Homemade Finnish Mustard, Finnish Summer Soup, Finnish Salmon Chowder, Karelian Borscht (Finnish - Russian Beet Borscht Soup), Finnish Fruit Tart and Finnish Strawberry Whipped Cream Cake – but those are stories for other days. Today, let's stick to how to make Finnish meatballs.

RESOURCES More recipes from Finland!

A collection of Finnish recipes ♥

Since that year in Finland, I like to serve Finnish Meatballs on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day or even on Boxing Day with a traditional menu. It's a host's dream, there’s practically no last-minute cooking.

But for too long, my meatballs were dense and tough, reminiscent of proverbial hockey pucks. It took several tries to achieve the tender and flavorful meatballs worthy of a life-time relationship.

At last, I've conquered the meatball! That's the recipe that's here.

I'm sharing the techniques I learned, nothing fancy or complicated, just effective.

What Do You Need to Make Finnish Meatballs? Mostly Pantry Ingredients!

In all my recipes and most well-written recipes, every ingredient serves a purpose. Each one matters. Each one contributes to the overall dish. It's not that an ingredient can't be substituted by something else but when choosing the substitute, it's important to understand why the original ingredient was present in the first place.

  • For Bulk, Flavor & Protein – Use ground meats. I use a mix of low-fat ground beef and ground pork. Ground elk and ground venison would also work but since wild game is lower in fat, the mixture might need a little extra fat, depending on how the meat was ground.

  • To Loosen the Meat – Bread crumbs break up the dense meat, lightening the final meatballs. For the bread itself, use something with both good flavor and some structure. I use everything from whole-grain rolls to a sour dough baguette to a grainy rye bread. The crumbs themselves should be light and airy, not dry and dense, you may need to cut off the crusts beforehand. Don't use canned bread crumbs, they're too dry and too fine.

  • To Tenderize the Meat & Add Moisture – Milk or buttermilk is used to soak the crumbs, a plant-based "milk" would work fine too.

  • To Add Flavor & Freshness – Onion and parsley help contrast with the rich meat. These should be minced very fine so that they almost "disappear" into the meatball mixture, I use the food processor but a grater or even some careful knife work are good substitutes.

  • For Seasoning – Just salt; white pepper, which is slightly more peppery and is traditional in many Scandinavian foods but black pepper works fine; black pepper too; a big spoonful of allspice, this is a key ingredient, try not to skip it!

  • To Bind It All Together – Two eggs help keep the meatballs intact, without them, they'd fall apart into grainy bits.

  • For the Cream Sauce (Cream Gravy) – Chicken stock & heavy cream are left to simmer to thicken.

  • To Serve Alongside – Finnish Meatballs are traditionally served with lingonberry sauce. In the U.S., specialty stores like HomeGoods and TJMaxx often carry jars of lingonberry jam or preserves, they're all labeled a little differently. A good substitute is a whole cranberry sauce like Homemade Whole Cranberry Sauce for the Slow Cooker.

Finnish Meatballs vs Swedish Meatballs

The Short Answer The difference between Finnish Meatballs and Swedish Meatballs is in the sauce. Finnish Meatballs are draped in a white cream gravy while Swedish Meatballs are served in a brown gravy. Both, however, are traditionally served with lingonberry sauce.

Have you tasted Swedish meatballs? Probably, if you've shopped at the #1 Swedish retailer, that is. The Swedish company IKEA [pronounced eye-KEE-uh] has singlehandedly taken Swedish meatballs with lingonberry sauce "to the world" – even if IKEA's meatballs are, to my taste, completely hemks.

But what makes Finnish Meatballs "Finnish" anyway? And how are Finnish Meatballs different from Swedish meatballs? Mostly, it's the sauce.

  • Real Swedish meatballs made from scratch are served in a lovely brown sauce, they're underbar!
  • Finnish Meatballs are draped in a white cream sauce, a thick cream gravy.

Both versions are meatballs, both are served with lingonberries. The difference is in the sauce, brown sauce or brown gravy for Swedish meatballs, white cream sauce or cream gravy for Finnish Meatballs.

Now you know, that's how Finnish Meatballs and Swedish meatballs are different!

For Best Results

For my weekly column in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, I interviewed chefs and translated their restaurant recipes for home kitchens. The most iluminating question? "How can a home cook ensure the same results?" So now I ask that question of myself, too, for my own recipes. Have another question? Ask away, I'll do my best to answer!

Three Easy Tips & Techniques for Tender Meatballs of Any Sort

For tender Finnish Meatballs, I use three simple techniques. But these techniques can work on any kind of meatball, including your own favorite recipe.

  • #1 SOAK BREAD CRUMBS IN MILK OR BUTTERMILK Soak the bread crumbs in milk or buttermilk, adding moisture that’s easy to distribute throughout.

  • #2 AVOID COMPACTING THE GROUND MEAT Be gentle with the meat. When mixing and forming the meatballs, avoid "packing" the meat, which makes for dense, tough meatballs. To allow plenty of room, I use an extra-large bowl for mixing the meatballs, then use a light touch to shape them into balls.

  • #3 EXTRA INGREDIENTS SHOULD BE VERY FINE Ingredients like parsley and onion add moisture and bulk but should be minced fine so that they almost disappear into the meat itself. I use a food processor to make the bread crumbs, then to separately mince the onion, then separately the parsley.
Finnish Meatballs ♥, made from scratch with three easy tricks to produce light, tender and flavorful meatballs, then baked in the oven and cloaked in a cream gravy for a traditional Finnish Christmas meal. Easily made ahead of time, perfect for entertaining. Low Carb. High Protein.

Which Is Better, Baked Meatballs or Fried Meatballs? Definitely Baked.

Over the years, I’ve come to prefer baked meatballs. There’s no added fat, no added flour and the house doesn’t reek of fried meat for days.

Besides, baking meatballs takes less time.

But fried meatballs do have one big advantage, they’re round!

So I worked out a "sear and swirl" technique for frying meatballs when shape is important.

If you insist on frying meatballs, here's how to do it.

If You Insist, Here's How to Fry Meatballs

  • Heat a skillet on medium high. A cast iron skillet works if it's well-seasoned, otherwise choose a non-stick skillet.
  • Add a light covering of a neutral oil (vegetable, canola, etc.) until shimmery and let it get hot; don’t use too much oil, it makes it harder to "swirl". The oil is hot enough when water flicked off your fingertips sizzles a bit.
  • Roll a few meatballs in flour or arrowroot flour and drop gently into the hot oil, be careful, the skillet may spatter. Cook only a few meatballs at a time, leaving plenty of room to "swirl" the meatballs around.
  • Let the balls sear on one side for a minute, then lift the skillet off the stove and "swirl" the skillet to cook on another side.
  • Repeat the "sear and swirl" process until the meatballs are fully cooked.
  • Repeat with the remaining meatball mixture. You won't need to add fresh oil every time but may need to start over with a clean pan and fresh oil every so often.
  • Go ahead, reconsider the frying choice. Baking is definitely easier, faster and simpler.

Can Finnish Meatballs Be Frozen?

Yes! Meatballs freeze really well. I freeze meatballs all the time, some packaged for a single meal, some packaged to feed a crowd. Here's how I do it.

  • Prepare the meatballs through the baking step, cooking them all the way through. Skip the Cream Sauce / Cream Gravy for now though.
  • Package the meatballs in freezer containers, usually a single layer and no more than a couple of layers deep. I usually line the container with waxed paper first, then press a double layer of waxed paper onto the top of the meatballs. This helps keep the meatballs from getting freezer burned, a bigger risk with meatballs since they're round and the freezer container will have lots of empty spaces for ice crystals to form.
  • Freeze for two to three months. They can be frozen longer but the longer the time in the freezer, the greater the risk of freezer burn and being about to "taste" the time in the freezer.
  • Thaw the meatballs in the fridge, this can take a day or two.
  • Then follow the instructions in the recipe, below, starting with "About an Hour Before Serving".

Meatballs = Party Food

Meatballs make for great party food! Meatballs are a cook's best friend!

They do take some time and effort up front but wow, make them ahead of time and put them in the freezer. Freezing meatballs works for a "planned meal" like Christmas or just in case for a "unplanned impromptu gathering".

  • FINNISH MEATBALLS as the MAIN COURSE With just a few hours notice for thawing and a couple of side dishes, a celebration meal is ready to go!

  • FINNISH MEATBALLS as an APPETIZER For a great appetizer at parties, I like to make extra-small mini Finnish Meatballs, then keep toothpicks or small forks nearby to let people spear the meatballs right from the pan! You can also use a slow cooker to keep the meatballs warm for a couple of hours, again, people like spearing their own!

A Traditional Finnish Christmas Menu

Smoked Salmon Spread
with Rye Bread or Crackers, Cucumber Slices & Fresh Dill

Finnish Meatballs (recipe below)
with Lingonberry Jam or Preserves

Swedish Red Cabbage & Apples
Boiled New Potatoes Tossed with Butter & Fresh Dill

Christmas Rice Pudding with Warm Fruit Soup
and / or
Pulla (Finnish Cardamom Bread) and
Glögi: Hot Red Wine "Mulled" with Winter Spices

We ♥ Meatballs!

Call it meatball mania, our infatuation with globes of ground meat, whether they're from Finland, from Sweden, from Italy, from all parts of the world. There’s plenty to love about meatballs!

  • Meatball ingredients are easy to find and inexpensive.
  • Meatballs can be cooked ahead of time.
  • Meatballs freeze beautifully in party-size, family-size or individual servings.

Most of all, meatballs are somehow more festive than – say – meatloaf, even though meatballs and meatloaf are made from the very same ingredients.

Just One Meatball Recipe Can Take You Around the World

The Cream Sauce / Cream Gravy and allspice are what makes these meatballs "Finnish Meatballs".

But this is such a good basic recipe for meatballs that I can heartily recommend using other spices too. Here are some ideas!

  • Use Italian seasoning or ground fennel to make giant Italian meatballs to serve with my Homemade Spaghetti Meat Sauce. So good and a real crowd pleaser.
  • Use oregano and lemon for Greek meatballs.
  • Use pimenton for Spanish meatballs.
  • Use curry powder and cumin for Indian meatballs.
  • More ideas? Let me know!

Bookmark! PIN! Share!

How do you save and share favorite recipes? recipes that fit your personal cooking style? a particular recipe your mom or daughter or best friend would just love? If my recipe for Finnish Meatballs hits the mark, go ahead, save and share! I'd be honored ...

Finnish Meatballs ♥, light and tender meatballs, draped in a cream sauce.


Hands-on time: 90 minutes
Time to table: about 2 hours
Makes 4 dozen small meatballs or 2 dozen larger meatballs
  • 3/4 cup whole milk or buttermilk
  • 1 cup (50g) fresh bread crumbs (see ALANNA's TIPS)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 medium onion, minced very fine (about 1 cup)
  • 1 bunch parsley, minced very fine (about 1 cup)
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon allspice (don’t skip this!)
  • Bread Crumb & Milk Mixture
  • 2 pounds lean ground beef
  • 1 pound lean ground pork
  • Additional chopped fresh dill (or more parsley) for garnish
  • Lingonberry jam or preserves

MISE EN PLACE (see ALANNA's TIPS) Mixing and forming the meatballs is a little bit messy, so get out whatever you'll be baking the meatballs on and have it/them handy. I use a good non-stick baking sheet, also a cast iron griddle. A baking sheet will work, you'll probably want to line it with parchment.

Set the oven to 350F/175C.

BREAD CRUMBS Gently warm the milk in a medium saucepan, add the bread crumbs and let soak off heat.

MIX In an extra-large bowl with room for mixing everything with your hands, whisk the eggs. Add all the remaining meatball ingredients EXCEPT the ground meat.

Stir in the Bread Crumb & Milk Mixture, combine very well, really distributing all the ingredients before adding the meat.

Now comes that messy part! With your hands, gently break the meat into pieces, then gently work the meat into the mixture until it's all very well combined.

TASTE for SEASONING This is an optional but recommended step. To test the seasoning, form a small meatball and fry it in a tiny bit of vegetable oil in a skillet. Taste and if needed, adjust the seasonings.

FORM MEATBALLS With your hands or a cookie scoop (to measure) plus your hands (to form), gently form and shape the meatballs, taking care to not compress the mixture. Arrange the meatballs on a rimmed baking sheet about an inch apart, the meatballs don't spread but they do need room for the heat to circulate.

BAKE THE MEATBALLS Bake until the meat is cooked clear through and beginning to brown on top, about 15 minutes for small two-inch meatballs, about 25 minutes for larger three-inch meatballs.

MAKE-AHEAD If cooking ahead, let the meatballs cool, then cover, refrigerate or freeze. If frozen, thaw before continuing. Finnish Meatballs freeze beautifully!

ABOUT ONE HOUR BEFORE SERVING Bring the chicken stock to a boil in a large pot. For serving tableside, the base of a tagine or a large shallow skillet with a lid (affiliate links, My Disclosure Promise) works beautifully. Stir in the cream and return to a gentle boil.

Add the meatballs and return to a gentle boil, let bubble until the cream thickens considerably, spooning cream over the meatball tops every five minutes or so to coat the meatballs. The meatballs shrink a bit in the skillet, you can add more, just keep them in a single layer.

TO HOLD Once the cream sauce has thickened and coated the meatballs, you can "hold" the dish in the oven for about 30 minutes before serving. Set the oven to 180F/80C, cover the dish to prevent further thickening or leave it uncovered if you'd like the cream mixture to continue to thicken.

TO SERVE Just before serving, sprinkle the meatballs with fresh dill. For an authentic Finnish Christmas dinner, serve Finnish Meatballs with Lingonberry Jam, Swedish Red Cabbage & Apples and boiled new potatoes tossed with a little butter and fresh dill.

ALANNA's TIPS For fresh bread crumbs, pulse chunks of the soft interior of a hearty bread in a food processor. Do use a bread that tastes good, not a bland, soft white bread. What is mise en place? It's a French term pronounced mees-en-ploss (rhymes with bees-en-gloss) and means to gather everything together before beginning to mix or cook. I'm a "prep as you go" cook but for meatballs, it really helps to get your act together beforehand.

FOR MORE INFO If you "skipped straight to the recipe," please scroll back to the top of this page for ingredient information, ingredient substitutions, tips and more. If you print this recipe, you'll want to check the recipe online for even more tips and extra information about ingredient substitutions, best results and more. See .
For Large Meatballs, assumes 24 meatballs, per meatball: 198 Calories; 14g Tot Fat; 8g Sat Fat; 81mg Cholesterol; 187mg Sodium; 3g Carb; 0g Fiber; 1g Sugar; 12g Protein. WEIGHT WATCHERS POINTS Old Points 5 & PointsPlus 5 & SmartPoints 7 & Freestyle 7 (sorry, due to technical issues during a laptop conversion, WW points will be updated later)

For Small Meatballs, assumes 48 meatballs, Per Meatball: 99 Calories; 7g Tot Fat; 4g Sat Fat; 40mg Cholesterol; 93mg Sodium; 2g Carb; 0g Fiber; 0g Sugar; 6g Protein. WEIGHT WATCHERS POINTS Old Points 2 & PointsPlus 2 & SmartPoints 3 & Freestyle 3 (sorry, due to technical issues during a laptop conversion, WW points will be updated later)

More Traditional Finnish Recipes

~ Finnish recipes ~
Finnish Glögi, Red Mulled Wine ♥, served hot in Nordic countries during winter.

Homemade Finnish Mustard ♥, homemade mustard Finnish-style, a creamy, spicy mustard just like the amazing mustards in Finland.

Scandinavian Split-Pea Soup ♥, the classic Scandinavian recipe made with dried split peas on Thursdays across Sweden and Finland. Hearty comfort food, great for a crowd or a houseful, either meaty or vegan. Weight Watchers friendly!

Shop Your Pantry First

(helping home cooks save money on groceries)

~ beef ~
~ pork ~

~ All Recipes, By Ingredient ~
~ How to Save Money on Groceries ~

Kitchen Parade is written by second-generation food columnist Alanna Kellogg and features fresh, seasonal dishes for every-day healthful eating and occasional indulgences. Quick Suppers are Kitchen Parade favorites and feature recipes easy on the budget, the clock, the waistline and the dishwasher. Do you have a favorite recipe that other Kitchen Parade readers might like? Just send me a quick e-mail, you'll find my current address in the FAQs. How to print a Kitchen Parade recipe. Never miss a recipe! If you like this recipe, sign up for a free e-mail subscription. If you like Kitchen Parade, for more scratch cooking recipes using whole, healthful ingredients, you're sure to like my food blog about vegetable recipes, too, A Veggie Venture. If you make this recipe, I'd love to know your results! Just leave a comment below.

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Alanna Kellogg
Alanna Kellogg

A Veggie Venture is home of "veggie evangelist" Alanna Kellogg and the famous asparagus-to-zucchini Alphabet of Vegetables.


  1. More Finnish recipes, please!

  2. I chuckle every time the holidays come 'round. It is the only time of year that I see recipes for brussels sprouts.
    It has to be an east coast thing, as here in Minnesota, brussels sprouts were not EVER included in holiday fare.
    I happen to love them and eat them year 'round, and I 'Thank You' for the the explanation of why some people do not like them. I usually cut the 'x' and cook them whole, but will from now on cook them cut in half instead of whole.
    This is also on a plane that east coaster's like mac and cheese for holiday meals. Where did that start?

  3. I haven't made Swedish (as I grew up calling them) meatballs in about three years. I should rectify that lapse.

  4. 1 cup of bread crumbs in the recipe, and yet 0 carbs? What recipe analyzer are you using??

  5. Hi Unknown ~ Ooops, looks as if you may have mis-read the nutrition information, there are carbs listed.

  6. I've never heard of Finnish meatballs being served with lingonberries of any kind. That is a Swedish custom. Neither have I heard of serving meatballs for Christmas. The traditional Finnish Christmas dinner in my family consisted of various fish for appetizers, ham, rutabaga casserole, beet salad, potatoes a couple different ways, home made mustard, sweet rye bread with fennel with good Finnish butter and dessert. Rice porridge with fruit soup is eaten for lunch.

  7. Outi ~ Aha, you’ve got me in a “world fusion” moment! You are so right, the Christmas menu you’ve listed is exactly the one I remember from the one Christmas I spent in Finland some, ummm, forty years ago this year. (YIKES.)

    But I’ve made Finnish meatballs “my” Christmas tradition here in the US, either on Christmas Eve or on Boxing Day, oops, that’s a British holiday! World Fusion, indeed.

    Thanks so much for sharing your menu, I’m right now longing for every single one of those, especially the amazing fish. We can’t come close to Finland’s fish, we just can’t.

  8. I have some good recipes... if you're interested.


Post a Comment

Thank you for taking a moment to write! I read each and every comment, for each and every recipe. If you have a specific question, it's nearly always answered quick-quick. But I also love hearing your reactions, your curiosity, even your concerns! When you've made a recipe, I especially love to know how it turned out, what variations you made, what you'll do differently the next time. ~ Alanna