The Secret to My Swedish Grandma’s Legendary Meatballs Is in Your Kitchen

Thanks to IKEA and a certain Muppet, Swedish meatballs are known throughout the world. But in my family, the meatballs that my grandmother (mormor in Swedish) makes are legendary. They’re the number one dish her grandchildren request while visiting, and they’ve been a staple on our holiday table for as long as I can remember. 

My mormor’s meatballs are silky on the inside, yet crispy on the outside. They’re packed full of flavor, yet mild enough for kids to eat 20 in one sitting. To be honest, it’s hard to explain why they’re so good because the ingredients themselves are nothing special: ground beef, a yellow onion (grated), an egg, bread crumbs soaked in milk and a healthy sprinkle of salt and pepper. Some recipes call for spices like nutmeg or the addition of garlic, but my mormor would scoff and insist that these are unnecessary. So why are her meatballs the best ones I’ve ever had? (And for the record, it’s not just me—my non-Swedish husband dreams about them too.) 

According to family folklore, there are two reasons my mormor’s meatballs are so delicious. The first (and we don’t recommend this) is that she tastes the raw meat for seasoning. The USDA says it’s dangerous to eat raw or undercooked ground beef, so please heed their advice (seriously, I can’t stress this enough). The second reason, however, is something we can all try at home: My mormor’s cast-iron skillet has been used to cook meatballs for more than 50 years. The same skillet has been collecting layers of fat (butter or margarine) and flavor for decades.  

To clean the pan after frying, she washes it with some warm water and wipes it dry with a paper towel. (You can also clean a cast-iron skillet with some kosher salt and a little bit of oil to get rid of any stuck-on food bits.) Per the skillet experts at Field Company, it’s completely safe to treat your pan this way because the surface of a cast-iron pan during cooking reaches upwards of 300°F, which is hot enough to kill any bacteria that don’t get washed away. (They also say it’s OK to use a little bit of soap if needed.) All that deliciousness from last week’s meatballs builds up and infuses flavor into the next batch.

But this flavor-boosting method isn’t just for meatballs, by the way. Whatever you cook in your cast-iron pan will add seasoning and depth to future dishes. In my house, we’ve had our skillet for almost four years and we use it to make everything from roast chicken to Dutch babies (and yes, my grandma’s meatballs). Each dish is better than the last, and I love that we’re biting into a little bit of history with every meal.

Am I going to be able to get half a century’s worth of flavor into my skillet overnight? Well, no. But you can’t blame me for trying—one meatball at a time.

This Swedish Way of Making Oatmeal Is the Best Way, End of Discussion

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Executive Editor

Alexia Dellner is an executive editor at PureWow who has over ten years of experience covering a broad range of topics including health, wellness, travel, family, culture and...