Gluten-Free Swedish Meatballs (Köttbullar)

NOTE: An updated version of this recipe appears in my cookbook, The Ancestral Table.

While meatballs have been around forever, the first written documentation of meatballs in Sweden appeared in the 18th century. Meatballs were likely an uncommon food in Sweden until the widespread use of meat-grinders; they later became standard Smörgåsbord (the original buffet!) fare. Scandinavian immigrants brought their meatballs to the United States, particularly the Midwest, during the 1920s. Swedish meatballs are unique in that they are pretty small and often served with a cream-based gravy.

Most Swedish meatballs are made using breadcrumbs (even IKEA’s!) so I set off to make a gluten-free version of the classic dish. It was surprisingly easy, with almond meal, cream, and egg yolk making a pretty hefty binder. I also found that in making the gravy, regular white rice flour (not sweet rice flour) created the best consistency.

You’ll Need:
For the meatballs –
1/2 lb each ground beef and ground pork
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup almond meal
1/2 onion, blended
1 egg yolk
1 dash each ground nutmeg, all spice, salt, and pepper
2 tbsp butter
For the sauce –
1 tbsp butter
2 tbsp white rice flour (not to be confused with Mochiko, or sweet rice flour)
1/2 cup beef broth
1/2 tbsp honey
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup heavy cream

Measure out your meatball ingredients and set them aside.

In a sauté pan, melt 1 tbsp butter on medium heat, then add the blended onion. Sauté for about 2 minutes. This process is called “sweating”, which will reduce the overwhelmingly onion taste in the meatballs. Scoop the onions into a mixing bowl to cool, spreading them around to speed up the cooling process. Should take a few minutes.

After the onions have cooled, add the remaining meatball ingredients and mix thoroughly with your hands.

Roll the meat into 1″ balls. It’s pretty fun.

In a skillet, warm another 1 tbsp of butter on medium heat for about 2 minutes. Add half of the meatballs and sauté until cooked through, turning every few minutes.

It should take about 8-10 minutes to cook the meatballs.

Once the first batch is done, place them in a bowl and put them in the oven at 170 degrees while you cook the other half of the meatballs. Add more butter for the second batch if needed. When the second batch is ready, add them to the bowl with the first batch to keep warm as you prepare the sauce.

Melt 1 tbsp of butter in the skillet, then add the white rice flour and stir together. Toast the rice flour for a minute or two, until it starts to turn a little golden.

Stir in the beef broth, honey, and bay leaf, and simmer for a few minutes. Scrape up any remaining gunk from when you were cooking the meatballs and mix it into the sauce, which will start to thicken as it simmers. Finally, add the cream and simmer for another couple of minutes, then remove from heat. Stir the meatballs into the sauce, until they are well-coated.

That’s it! Serve immediately with traditional Swedish sides like boiled potatoes, pickles, and lingonberry jam.

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62 thoughts on “Gluten-Free Swedish Meatballs (Köttbullar)

    1. I’ve made these several times now, and I’m not sure how no one has mentioned that the meatball mixture seems very wet. The only substitution I made was to make these non-dairy (since that is another common allergen often associated with gluten allergy) use silk non-dairy creamer instead of half & half, but the creamer is just about as thick as H&H would be. I’ve had to add about 1/4 cup of gluten free flower to keep them from falling apart in the pan. I also roll them slightly in the flour before frying. Otherwise they’re so wet it just crumbles. So I might suggest this modification, or perhaps just leave out the H&H so the mixture is not so wet.

      These are delicious though.


  1. Early on in my Paleo days, I decided getting the meatballs at IKEA would be worth it (they’re not). I felt like crap the rest of the day. I have most of the ingredients and can make them tonight. Score! I don’t have rice flour so I’ll probably skip that and just add an arrowroot slurry at the end. Thanks so much for posting this!


  2. Any idea if it’s possible to eliminate dairy entirely? I can’t handle the dairy, so I’m thinking of maybe using almond milk instead. Would love to hear your thoughts!


    1. Will, you could probably pull this dish off without dairy. Maybe use a couple tbsp of almond milk or coconut milk and an extra egg yolk as a binder for the meatballs, sub the butter with olive oil, and maybe add a bit of coconut milk to the gravy at the end instead of heavy cream. Let me know how it goes!


  3. These look awesome!!! I had the IKEA meatballs once, and they were pretty tasty to me at the time, so I can only imagine how amazing your version is. : )


  4. Made these tonight and they were great! I used all beef and I didn’t have heavy cream so I used a non dairy whipped topping (natural version of Cool Whip) and a little milk. I will be making them again!


  5. Would either brown rice flour or sweet rice flour work in place of the white rice flour? I hate to go buy another ingredient that I will probably only use in this one recipe. I do also have arrowroot flour or cornstarch.


      1. I did everything as you suggested…used the brown rice flour instead of white rice flour though. the only thing I did differently was to bake the meatballs for almost 20 minutes in the oven at 375 and then browned them a little in the skillet to save time and make things easier. They were TERRIFIC. Everyone loved them! thanks, for the recipe, Russ!


          1. Brenna, you can use arrowroot starch (not tapioca, it’d be too gummy) but you’d want to use it differently than in the recipe. Instead, you’d want to mix the arrowroot with a little cold water to make a slurry, and add it at the end of cooking the gravy.


  6. Russ — any suggestions for a substitute for the almond flour? Daughter #2 is allergic to tree nuts so almonds are out. She’d love the meatballs though and I struggle with a replacement. Coconut flour maybe?


  7. Thanks for the recipe. Tried them tonight and the meatball was really good. Not sure what I did wrong on the sauce, but it really over thickened and was clumpy. If I could figure that out, I think this would be a really good recipe.


  8. Any suggestions on how to do this in a crock pot? I’ve made this recipe several times, but its a bit involved for a regular week-night dinner.


    1. I wouldn’t recommend using a crock pot, they’d fall apart pretty quickly that way. But you could bake them in a 400 degree oven for about 15-20 minutes, which would cut down on some of the cooking/hands-on time…


  9. These were delectable! Have you ever tried baking these instead of pan frying? I doubled the recipe so I was frying forever and ever.. although it was definitely worth it. Was wondering if being lazy and baking would make them taste much more inferior. I’m hoping not.


    1. Clarice, they can definitely be baked, I pan-fry them so that I can use the scrapings (“sucs”) to make a gravy. As long as you scrape the sucs into a pan to make gravy, you should be good to go! Roast it at 400F for about 15-20 minutes, rotating halfway through.


  10. Wow I am definitely going to make these but I’m just wondering if there is a way to make them dairy free? Thank you:)


  11. I made these last night to eat tonight (crazy work schedules means planning ahead). They reheated better than I anticipated! I made a few changes to make them a little more AIP friendly for me. I used coconut flour in place of the almond flour and coconut milk in place of cream. I also used an arrowroot slurry in place of the rice flour to thicken. These were delicious!!! My one year old gobbled them up too. I love that your recipes are so easy to follow, and not just easy, incredibly tasty :). Thanks!!


  12. Hi Russ. Can these be made the night before without sacrificing the quality (too much). Would like to have them at A New Year’s party and have so many other details to take care of the day of same. Thanks.


    1. Hi Ken, they should be fine, I would undercook them by a minute or so, so that way when you reheat them (in the microwave or maybe in an oven at 350F) they won’t turn into rubber. Have a nice party!


    1. I made these tonight. I doubled the recipe and used 2 lbs of ground turkey breast. I fried them in butter. They tasted good but were a little dry. The gravy was way too sweet! I have never added sweetener of any kind to my gravy and now I know why. Ended up adding a bunch of spices and extra cream to mask the sweetness. Next time I will stick with the onions as the sweet for the gravy. I would make the meatballs again.


  13. These have come highly recommended. If I wanted to make them Paleo (so dairy & grain free) & nut free, would subbing coconut milk for the heavy cream work, do you think? And how about the flour? Would coconut flour work (I know I’d need a lot more) or do you think cassava flour would do the job?


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