Venison Swedish Meatballs

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If you are looking for an authentic Swedish meatballs recipe, you’ve found one. This is my grandmother’s recipe for Swedish meatballs, also known as köttbullar, are so good they should be a controlled substance.

I never knew my grandmother so I can’t remember her ever making Swedish meatballs, but I do have several strong memories of mom making these little balls of yum long ago, in the 1970s. Of course we ate Swedish meatballs in the Seventies — everyone did. They were right next to the fondue.

A platter of authentic Swedish meatballs
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

But even this was simply withdrawal symptoms of the Swedish meatballs’ heyday a decade earlier. Can’t you just see the chafing dish, the Sterno and the meatballs nestled in that slowly congealing-yet-somehow-irresistible gravy? Groovy baby, yeah!

Yet of all the crazy throwback foods of that much-maligned decade, Swedish meatballs are high on the list for preservation. If you’ve eaten well-made ones, can any among you honestly say you have not stuffed yourself on them? What the heck is it about these meatballs?

Sure, they a lot smaller than Italian meatballs, or at least Italian American meatballs, so they go down real easy, one after the other… I’ve eaten several dozen at a sitting before, only to feel later like an anaconda that swallowed a cow made of butter.

Butter. Maybe that’s it? Every authentic Swedish meatballs recipe calls for obscene amounts of butter.

The gravy is part drippings from frying the meatballs in butter, flour, stock and, in some cases, lingonberry or cranberry syrup or jelly. Still, I’ve eaten lots of rich things before without succumbing to gluttony.

Maybe it is a Swedish meatball’s size. Small. Bite-sized, to be exact. Dangerous. My Italian meatballs are big, honking brontosaurus balls; you need at least three bites to get one down. These little Swedish meatballs are just a tablespoon.

That’s not so much. Maybe I’ll have just one more…

What follows is my Swedish meatball recipe, adapted from one given to my mother from her mother, who was a Massachusetts Swede. They call these meatballs Svenska Köttbullar, and they are traditionally served with a lingonberry or cranberry sauce. In Scandinavia, the meatballs are sometimes made with reindeer, so venison is a natural. You could use any red meat.

A platter of authentic Swedish meatballs
4.91 from 20 votes

Venison Swedish Meatballs

If you can't find lingonberry jelly, use cranberry or highbush cranberry jelly. Obviously pre-ground venison (or whatever) will work here. Just make sure it has fat in the grind and that the grind is fine. Swedish meatballs need to be ground fine.
Course: Appetizer
Cuisine: Scandinavian
Servings: 8 people
Author: Hank Shaw
Prep Time: 45 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes


  • 4 slices stale bread, crusts removed
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 3 pounds venison or beef
  • 1 pound pork fat
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons Kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground allspice
  • 1 teaspoon caraway seeds
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 grated yellow onion
  • Flour
  • 1 quart beef stock or venison stock
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/3 cup lingonberry jelly
  • Salt
  • Butter or oil for frying


  • If you are not using pre-ground meat, chill the venison and pork fat until it is almost freezing by sticking it in the freezer for an hour. Cut both the meat and fat into chunks that will fit into your grinder. Grind through your fine die in a meat grinder. If you do not have a meat grinder, you can use a food processor, set on pulse. Don’t crowd the processor and chop the meat in pulses until you get something that looks like ground meat — it will not be as good as with a grinder, but it is easier than hand-mincing everything, which is also an option. Put the meat in the fridge.
  • Pour the milk into a pot and set it on low heat. Cut the crusts off the stale bread and break it into pieces. Add the pieces to the pot. They will begin to absorb the milk. Turn off the heat and mash everything into a paste. Let it cool to room temperature.
  • In the meat bowl, add the grated onion, salt and spices. Crack the eggs into the bowl, then pour the bread-milk mixture in. With clean hands, gently mix everything together. Do not knead it like bread, and do not squeeze things together. Just gently work the mixture: Think cake, not bread. When it is mostly combined — you need not get everything perfect — grab a tablespoon and scoop up some. Roll it into a little ball with your palms.
  • Gently roll the meatballs in the flour; you’ll probably need about a cup. You may need to re-shape them before putting them onto a cookie sheet lined with wax or parchment paper.
  • When the meatballs are all made, get a large pan ready; I use a big cast-iron frying pan. Fill it with a little less than 1/4 inch of oil. I use canola oil with a little butter tossed in for flavor. Bring it up to temperature over medium-high heat. When a drop of flour flicked in the oil immediately sizzles away, drop the heat to medium and add the meatballs. Do not crowd them.
  • You want the oil to come up halfway on the meatballs. Add a little oil if need be; don’t worry, you can reuse it. Fry on medium heat for 3 to 5 minutes. You are looking for golden brown. Turn only once. The other side will need 2 to 4 minutes. When cooked, set the meatballs on a paper towel or wire rack to drain. They can be used right away or cooled and then refrigerated for a week, or frozen for several months.


  • Once the meatballs are cooked, drain all but about 3 or 4 tablespoons of butter/oil from the pan. Over medium heat, add an equal amount of the flour left over from dusting the meatballs. Stir to make a roux and cook slowly until it turns a nice golden brown. Think coffee with cream.
  • Add the stock gradually and turn the heat up to medium-high. Stir well to combine and add more stock or some water if need be — you want this thicker than water, thinner than Thanksgiving gravy. Taste for salt and add if needed. Add the lingonberry or highbush cranberry jelly to the pan. Let it melt and then mix it in gently.
  • Put the meatballs in the pan, coat all the meatballs with the sauce, cover and cook for 10 minutes over medium-low heat. Add the cream and just warm through, maybe 3 or 4 minutes. Serve over mashed potatoes or with German egg noodles.


Serve these little meatballs in the sauce over mashed potatoes. A salad or sauteed greens would round things out. This is a large recipe, so you can either halve it or freeze extra meatballs after you brown them.


Calories: 872kcal | Carbohydrates: 21g | Protein: 45g | Fat: 66g | Saturated Fat: 26g | Cholesterol: 249mg | Sodium: 1016mg | Potassium: 884mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 10g | Vitamin A: 182IU | Vitamin C: 3mg | Calcium: 93mg | Iron: 7mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe? Tag me today!Mention @huntgathercook or tag #hankshaw!

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About Hank Shaw

Hey there. Welcome to Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, the internet’s largest source of recipes and know-how for wild foods. I am a chef, author, and yes, hunter, angler, gardener, forager and cook. Follow me on Instagram and on Facebook.

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Recipe Rating


  1. What can I say here? Make these. Everyone who ever has says the same thing. They are incredible, and although I am not swedish meatball connoisseur, I am pretty sure these will be the best you ever had.

  2. I have learnt from one of Swedish colleague that he adds onion (almost 2-3 in a pound), cut in round and makes it caramelized. Later he puts meatballs and onion to boil in water for 25mins. Later I have personalized that I add sauce in this. It comes out well. If u wanna to try

  3. Just made these today for a super bowl party tomorrow and of course had to taste a few or more. Hope there’s enough left for tomorrow, NASTY GOOD!!!!

  4. These are excellent and really hit the spot. I have made them with venison and with other meat as well and always delicious!

  5. These are my go-to when I want to impress people while serving them some hearty comfort food. It always ends up with people either asking for the recipe or asking to marry me, so use the power of these meatballs wisely.

    If you can’t find lingonberries (if they’re not in the jam section of your grocery store, check near the pie filling and near the kosher/imported section before you give up and substitute) I’ve used blackcurrant or blueberry jam in a pinch and it’s turned out just fine. The key is having a sweet fruity zing to counter the savory, so don’t skip it altogether.

  6. Made this recipe for the first time last night. It was delicious. I couldn’t find ligonberry jelly so used grape, but I think I will try cranberry sauce next time for a little more tartness.

  7. Made these with moose and didn’t feel like going out for pork fat. They are great! I made extra gravy because….gravy. thanks!

  8. Why so much fat? Is there a way to cut some and still be great?
    Also does hank look for wild mushrooms? Like. Chanterelles or porcini? Chanterelles are our favorites and we hav lots on our property in up state NY.

    1. Robert: Because I like fat. Fat = flavor. But yes, cut the amount if that suits you. And yes, I pick mushrooms here in the West Coast.

  9. Made these today, and they’re amazing!! Used half venison, half ground beef. Thanks so much for the recipe.

  10. This is a great recipe. However, it isn’t clear to me where the grated onion comes in. It is in the list of ingredients, but not mentioned in any of the instructions. I decided to put it in the meatball mixture and everything came out great!

  11. Hi Hank,

    I just wanted to note that in your book, this recipe calls for 2.5 lbs venison, whereas this recipe calls for 3 lbs plus a pound of pork fat. All other ingredients and their proportions are the same. Is this a mistake or an evolution of the recipe?

    I’ve made the book version three times and it is delicious!!!!



  12. Delicious! I used some homemade venison bone broth for the venison stock, and it was so good. I halved the recipe and had plenty of meatballs left over to freeze. I served it over German spaetzle, and it was definitely one of the best meals I’ve eaten in a long time. Thanks Hank!

  13. I was given some ground moose meat by my brother. I decided to try this recipe but I couldn’t get ground fat, so I substituted really fatty fresh ground pork. I also didn’t add the loganberry as we are a savory bunch. Worked out wonderful! So tasty and tender that I have been asked to make it again for company. It was so good that my husband was upset that I gave some to my brother. lol Need to double up this time! Thanks for this recipe.

  14. I just had two fabulous Svenska Kottbullar meals in Stockholm this week. Both were made with venison (Reindeer?). According to the respective menus, the meatballs of both meals were “traditional” style and served with soft potatoes (not pasta noodles), copious lingonberry sauce on the side and of course, a rich, light, brown gravy overall. I’ve been hunting the web for a recipe and see plenty that have beef, veal, lamb- even bison! But no venison so far. I loved the flavors of the venison meatballs.

    I know my wife and I can make these here!

  15. Hank,
    I work with your dad, who has been boasting his sons meatballs to everyone. I am looking forward to giving these a try. My whole family likes to hunt, except me, I’d rather cook. Looking forward to going through the book.
    Nice set up on the site, you have some great pics.