Original Runza Recipe (Cabbage Burgers or Cabbage Rolls)

According to WikiPedia, a runza (also called a bierock) is a yeast dough bread pocket with a filling consisting of beef, cabbage or sauerkraut, onions, and seasonings. They are baked in various shapes such as a half-moon, rectangle, round (bun), square, or triangle. In Nebraska, the runza is usually baked in a rectangular shape. The bierocks of Kansas, on the other hand, are generally baked in the shape of a bun.

According to my palate, I define a runza as ‘yummy goodness’ – a very technical term, you know ;)

Runza is a traditional food of the interior mid-western states; a local tradition with many different recipes, depending on the cook. Though Nebraska and Kansas are known for runza, the recipe has spread quite a bit. A version of this recipe was bastardized, commercialized and Runza restaurants have popped up all over Nebraska, one in Kansas, and a few in Colorado now, too.  Their version is okay — but nothing quite compares to the way my mother and grandmothers made theirs.  (This recipe, however, is NOT  a copy cat for Runza Restaurants recipe at all.  This recipe is much older and much better – it’s what our great grandmothers made on a Saturday afternoon in the 30′s and 40′s as hand food for farmers.  If you are looking for a copycat recipe, you’ll have to look elsewhere.  )

I grew up watching my mother make these, and then waiting by the oven for them to finish baking — the smell moving through the house slowly … a tantalizing tease . Needless to say, runzas never lasted long in my house. Even now, with just the two of us, they don’t last too long.

Although I enjoy the original recipe for Runza, and do make it on occasion, I also enjoy making variations on it. I like to substitute half of the hamburger with hot Italian sausage (see recipe here) , add garlic, sometimes green peppers. Or at other times, adding cumin and ground dried chili, with jalapeno’s. There are many different ways to make Runza, though, traditionally, the recipe is as below – ‘Original Runza Recipe’.


Original Runza Recipe

2 pound ground beef
1 large onion , chopped
1 Medium Cabbage, chopped
2 batches of a white bread dough

Saute onion in a bit of oil until just translucent. Add hamburger and saute until no longer pink. Season with salt and pepper. Drain away the grease, and return to the pan. Cover the mixture with the shredded cabbage and cook until the cabbage is done.  Stir occasionally.  This could take about 45 minutes or so.

Using an egg-dough recipe, roll small balls of dough thin to make a 5×5 square. Put about 1/2 cup of cabbage mixture in center of square and seal closed.  (See note below). Place seal side down on a parchment lined baking sheet (or a lightly greased sheet).  Allow these to sit, covered lightly with a tea towel, for about 20 minutes – so the dough can rise for the second time.

Bake 20-25 minutes at 350 or until lightly golden brown.

A side note:  Use a slotted spoon or similar when filling the dough to allow the cabbage/hamburger mix to be dry’ish.  You don’t want these “juicy” or the bottom of the roll will be doughy and wet and not cook properly.

Runza Recipe – Variation on the Original Recipe

1 pound ground beef
1 Pound hot italian sausage
1 large onion , chopped
2 Tablespoons Italian Seasoning
4 cloves Garlic, minced
1 medium Green Pepper, chopped
1 Medium Cabbage, chopped
2 batches of bread dough*

Saute garlic, onion and green pepper in a bit of oil. Add ground beef and sausage and saute until brown. Drain the oil away. Place the mixture back in the pan and cover with the shredded cabbage (it will be heaping). Cook over medium heat, mixing together the meat mixture and cabbage, and cook until the cabbage is tender and sweet.

Set aside and let cool.

Roll small balls of dough thin to make a 5×5 square. Put about 1/2 cup of cabbage mixture in center of square and seal closed. Place seal side down on a parchment lined baking sheet (or a lightly greased sheet).

A side note:  Use a slotted spoon or similar when filling the dough to allow the cabbage/hamburger mix to be dry’ish.  You don’t want these “juicy” or the bottom of the roll will be doughy and wet and not cook properly.

Bake 20-25 minutes at 350 or until lightly golden brown.



Use a slotted spoon or similar when filling the dough to allow the cabbage/hamburger mix to be dry’ish.  You don’t want these “juicy” or the bottom of the roll will be doughy and wet and not cook properly.

Runzas freeze very well. Allow them to cool completely, uncovered. Once these are cool, wrap in aluminum foil. I usually then put 4 wrapped runzas to a gallon ziplock bag and freeze.

I’ve kept these 4-6 weeks with no problem wrapped as above. If, however, you wish to keep these longer, allow to cool completely, wrap in plastic wrap well, wrap in aluminum foil, and place in either a ziplock back or an airtight container. You can then keep these for up to 3 months.


If you have not frozen these, heat the oven to 400F and heat for 10-12 minutes.

If you have frozen these, heat oven to 400F, put frozen, (and still wrapped runza package) into the oven and heat for 20-25 minutes. The last 5 minutes, remove the foil.


Add 2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and diced
Add 1 tablespoon red pepper flakes


About Michelle Piniella

I write two blogs - This Food Thing, (www.thisfoodthing.com) and This Life I Lead (www.thislifeilead.com). You can find me on Google+ : https://plus.google.com/u/0/107541341956938355529/posts
This entry was posted in Meats - Beef, Poultry, & Fish, Nebraska and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

158 Responses to Original Runza Recipe (Cabbage Burgers or Cabbage Rolls)

  1. Luke Landers says:

    I was introduced to Runza when my brother was in grad school in Lincoln and we had several during my short visit. I haven’t had once since, but they have been on my mind, and I am glad I ran across this thread. I also remember having a great burger at a cafe in town. I think the place was called Kuhl’s (?)

    • mike says:

      Yes, it probably was Kuhl’s cafeteria(has since closed). but you can find Pete(cook/owner of Kuhl’s cooking at Cook’s cafeteria great food, and still making homeade pies,

  2. stephanie says:

    I had one today at a lunch put on by something called the Youth Farm, a project to teach low-income kids in the Twin Cities how to grow vegetables and cook them. I grew up in Iowa and now live in Minnesota but had never heard of them. They were excellent. The Youth Farm served a choice of mushroom and cheese runza or the beef and cabbage. I think I’ll have to make my own.

  3. Zori says:

    My Grandma made these all the time and I make them now for my kids. I tried the ones from the restaurant once and while they were ok, they definitely weren’t my grandma’s….to many seasonings to spoil the simple flavors that come together nicely. I may try the variation for my husband though…he thinks the original are bland….what does he know….

  4. L.D.Meyer says:

    This is the same recipe you get when you Google “Runza Recipe”. Everybody is tweaking this recipe by using or substituting ingredients such as white pepper for black, adding cumin, savory, fennel, garlic powder or cloves. Blending Italian sausage with the hamburger, myself I use 100% ground turkey(cheaper & healthier) is another way to make the filling. I roll my dough out in a circle, add the filling and fold and seal so it looks more like a calzone then I bake it for 10 minutes on each side @350*. I find by folding it like a calzone you don’t end up with that thick doughy bottom like you have when you form it like a bun, well to each’s own, what ever blows yer skirt up, or should I say apron. This recipe originally come over to the U.S. in the 1800′s with the “Germans from Russia” Anyway this sandwich is wide open, its a chance to clean out the Ol’ frig and pantry. If you got enough cooks, chefs and bakers together it would be a “knock down drag out fight” over whose is better. Bon Appetite, Adios n’ Hasta La Bye Bye! L.D. Lincoln,Ne. headquarters for Runza Restaurants for over 60+ years.

  5. Deatunks@yahoo.com says:

    I learned how to make runzas from a very excellent cook. And she wasn’t German! She was a bohemanian! But she taught me to make gravy out of the hamburger filling with milk. Yum! Yum!

  6. Linda says:

    Miller and Paine. Served with or without gravy, Wonderful both ways. I am baking them to day for Indiana friends.

    • L.D. Meyer says:

      Runza restaurants feature Miller & Paine cinnamon rolls with chili. Way back in the 50′s my mother would meet my grandmother at the world famous Miller & Paine “Tea Room” it had quite a reputation for good food. Of course back in those days they cooked and baked with real butter and deep fried foods in beef tallow, makes a world of difference in flavor over vegetable oil. Just a little tidbit of history of Lincoln, Ne. Bon Appetite! L.D.

  7. Marcia says:

    Never heard of anybody putting gravy on kraut Kuchen. Not one of the Norka families that lived in Portland, Oregon. We would have them alongside a bowl of homemade noodle soup.

  8. Ronda says:

    you can also use a box of hot roll mix..faster than making a dough

  9. Marcia says:

    Just remember your grandmother up in Russia dis not hamburger. You can chop a little leftover beef roast. I prefer mine pure cabbage and onions. Serve with a small bowl of chicken noddle soup. Neither kraut Kuchen or runza were ever deep fried.b. Knew people from Lincoln who ate mine and said flavor was really close. My grandpa@like a little more pepper.

  10. LD Meyer says:

    On days when my appetite is outrunning my patience I substitute the slaw mix or shredded cabbage with sauerkraut, quick n’ easy, works for me. Bon Appetit!

  11. sarah says:

    I loved reading this. I grew up in Wichita,Kansas, my Mom in Lincoln. My Mom made them for us and taught me. I make them now for my kids, whose eyes light up when they find out what we are having for dinner. I have similar memories as yours, growing up smelling them cooking then baking… heaven! We now live in Georgia, and nobody around here has ever heard of them… they give me the craziest look and say “that’s a what?!?” My son loves to do just what I would at his age, take them to school cold in in his lunchbox! I use pillsbury hot roll mix for the dough.. that is what my mom always used and it is very easy with fabulous results/taste!

    • Valerie says:

      Hahaha! We moved from Lincoln to Georgia and we know that look very well! We really miss being able to just run out and buy a Runza! Always the first place we go when visiting back home :)

  12. Dan Schafer says:

    I grew up with these. All four of my grandparents (Schafers and Schneiders) were Volga Germans immigrants (they were German transplants in Russia for several generations). This is a traditional Volga German pocket food. The Volga Germans were simple, poor, unsophisticated, loving people and this food clearly represents how they could take a few, inexpensive ingredients and make something wonderful out them. As kids, when we got to Grandma’s house and got out the car and smelled the cabbage cooking we started drooling right then and there. This is my ultimate comfort food!

    By the way, I’ve seen the additions to the recipes online. Forget it…. grandma made her dough and then used ground beef, a head of cabbage (chopped), onion (chopped), and salt and pepper. If she had some bacon grease around she throw a little of that in for taste. Grandpa Schafer, as I remember, liked a lot of pepper…. so over there they were a little ‘spicier’.

    Even though I was chastised for it, I’d open my up before eating and put a little ketchup in. I don’t do that any more in honor of my ancestors that left me with this special dish.

  13. ruth says:

    i have an original recipe for rumza from my gr grandmother who was a volga german from russia and her recipe is made with pork roast onions and sauerkraut and spices

  14. Rick says:

    Okay, this comment/inquiry has almost nothing to do Kraut Runzas. The small connection is that the recipe I’m about to mention is one handed down by my grandparents who were Volga Germans that immigrated to the US from Russia in the early 1900’s, similar to others who have commented here regarding the runzas.

    The recipe is “Buttermilk Salad”. I have been eating this since I was a small child. It is a summertime favorite. I usually have to make it at least once a summer. I’ve searched cookbooks and the internet and I haven’t found one that uses buttermilk. I just wondered if anyone else has ever heard of it?

    I have found a recipe I think might have been the origin of our recipe in a book titled “German Food and Folkways (Heirloom memories from Europe, South Russia and the Great Plains)” published by the North Dakota State University as part of their Germans from Russia Heritage Collection.
    Here’s how we make buttermilk salad.
    1 qt Buttermilk, Head of lettuce, Green Onions, Radishes, Hard boiled eggs, Salt & Pepper
    Wash and shake dry all produce. Slice green onions into ½” pieces, slice radishes thinly and tear lettuce into bite sized pieces. Toss together in a bowl and drown with buttermilk. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add sliced hard boiled eggs and stir gently. Seal with a cover or plastic wrap, chill in the frig overnight. Serve cold.

    From the aforementioned cook book, a recipe titled “Garden Lettuce Salad Suppe”
    2 cups garden leaf lettuce
    2 green onions and tops chopped (optional)
    1 radish chopped (optional)
    ¾ cup heavy sweet cream
    3 cups whole milk
    1 ½ tablespoons white vinegar
    1 to 6 tbsps. sugar or to taste
    Salt and pepper to taste

    Toss together lettuce, onions and radish. Mix together all other ingredients and pour over the lettuce mixture.

    I assume that my grandparents / parents found buttermilk to be a suitable substitute for the dairy and vinegar mixture as well as a shortcut. I am too accustomed to our version to consider adding sugar.

    Another similar recipe, Garten Salat Suppe & Stirrum can be found on the North Dakota State University website at http://library.ndsu.edu/grhc/foods/recipe/stirrum.html. That recipe is as follows:
    Most German Russians planted a vegetable garden. One of the first meals enjoyed with fresh garden produce was Garten Salat Suppe with Stirrum.

    Garten Salat Suppe (Garden Lettuce Soup)

    Bib lettuce
    2 green onions and tops chopped
    2 radishes sliced thin (optional)
    Chopped dill
    1 cup cream
    ¼ cup water
    1 tablespoon vinegar
    Salt and pepper
    1 tsp. sugar or to taste

    Mix cream, vinegar, water, sugar, salt and pepper. Pour over chopped lettuce, onions, dill and radishes. Serve over stirrum.

    Modern-day method: Use homemade ranch dressing and thin it with either buttermilk or plain milk.
    3 eggs
    1 cup milk
    2 cups flour
    ½ teaspoon salt
    1 teaspoon baking powder (optional)

    Mix together like pancake batter. Pour a cup of batter into a greased pan and fry lightly, flip, chop into pea-size pieces while it continues to brown. Serve with maple syrup and covered with Garten Salat Suppe.
    Like the various Runza recipes, these are all most likely variations on a theme modified by various families to accommodate available produce and tastes. As I’ve read in books by James Beard, a recipe is not a hard and fast set of rules set in stone, but a suggestion upon which to build your dish.
    Interested in any comments you all may have.

  15. Linda S Paul says:

    What is the egg dough recipe, dont see it listed

  16. Marcia says:

    Your grandmothers in Russia did NOT have hamburger. Meat does not belong in Runza/Kraut Kuchen. This fact. Cabbage, onions, salt, pepper, tinny bit of oil. Steamed in large pot till done. Drain before filling bread dough square. Bread dough shpuld be rolled to 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick. Pinch well.

  17. Lawdy says:

    Oh, the gravy with these would be excellent. And since my son and I are making these tomorrow, (using frozen bread dough as well), I am absolutely going to make gravy. Yumm!!

    Thanks for the idea :)

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