Family Recipe: Grandma’s Runzas (Nebraska Meat Pies)


I’m so happy to finally post something dumpling-ish on this blog, and this is the perfect recipe. In Nebraska we have a fast food chain called RUNZA – the term “runza” is actually trademarked by the company, which is ridiculous because they didn’t invent the runza. A runza is a Russian meat pie made with yeasted dough, and it can be made in a variety of different shapes with different savory meat fillings. From Russia, the runza’s popularity spread to Germany, and they were brought to the Midwestern region of the United States by German immigrants.

Most Nebraskans know runzas as delicious fast food, but thanks to my Grandma Hazel, my family knows what a non-fast-food, from-scratch runza is supposed to taste like. I was so happy when my Aunt passed this recipe for grandma’s runzas along to me. My family might not be German or Russian, but we are 100% Nebraskan, and to me, this is Nebraska comfort food at its best.

runza how to

This recipe takes a bit of time and effort, but it makes a lot of runzas and they freeze wonderfully (think homemade hot pockets). Besides, there’s something really special about working with yeast dough. Will it rise, has it risen, is it rising too much? It’s all very exciting and suspenseful.


runza how-to


Like many old cookbook recipes, there were a lot of unanswered questions with this one. I made a few changes, like swapping shortening for butter, and I also used this recipe from Cooking Channel as a reference. In the end, the dough was much firmer than I anticipated, but it rolled out easily and tasted terrific.


Homemade Runza Recipe
Yields 12
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For the Dough
  1. 2 cups milk
  2. 1/3 cup butter
  3. 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
  4. 1 package dry yeast
  5. 5 cups all purpose flour, divided
  6. 1 teaspoon baking powder
  7. 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  8. 1 egg
  9. 1 teaspoon salt
For the Runzas
  1. 1 pound ground beef
  2. 2 white onions, chopped (I didn't have onion, so I added extra cabbage to my mixture)
  3. 4 cups cabbage, chopped or shredded
  4. 2 tablespoons butter
  5. Salt and pepper, to taste
First Make the Dough
  1. Scald the milk (heat it until just before boiling – you’ll see small bubbles form around the outside of the saucepan). Add the butter and the sugar, pour it into the bowl of a stand mixer and let it cool until luke warm, or 100 to 115 degrees F. Check the temperature with your finger (it should feel like bath water) or a thermometer, and when it reaches 115 degrees F sprinkle in the yeast and stir it up.
  2. Sift together 3 cups of flour, the baking powder and baking soda, and then add it to the milk mixture. Beat with the mixer for about 2 minutes, until the dough is sticky and stretchy. Let the mixture rise for 30 minutes. Change the beater on the stand mixture for the dough hook. Then, whisk the egg and salt in a bowl until light and foamy, and, using the dough hook, stir the mixture into the sponge. Sift the remaining 2 cups of flour into the dough and mix in slowly, looking for a soft dough to form, pulling away from the sides of the bowl. Then knead the dough with the dough hook for about 5 minutes. Place the ball of dough into an oiled bowl and oil the top of the dough as well so it doesn’t dry out and form a crust. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator until ready to use.
To Make Runzas
  1. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, brown the ground beef and cook the onions, adding salt and pepper. Transfer cooked beef mixture to a medium bowl and drain the grease from the pan. Melt the butter in the same skillet over medium heat and add the cabbage, along with salt and pepper. Cook until wilted. Add the beef mixture to the cabbage, and season mixture to taste with salt and pepper (literally take a bite of the filling at this point, to make sure it’s just right). Transfer the filling to a bowl and let it cool completely before using.
  2. To make the runzas, divide the dough in half and cover the unused half with plastic wrap while proceeding. Roll the dough to about 1/4-inch thickness, trying for a rectangle shape. Cut the dough into about 6-inch squares, or as close to that as you’re able (I used a pastry scraper to measure and cut the dough). Scoop about 1/3 cup of filling into the center of a dough square, and then bring the 4 corners up to meet in the center and pinch the edges of dough together. It looks like a mess now, but don’t worry, just flip it over and place it smooth side up on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Let the formed runzas rise for 20 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Bake the runzas until golden on top, about 20 minutes.
  1. Freeze extra runzas after they have been fully cooked and cooled. You can reheat them in the microwave or cover with foil and warm them in a 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes.
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