Finnish Meatballs

At last, I've conquered the meatball! With this recipe, Finnish Meatballs turn out light and tender. They're cloaked in a creamy sauce, true comfort food! Better still? Meatballs may be made in advance and frozen, so they're perfect for holiday entertaining, no last-minute cooking!
Finnish Meatballs are traditional at Christmas in Finland, below you'll find a complete Finnish Christmas menu, one that I often serve either on Christmas Eve or on Christmas Day or more recently, even on Boxing Day, the day after Christmas.
Finnish Meatballs ♥, three tricks to produce tender, flavorful meatballs, then cloak them a creamy sauce for a traditional Finnish Christmas meal. Easily made ahead of time, perfect for entertaining. Low Carb. High Protein.

We ♥ Meatballs!

Call it meatball mania, our infatuation with globes of ground meat. There’s plenty to love: meatball ingredients are easy to find and inexpensive; meatballs can be cooked ahead of time; once cooked, meatballs freeze beautifully in family-size or individual servings. Most of all, meatballs are somehow more festive than – say – meatloaf, even made from identical ingredients.

In Finland, meatballs are celebration food. Since living in Finland for a year as an exchange student, I like to serve them on Christmas Eve, especially since there’s practically no last-minute cooking.

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

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

Techniques for Tender Meatballs.

For tender meatballs, try these easy techniques, even with your own favorite recipe:

  • Soak the bread crumbs in milk or buttermilk, adding moisture that’s easy to distribute throughout. For the bread itself, use something with both good flavor and some structure; I’ve used 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 mince the onion, then the parsley.

So What Makes Finnish Meatballs "Finnish" Anyway?

Have you tasted Swedish meatballs? Probably, if you've shopped at the top Swedish retailer. The Swedish company IKEA [pronounced eye-KEE-uh] has singlehandedly taken Swedish meatballs with lingonberry sauce "to the world" – even if the meatballs, to my taste, are completely hemks. Real Swedish meatballs are served in a lovely brown sauce, they're underbar!

But there's no brown sauce for Finnish Meatballs. Instead, Finnish Meatballs are draped in a cream sauce. Now you know, that's how they're different!

Meatballs = Party Food

Meatballs are such great party food! For parties, I like to make extra-small 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!

And meatballs are also a cook's best friend! They're slightly fussy up front but wow, make them ahead of time and put them in the freezer. Party food, ready to go!

Meatballs from Around the World

The cream sauce 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, Italian seasoning or ground fennel for giant Italian meatballs, say, (like here, with my Homemade Spaghetti Meat Sauce); or oregano and lemon for Greek meatballs; pimenton for Spanish meatballs; curry powder for Indian meatballs. More ideas? Let me know!

Cooking Meatballs: Baked or Fried? Definitely Baked.

Finnish Meatballs ready for the oven ♥, three tricks to produce tender, flavorful meatballs, then cloak them a creamy sauce for a traditional Finnish Christmas meal. Easily made ahead of time, perfect for entertaining. Low Carb. High Protein.

Over the years, I’ve come to prefer baked meatballs. There’s no added fat, the house doesn’t reek of fried meat for days and baking even takes less time. But fried meatballs have one big advantage, they’re round! So I worked out a "sear and swirl" technique for cooking meatballs when shape is important.

To fry meatballs, heat a skillet on medium high. Add a light covering of oil until shimmery and let it get hot; don’t use too much, it makes it harder to "swirl". (The oil is hot enough when water flicked off your fingertips sizzles.) Roll a few meatballs in flour or arrowroot flour and drop gently into the hot skillet, leaving plenty of room to move around. Let the balls sear on one side for a minute, then lift the skillet and "swirl" to cook on another side. Repeat the "sear and swirl" process until the meatballs are fully cooked.


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 for serving

MISE EN PLACE 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 oven to 350F/175C.

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

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 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 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 Bake until 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. These 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 [My Disclosure Promise] or a large, shallow skillet 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. Just before serving, sprinkle meatballs with fresh dill.

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, leave it uncovered if you'd like the cream mixture to continue to thicken.

TO SERVE 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.

Whole Recipe for DIY calculations: 4756 Calories; 333g Tot Fat; 183g Sat Fat; 1945mg Cholesterol; 4492mg Sodium; 73g Carb; 8g Fiber; 21g Sugar; 291g Protein.

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.

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.

A Traditional Finnish Christmas Menu

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

~ Finnish Meatballs ~
(recipe above)
with Lingonberry Jam
Swedish Red Cabbage & Apples
New Potatoes Tossed with Butter & Fresh Dill

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

More Traditional Christmas Recipes

(hover with a mouse for a description; otherwise click a photo to view the recipe)

Oyster Stew Lazy Man's Ciopinno, Shrimp & Fish Stew Twice-Smoked Ham
~ more Christmas recipes ~
~ more beef recipes ~

More Recipes from Finland

(hover with a mouse for a description; otherwise click a photo to view the recipe)

Homemade Finnish Mustard Karelian Borscht (Finnish - Russian Beet Borscht Soup) Finnish Fruit Tart
~ more Finnish recipes ~

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 via 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, 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.

© Copyright Kitchen Parade 2009, 2014, 2015 & 2019

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.


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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