Trying to imagine a Runza? This Easy Runza Recipe From My Aunt’s Nebraska Farm Kitchen is simply ground beef and cabbage all wrapped-up in a fresh baked bread bun.
My version of this humble sandwich passed down through generations of Nebraska German/Russian farm families, includes additional seasonings and an easy-to-make sweet dough, achieving “keeper” status with our family. Although I grew up in Wisconsin, summers were spent in my grandparents’ Nebraska farm communities where family gatherings were frequent and large.
And by large, I mean 24 people at a long meal table. I love being in the kitchen with my grandmothers, aunts, and cousins.
There is so much joy, laughter, conversation, and incredible food.
Runza’s are as Nebraska as Cornhusker football. The origins of this Runza recipe are remarkably humble, traced back to my family’s Central and Eastern European roots.
MY AUNT AND HER RUNZA RECIPE
My Aunt, a fantastic cook, loves to make meals for whoever happens to be in her kitchen. Whether the family gathers to watch Cornhusker football, for a weekend hunt or just for a big get-together, you can count on eating a Runza or two!
It’s a recipe filled with stories spanning 3-generations which continues to be made by the next generation, many of whom are scattered across the country.
JUMP TO THE SECTION TO LEARN:
- WHAT'S IN A RUNZA?
- HOW TO MAKE THEM
- WHAT TO SERVE WITH RUNZA'S
- COOKING RUNZA'S FOR TWO?
- ARE RUNZA'S GERMAN OR RUSSIAN OR NEBRASKAN?
- WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A BIEROCK AND A RUNZA?
- RECIPE VIDEO
- RATE THE RECIPE
Disclaimer: Please note that some of the links on this page are affiliate links and I will earn a small commission if you purchase through those links. I personally own the recommended products and love using them which is why I signed up to be an affiliate.
WHAT'S IN A RUNZA?
I know, I know this looks like a lot of ingredients! On the positive side, they are low-cost pantry items making this a budget-friendly meal.
That said, If you are not up to making your own dough, using frozen dough such as Rhodes is a good shortcut.
But hold on. Even though I say frozen dough is a good option, I absolutely love this sweet dough recipe and the results are worth the little effort required to mix the ingredients.
Trust me, you can make this dough. I do not consider myself a baker, but this recipe has never failed to please.
As a side note, if you choose frozen dough you must still plan, thaw and wait for it to rise, so why not try making it?
FOR HOMEMADE DOUGH
- Warm water (110 degrees) – this is important to activate the yeast. Please remember not to make the water too hot. If it’s too hot for you to touch then it is too hot for the yeast.
- Sweetened condensed milk – this is what makes the dough sweet balance nicely with the seasoned ground beef and cabbage.
- Vegetable oil, sugar, salt and egg – Another tip is to have the egg at room temperature. I picked this up from Dorie Greenspan when baking.
- All-purpose flour
- Instant or rapid-rise yeast
FOR THE FILLING
- Lean ground beef
- Seasoning for the beef: These are my favorite seasonings and do vary from my Aunt Sherril’s recipe. Worcestershire sauce, garlic powder, onion salt, dried oregano and dried basil
- Dash of hot sauce and a pinch of red pepper flakes for an extra kick
- White onion and a small head of cabbage
- Salt and pepper
- Slices deli American cheese or pepper jack cheese.
HOW TO MAKE RUNZA'S
You will find a Runza recipe in almost every Nebraska church cookbook. This version is a riff on a recipe passed down to me by my Aunt Sherril. When our boys were home, I played around with the ingredients, landing on this version which is a keeper.
MAKING THE HOMEMADE RUNZA DOUGH
When making Runza’s have a plan as to when to begin making or setting out the frozen dough to rise. You will need 15 minutes to mix the dough and at least 1 hour to rise.
Let’s get started! First we need warm water, target the temperature at 110 degrees F. If you don’t have a thermometer then make sure the water is almost, but not, too hot to touch. If it’s too hot it will kill the yeast.
Also, we want to avoid serving flatbread Runza’s!
If the water is too cold, it will take longer for the yeast to activate and rise.
Now mix the water with sweetened condensed milk, oil, sugar, and egg in large glass measuring cup that holds 2 -4 cups of liquid (see picture below).
In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a dough hook, mix flour, yeast, and salt together. With the mixer on low, slowly add the water mixture.
Mix until shiny and smooth! With floured hands, turn dough out onto heavily floured work surface. Shape the dough into a ball, and place in the greased bowl and let it rise.
This may take about an hour to 90 minutes. We want it to double in size.
In the meantime you can start on the filling.
MAKING THE FILLING
First, melt butter in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add beef and cook until just beginning to brown. Now it’s time to season the beef.
Stir in your choice of seasonings. My favorites are Worcestershire sauce, garlic powder, onion salt, oregano, basil and red pepper flakes.
Now, let’s move to sautéing the onion. Sometimes I will throw in red or green peppers with the onion, if I want to change it up. Once the onion begins to soften I cook the cabbage. I do this very quickly as I like to the cabbage to have a bit of crunch.
Mix the beef, onion and cabbage together, season with hot sauce, salt and pepper and we are ready to assemble the Runza’s.
ASSEMBLE AND BAKE
Let the flour fly! Divide the dough into 8 equal pieces, gently forming 8 small balls. We will roll each piece of dough into a 7-inch circle – it does not have to be a perfect circle.
My trick to making filling the runza’s easier, is to place one dough round in a deep cereal bowl. Place one slice of cheese on top of the dough.
Spoon filling over cheese and pinch edges of dough together to form bun.
Cover buns with plastic wrap or wet kitchen towel and let rise until puffed, about 20- minutes. Now they are ready to bake.
Check out our video in the recipe card below or on YouTube to see us in the kitchen creating this tasty dish and sharing tips and tricks on how to make this for two. Try this recipe, rate and comment. I want to know what you think!
WHAT TO SERVE WITH RUNZA'S
Ketchup! And maybe a beer. While the oven is hot, consider throwing (from the freezer) tater tots or French fries into the oven. What you will find alongside my sandwich is a cup of soup.
- Tomato Fennel Soup For Two
- Roasted Carrot Soup For Two
- Chili (I will be posting this one in just a couple of weeks)
- Chicken Noodle Soup (Oh yes, this too is on my schedule as a recipe to share!)
HOW TO MAKE RUNZA'S FOR TWO PEOPLE
Runza’s freeze well, making them perfect for making ahead and freezing. Think future freezer night dinners! Go ahead and make a batch of 8 Runza’s they will keep for up to 3 months.
A note about freezing: I have tried freezing Runza’s, par-baked (partially baked) and fully-baked Runza’s and I recommend freezing baked Runza’s. Wrap each runza in plastic wrap and then store in an airtight container.
When ready to eat, pull them out of the freezer, thaw in refrigerator and reheat in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes. Simple, and so so good!
ARE RUNZAS GERMAN OR RUSSIAN OR NEBRASKAN?
Yes! The original Runza recipe came to our family from Lincoln, Nebraska’s immigrant kitchens located in the “Russian Bottoms”. My paternal Grandfather’s niece, Bernice Wagner and her husband, lived in this community and shared the recipe with my Aunt.
Wait! I thought, Runza’s are made in the kitchens of families from eastern and central Europe?
Researching the story of this recipe, I learned that a large majority of Lincoln’s immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th century were Germans from Russia. In the late 18th century Czarist Russia had attracted many Germans to settle in its Volga region and other lightly populated areas, offering land and assurances of autonomy to retain their German language, religions, and culture.
In the late 19th century, the Russian government attempted to assimilate these largely agricultural villagers into Russian society, prompting tens of thousands of ethnic Germans to emigrate from Russia.
Lincoln became the largest urban settlement of these people, in the North and South Bottoms neighborhoods, and thus is the home of this runza recipe.
Here is some more information on the “Lincoln Bottoms” from the Nebraska State Historical Society: Nebraska Historical Marker: The North Bottoms.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A BIEROCK AND A RUNZA?
The origins of this sandwich are remarkably humble, traced back to my family’s Central and Eastern European roots.
This sandwich, also called bierocks, was first introduced to me by my father when I was a toddler. Working the Burlington Northern Lincoln rail yards, he and the crew would lunch at one of the local “Russian Bottom” eateries, and my Dad would bring home a white paper take-out bag filled with Runza’s.
The filling is virtually the same, but what makes a Runza different from a bierock is the shape. Runza’s (except for my version) are rectangular! Oops, I guess we have been making Bierock’s all these years but we call them Aunt Sherril’s Runza’s.
They just feel homemade when they are in the shape of a bun versus the rectangle shape of a well-known frozen packaged sandwich called the “hot pocket”
Easy Runza Recipe From My Aunt's Nebraska Farm Kitchen
Save This Recipe To Your Recipe Box
You can access your saved recipes on this device and generate a shopping list for recipes in your collections.
For The Dough (or buy frozen dough)
- ¾ cup warm water 110 degrees
- ½ cup sweetened condensed milk
- ¼ cup vegetable oil
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 large eggs
- 3 ½ cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling out dough
- 2 packages instant or rapid-rise yeast
- 1 teaspoon salt
For The Filling
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter 2 tablespoons melted
- 1 ½ pounds 90-percent lean ground beef
- 1 ½ Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon onion salt
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
- Pinch of red pepper flakes
- Dash of hot sauce
- salt and pepper,
- 1 large white onion chopped fine (about 1 cup)
- ½ red or green pepper of choice optional
- ½ small head cabbage chopped (about 3 cups)
- salt and pepper,
- 8 slices deli American cheese or pepper jack
Make the Dough
- Let’s start by lightly greasing a large bowl with cooking spray or with butter papers. Warm some water, targeting the temperature to be around 110 degrees F. If you don’t have a thermometer then make sure the water is almost, but not, too hot to touch.
- Mix water, sweetened condensed milk, oil, sugar, and egg in large glass measuring cup that holds 2 -4 cups of liquid. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a dough hook, mix flour, yeast, and salt together. With the mixer on low, slowly add the water mixture. After dough comes together, we are looking to see that the flour is all mixed in, increase speed to medium and mix until shiny and smooth, 4 to 6 minutes. With floured hands, turn dough out onto heavily floured work surface. Shape the dough into a ball, and place in the greased bowl.
- To make dough by hand: Combine dry ingredients in large bowl making a well in center of dry ingredients. Pour the wet ingredients into the well incorporating all the flour using a fork or wooden spoon. Mix for about 1-2 minutes using the wooden spoon – it will be hard to mix. Don’t worry about tidy dough here, just get the flour all mixed in and turn dough out onto heavily floured work surface. With floured hands, knead until shiny and smooth, about 10 minutes.
- Cover bowl with plastic wrap or a wet kitchen towel and let rest in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
- If using frozen dough: Thaw and let rise according to the package directions.
Cook the Filling
- Melt 1 tablespoon butter in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add beef and cook until just beginning to brown, about 6 minutes, breaking up any large clumps. Stir in Worcestershire sauce, garlic powder, onion salt, oregano, basil and red pepper flakes, let simmer for about 30 seconds. Using a slotted spoon, transfer beef to paper towel-lined plate.
- Melt 1 Tablespoon butter in the now-empty pan. Add onion and peppers (if using) and cook until softened, about 3 minutes. Now we will add the cabbage and toss until just beginning to wilt, 2 to 4 minutes. I prefer to have it a bit crunchy. Return beef to pan and season with salt and pepper and hot sauce for an extra kick.
Assemble and Bake
- To assemble and bake: Adjust oven racks to the upper-middle and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 350 degrees. Coat 2 baking sheets with cooking spray. Pro tip: Spray baking sheets over open dishwasher door to contain the oil! Divide dough into 8 equal pieces, gently forming 8 small balls. Working on lightly floured work surface, roll each piece of dough into 7-inch circle – it does not have to be a perfect circle. Place one dough round in a deep cereal bowl and top with one slice of cheese. Spoon ¾ cup filling over cheese and pinch edges of dough together to form bun. Transfer bun, seam side down, to prepared baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough, cheese, and filling, placing 4 buns on each baking sheet. Cover buns with plastic wrap or wet kitchen towel and let rise until puffed, about 20 minutes.
- Bake buns until golden brown, about 20 minutes, switching and rotating position of baking sheets halfway through baking time. Brush buns with melted butter and serve with ketchup! Or just rub buns with a stick of butter while they are still warm.
Your Notes, Tips and Tricks
Nutritional information is only an estimate. The accuracy of the nutritional information for any recipe on this site is not guaranteed.
DID YOU MAKE THIS RECIPE?
SHARE YOUR EASY RUNZA RECIPE FROM MY AUNT'S NEBRASKA FARM KITCHEN MOMENT...
Snap a picture or shoot a video and share with the Our Table 4 2 Community.
Each month I will share what members have been cooking.
Upload an image (.jpg, .png), a video (.mov) or a document(.doc, .ppt,.pdf) here: Share Your OT42 Moment