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Runzas. A Well-Loved Nebraska Classic

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delicious runza

Runzas. Believe me, you're gonna love 'em. Even if you don't think you like cabbage.

So what the heck is a runza anyway? Well, it's a classic buttery-beef, savory cabbage-and-onion-filled sandwich. Beloved. In Nebraska there's even a fast food chain that bears the name. Runzas were born here. In fact there are 78 Runza retaurants and of them, only 4 are located outside the state. The very name RUNZA is trademarked but church cookbooks all over the state have recipes for a homemade version. And the Everett family who founded the restaurant doesn't get too steamed about it.

In 2016 alone, the chain sold some 2 million of them. So many fanatics hankered for the savory delight that now it's possible to get them shipped, frozen, right to your door! At every University of Nebraska Husker home football game, about 10,000 of the cherished sandwiches are sold. That means about one in every nine people there will choose a Runza in spite of hundreds of choices of what to eat.

At last, for all the Runza-less people in the rest of America, here's how you can make some at home.

I hope I've made you curious! And you can make a pretty darn good Runza at home, in fact a whole batch of them and here's how.

Dough Re Mi. It starts with the dough.

In your large stand mixer, make the dough. Option B: you can do this by hand and knead the dough. Feel virtuous, build up your arm strength. Option C: Use frozen bread dough, thawed out. Easy, semi-homemade, and you still get all the amazing smells while they're cooking and baking.

Best hint I have for making bread dough in a stand mixer: Drape the mixer head and bowl with a clean dishtowel when you add flour. Saves a lot of mess. I mention that again in the recipe. Second best hint: I keep a large clean paintbrush to sweep runaway flour off the mixer and counter into the trash or sink before I start the soap and water cleanup. Less pasty mess, less time. I admit it, I'm a little lazy.

modestly draped mixer

While that rises, make the filling

browning ground beef plain

Brown the ground beef in a large skillet until it starts to lose it's pinkness.

Chop a medium head of cabbage and a medium onion. You should end up with about 6 cups of cabbage but it doesn't have to be exact.

Add the cabbage, onions, butter and seasonings to the beef and continue to cook until beef is a little browned and cabbage and onions are soft and wilty. Set aside to cool.

the savory filling

Time to make the runzas

Divide the dough into 16 portions. Roll each dough ball into a slipper-shaped oval. Put about 1/2 to 1/3 cup of meat mixture on the dough and fold up, sealing edges well. I keep a cup of warm warm nearby while I'm doing this. I've found the dough seals better if I dip my finger in the water and run it along the edge of the dough. Don't aim for perfection unless you are hosting foreign dignitaries. Think handmade, rustic. Channel your inner Pioneer Woman.

runza being born

Put them to rest on their tummy, seam side down, on a cookie sheet.

resting on their tummy

Let them rise about 20-30 minutes. Then bake at 375 degrees for about 20 minutes or until nicely browned. Now brush tops with melted butter.

beautifully browned baked runzas

Ta da! Runzas!

Once you have tackled your first batch of runzas, you'll start thinking of ideas to make them your own. Add cheese on top of the filling before baking. Check. Add mushrooms, yep. Use Italian seasoning in the filling and dip in marinara sauce. Bellissimo! Get it? Another chance to color outside the lines and do your thing.

My husband eats his with mustard, tearing each runza into little bites and smearing the yellow goodness on each mouthful. What to serve with a Runza? French fries or potato chips are standard but fried apples would be great. Vegetable soup, tomato soup or broccoli cheese soup would also pair well! And while you have the oven on, whip up some of these crazy easy cookies. Now go polish your halo, you amazing kitchen conqueror!

Find some time on a snowy weekend and make up a batch. These freeze and reheat well, see recipe for details!

Easy Homemade Runza Recipe

Classic Russian-German beef and cabbage filled sandwiches baked in yeast dough. More like a hand pie than a sandwich I think.

Dough, the Runza Wrapper

  • 2 cups very warm water (about 110 degrees, a little warmer than a hot tub)
  • 5 tsp yeast ( or two packets)
  • 2 Tbsp butter (softened)
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 6 cups flour (approximately)
  • 2-3 Tbsp butter (melted, to brush on finished runza)

Runza Filling

  • 6 cups chopped cabbage (about one medium head)
  • 2 pounds ground beef
  • 1 medium onion (chopped)
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1 tsp garlic powder (or more if you like)
  • 2 tsp favorite seasoned salt
  • 2 tsp pepper
  1. This is by far easier when you use a large stand mixer with a dough hook. Put warm water, yeast, sugar, salt and butter in bowl and add a cup of flour. Using whip beater attachment, mix thoroughly, scraping down sides of bowl. 

    HInt: grab a clean dish towel and wrap it around the bowl, see photo. That is unless you really enjoy cleaning up flour. (I don't.) Add 2 cups of flour, one at a time, and beat well. 

    You'll still want to keep your mixer modestly draped for the next step. Switch to dough hook and keep adding flour gradually until the dough hook starts pulling the dough away from the sides of the bowl. Stop the mixer and feel the dough. If it's still sticky, add a tablespoon or so of flour at a time and resume kneading with the dough hook. Stop adding flour when it's soft but handles without sticking to your fingers.

    Great bread dough should feel satiny and elastic.

    At this point I simply remove the dough hook and gather the dough into a ball. I spray the bowl generously with Pam or similar, return the dough to the bowl (not necessary to wash it first) smooth a little cooking oil or olive oil over the dough, cover with dish towel and set in a nice warm place. (In the summer, I've found my car makes a great proofing box!!)

    When the dough has doubled in size, divide into 16 pieces and roll out into a thin oval about 6" by 8". Heavens, this is no time for exactitude. Think rustic and handmade. I like my runzas a little on the small side with thin, crisp dough wrappers. You may like yours chubby.

    (Sometimes I make 8 runzas with half the dough and cinnamon rolls with the other half.) 

Making the Filling

  1. Brown the ground beef and when it's losing it's pink and starting to brown, add the butter, olive oil, onion and cabbage and cook until the cabbage wilts. Add salt, pepper and garlic. At this point you can set it aside to cool until the bread is ready and rolled out.

    Put about 1/2- 2/3 cup of filling on each dough oval and fold over, sealing edges of bread. You may water to wet the dough with your finger dipped in warm water to make it seal better.

    Lay runzas seam side down on baking sheet with a little space between to allow for the bread to rise. Let them rise about 20-30 minutes the bake in 375 degree oven for about 20 minutes until nicley browned. Brush with melted butter when they come out of the oven to give them a soft, beautiful color and tasty crust.

    These keep well in the fridge for a few days. Or, wrap individually in foil and freeze. They really freeze well so make a bunch when you do. 

    REHEAT: Heat frozen wrapped runzas in 400* oven for 20-25 min. Remove foil last 5 min.

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40 comments on “Runzas. A Well-Loved Nebraska Classic”

  1. Not knowing what a Runza was, it
    s difficult to understand how to fold them. Is it one fold across and one lengthwise or like an evelope,..or what? I need step by step photos.

    1. The restaurant chain Runza was certainly born in Nebraska and is now a third generation business. I write about that in the post. As with many things, there are countless stories about who really "invented" them. I think the roots are German-Russian but wherever they originated they are mighty fine eating wouldn't you agree?? 😊

      1. Did not know the name. I enjoyed something similar in 2011 when I visited Seattle, WA near the Waterfront (Pike's area maybe?), Purchased them from a European Bakery that had a variety of breads with savory stuffing. I tried to replicate by using canned biscuits. Tanks for sharing this recipe.

      2. Did not know the name. I enjoyed something similar in 2011 when I visited Seattle, WA near the Waterfront (Pike’s area maybe?), Purchased them from a European Bakery that had a variety of breads with savory stuffing. I tried to replicate by using canned biscuits. Thanks for sharing this recipe.

        1. I wish you the best of luck making runzas because they are simply yummy!! I have heard of people using canned biscuit dough to make them, and you can also use frozen bread dough after it's been defrosted. Happy runzaing!!!

      1. It's kind of a Nebraska thing. We're different and we like it! Tourism slogan: "Nebraska, It's Not For Everyone" Honest!! Tee Hee but Runzas are for everyone!!!

    1. Oh Dorlis! I have so much to learn about all the various dietary needs like Keto and gluten free. I don't know the answer to your question but I do see so many food bloggers who work in those niches. I suggest you Google recipes that would work to make Runzas you can enjoy.

  2. […] Runza Recipe — A Well-Loved Nebraska Classic --- advertisements --- […]

    1. Hi! How'd you find me and how can I work with you some more? I have lots of down-to-earth recipes for families dished out with some homespun humor and wisdom.

  3. I gasped when I read you can get them frozen. Yay! Born & raised in Nebraska & always, always stop in when back in Nebraska.

  4. […] Runzas. A Well-Loved Nebraska Classic […]

    1. My husband is German to the core!! It doesn't matter of we call them kraut kogas, Bierocks or Runzas, they are great, right?? 🙂 Love hearing from you!!

  5. I've been making these for 30 plus years and I use well drained sauerkraut instead of cabbage...thus we call them Kraut Runzas 🙂

    1. Some others have said they do that! I'll have to try that next time! Thank you!I have sourdough ready to bake, I wonder how that would taste!

  6. I do not like cooked cabbage (yes I know but it's true). Having a recipe like this allows me to enjoy the goodness of a Runza (ish) sandwich made the way I like it. Thanks for sharing!

    1. That's awesome Robin! Cabbage of course is also a nutritional powerhouse so it's good to add to our diet! Have a great summer and happy runzaing.

    1. With 1 lb of hamburger and a small to medium head of cabbage and onion to taste (I never use a whole onion), I use about 2 1/2 frozen loaves. Makes about 20 with between a 1/3 - 1/2 cup of filler. I don’t make mine square. I do roll out in a square and then grab opposite corners and pinch and twist to seal. I rub Crisco shortening on the frozen loaves before thawing. Otherwise the bread is “crusty” and hard to work with.

  7. I have made these for years. I made mine with sour kraut. My German Grandmother left me the recipe. she called them Beirocks. Pretty much the same thing and the same method.

  8. I made these for the first time today. My only question is, where have these been all my life? When I started making them, hubby said "why don't we use the pasta machine for this?" GENIUS! It made it so easy!

    1. Awesome! Now tell me, you mean you used the pasta machine to make the dough? I want to hear about it! I use my trusty Kitchen Aid stand mixer!

  9. I worked at the original Runza "Hut" as it was called in Omaha in the 1970s. Runzas are like mother's milk in my family. Today is "Temperature Tuesday" at Runza which means a Runza is the price of today's 6am temp (25 degrees) when you buy a fry and drink.
    My 29 year old son sent me a recipe from 1968 for Runzas the other day asking me to make them. Today I texted him "they are 25 cents and you want me to make them?". My dough is rising now and the filling is chilling in the fridge. I love to cook for my kids.
    We like them best with a slice of American cheese inside when they come out of the oven, just like we made them at Runza Hut back in the 70s. Just slice open one side, slide the cheese in and let it sit a minute or two to melt. YUM.

    1. Oh Ann, what a fun note to get from you!! I live in Kearney and we have two Runzas here, both run by the Higgins family. Their son Cal played on the Runza Legion baseball with my grandson Nick. I would have responded earlier but I worked all day then scurried off to watch a district basketball game at Kearney Catholic. Our granddaughters danced with the "Lucky Stars" at halftime!

      I met the grandson of the lady who started Runza after World War II at a conference and I love the family story.

      Between you and I, though, nothing beats homemade runzas- crisp, buttery, and right out of your oven! I'll be sure to try your cheese suggestion!

      I LOVE cooking for our kids and grandkids too!!

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