A runza is the signature sandwich of Runza, a fast food restaurant mainly in Nebraska with a few additional franchises in Iowa, Kansas and Colorado. This simple sandwich has German-Russian roots, brought to America by German-Russian immigrants. It was a pretty big deal when it came to our city. I’ve since learned that it’s also known as a bierock.
It’s basically a mixture of cabbage, hamburger, onions and seasonings all nicely wrapped up in a bread dough, then baked. Runzas are rectangle shaped, but you can make these round or oblong. Nothing fancy about them….just a hearty little beef and cabbage pocket sandwich. If that combination doesn’t strike your fancy, there’s alternate filling ideas below.
My mother always worked full time and did a lot of meal prep on the weekends. She was a master of meal-prep before meal-prep was cool! This was one of her favorite recipes to make. She would make a batch of these a couple of times a months. Some were for dinner the day of preparation and the rest she would put in the freezer so Dad would have some for his workday lunches.
I haven’t made these for years, but they have been on my mind a lot lately, so I dug out Mom’s recipe, tweaked it a bit and made a plan. This recipe includes a shortcut of using frozen bread dough. I didn’t have any in the freezer, so I dug out my bread machine and made a basic white dinner roll dough.
I used my food processor to shred the cabbage. Since I only needed half of the head of cabbage for the runzas, I shredded the other half to make my Copy Cat KFC Coleslaw. A package of coleslaw mix from the produce section at the grocery store would make it even easier!
Prep approximately 1 hour (This does not include bread dough rising time) Bake 30-35 minutes Makes 8 – 10 sandwiches Print recipe
- 1 pkg frozen “Texas” dinner roll dough (or make your favorite homemade bread dough)
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1/4 cup water
- 3 cloves garlic, diced (or 3 teaspoons minced garlic from a jar)
- half head of cabbage (or bag of coleslaw mix)
- 1 large yellow onion, chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (or favorite shredded cheese)
- 2 tablespoons melted butter (to brush sandwich tops after baking)
Directions for Bread Dough
Place bread dough balls on a lightly greased baking sheet with a little space between each. Cover with plastic wrap or tea towel. I put mine in a greased cake pan with a lid. Allow the dough to thaw and come to room temperature, and then rise for 2 hours. Punch down and let rise again for 5 – 10 minutes. Fair warning – this could take a total of 4 or 5 hours. Thaw dough overnight in the fridge to cut down on rising time.
Directions for Filling
- In a large skillet, brown ground beef, then drain well.
- Add 1/4 cup water to the ground beef, then put the garlic, cabbage and onion on top of the ground beef. Cover and steam 20 minutes or until cabbage is tender.
- Stir in salt and pepper.
- Simmer for 10 – 12 minutes.
Putting the Runzas together
Note: The thickness of the dough rolled out determines the thickness of the bread wrapped around the filling. I drew a 6″ circle on the back of my parchment paper for a guide. My dough balls were about the size of golf balls, resulting in a thinner bread. If you like the bread thicker, make your dough balls tennis ball size, then roll the dough 1/4″ thick.
- While the filling is cooking, roll the dough into 6-inch circles up to 1/4″ thick.
- Place 1 -2 tablespoon of cheese in the center of the circle of dough.
- Put about 1/3 cup of meat mixture on top of the cheese.
- Carefully pull the dough up and around the filling from opposite sides, and then pinch the dough together to seal the seam. It helps to dip your finger in water and wet both areas of dough that will touch.
- Pull the ends up and around, again wetting both places where the dough will meet on each end, then carefully press the dough together to seal.
- Place the filled dough balls upside down on a large lightly greased baking sheet.
- Let rise again for 10 – 20 minutes.
- Bake at 350°F/175°C approximately 30 minutes or until golden brown.
- After removing them from the oven, brush tops with melted butter. (I just rubbed the end of a stick of butter over the hot sandwiches so I wouldn’t have to dirty another pan)
To freeze: bake for 10 minutes, then cool completely. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and place in freezer bags. Thaw and cook at 350°F/175°C for 20 -25 minutes.
To re-heat: Bake at 350°F for 10 minutes or until heated through.
Cook ground beef with one of the following flavor options, drain well.
- Mushroom Swiss – add mushroom slices and onions to the ground beef. Use shredded Swiss cheese when making the sandwiches.
- Cheeseburger – add onions to the ground beef, Use shredded cheddar. Serve with lettuce, tomato and pickle relish.
- BBQ – stir BBQ sauce into cooked ground beef. Add Provolone cheese when making the sandwiches.
- Pizza – stir pizza or spaghetti sauce into cooked ground beef. When making the sandwiches, add Mozzarella cheese and pepperoni.
If you would like to read about the history of the Runza sandwich, go here.