I'm a native Nebraskan, Texas Transplant, and there's one question people always ask...What's in Nebraska?
While I can't blame them for asking, my answers may be surprising!
I always say the same 3 things, Runza, Henry Doorly Zoo, and The College World Series. Inevitably, the next question is always the same one you're asking right now, What is Runza?
Runza is a franchised fast food chain with 85 locations in Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, and Colorado. Now, Runza is known throughout the midwest for its namesake, the "Runza" sandwich. However, they also have a full menu of incredible food that is easily a contender for any other regionally famous fast food joints throughout the United States.
Actually, I can guarantee that if you ask at least one Nebraskan (me) that has had a Cheeseburger and fries from Runza, In & Out, and Whataburger...
Runza wins, Hands down!
So, what is the Runza Origin?
Runza in the 50's & 60's
In 1949, Sally Everett and her brother Alex Brening opened the first restaurant, then known as The Runza Drive Inn. This location was near Pioneers Park in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Then, in 1966, Donald Everett Sr. purchased the trade name, incorporated the Runza Restaurants, and he opened their second Lincoln location.
Runza in the 70's & 80's
Picture the years leading up to 1979. The restaurant went through LOTS of hard work. Styles were changing, all while selling SO many sandwiches. And then, Runza started franchising! YAY for Nebraskans!! This is also the first year that Runza starts running television advertisements.
Up until 1980 the Runza Restaurants had Carhops, but according to their website most of them switched to having a drive thru that year.
A simple look at the timeline on their website will show you how incredibly fast they grew. By 1983 they opened their 20th location, and their 40th in 1987. All the while they added new menu items like the Italian Runza and the Grilled Chicken Sandwich.
Runza in the 90's & Today
NOW, as if all of this couldn't get any more nostalgic, in 1991 the Rock and Roll Runza opened. This particular restaurant located in downtown Lincoln was different than the others. It was a throwback 50's style cafe with checkered floors, a bright jukebox, games, servers on roller skates, and milkshakes to die for. I have so many amazing memories of my Grandma taking me here.
Walking into Rock and Roll Runza was like walking into a different time and place. When it came to creating an experience while providing excellent food, Runza, nailed it!
Speaking of Grandma, it was also in 1991 that EVERYONE's new Grandma arrived! "Grandma Runza" was their advertising character that was now all over our TVs throughout Nebraska. She was the perfect country dress wearing, white haired granny with a plate of steaming hot Runza sandwiches ready to eat with a perfect slogan, "Food just like Grandma used to make." It truly tasted that way, and maybe more so for me and many others since our Grandmas literally made us homemade Runza's!
There were many milestones hit and changes made between 1991 and 2001.
- They introduced the "Kids Meal" in 1995 for only $1.49!
- Runza named Donald Everett Jr. The President in 1997.
- In '98 "Meal Steals" became "Meal Deals".
- In 1999 Runza celebrated their 50th Anniversary.
- Runza became an official Partner of The University of Nebraska Athletics in 2000. GO BIG RED!!
Then, in 2002 something MASSIVE happened that involves a part of Runza that I have failed to mention thus far. You see, Runza has the best fast food Fries and Onion rings in the entire country (Fact check it, I don't care).
So what happens when you mix the two together in one box? You get "FRINGS"! Thats right, Amazing!
Fast forward 5 years, Runza added cookies to the menu, has a new president (still in the family), and changed the color of their uniforms.
Then, in a Runzatic pleasing move, they made another amazing decision to serve Homemade Chili with Miller and Paine Cinnamon Rolls in a combo! This is as about as traditional as you can get in Nebraska, and I suggest you don't knock it til you try it!
In 2010 they added "Temperature Tuesday" which is incredible! If you know nothing else about Nebraska, you know it's COLD in the winter. Well, in all their marketing genius, Runza made a deal that every Tuesday during the winter, with the purchase of medium fries and drink, your Runza is the same price as the temperature. Which at times is pennies, if not free!
It's 2020 now and Runza has gone through another Logo redesign, new uniforms, more locations, and new menu Items.
However a few things have not changed one bit.
Runza's loyalty to Nebraska and bordering states, their excellence in customer service, and that they continue to serve food just like Grandma used to make.
Now we know that Sally and Alex founded the Runza Restaurant but what about the sandwich? Where did these little bundles of joy come from? The recipe for Sally's Runza was an adaptation of her Volga German Mother's recipe.
However, well before Runza became a household name, there was the Bierock.
There have been many different names and pronunciations for Bierocks, such as, Bierrocks, Bierochen, Beerock, German Rocks, Cabbage Busters, and Kraut Bierocks. It was the German's from Russia, Ukraine, and Argentina that created the now regionally famous sandwich. The Volga Germans introduced these delicious sandwiches to the midwest states in the early 19th century. The word "RUNZA" means "A Bun" in Low German.
I am personally extending a great big THANK YOU to those German Immigrants for bringing such an amazing recipe to Nebraska.
Today, with Runza being very strictly regional, if you move away from Nebraska you're left with no choice but to make them yourself or order them directly from Nebraska and have them shipped. I always opt for homemade now that I live in Texas. By making homemade Runzas for my Texas born Kids, not only am I expanding the footprint but I'm keeping a Nebraskan tradition alive.
What is in a Runza Sandwich
Here we are...finally to the meat and veggies of this whole shebang!
What's in a Runza sandwich?
It's all pretty simple really... ground beef, cabbage, and onions with some seasonings all tucked into a yeast roll and baked to golden perfection. I haven't the slightest clue what the secret seasoning is in the Official Runza from the restaurant but thats neither here nor there.
This is my recipe for a Bierock, Runza, Cabbage Buster, Husker Hand Warmer, whatever you wanna call it...Let's make these things!
For this particular recipe I'm going to be making my own homemade dough but feel free to use store bought as well. If you decide to go that route, I recommend using Rhode's frozen dinner rolls. Just be sure to thaw and roll the dough out to the desired shape.
First, in a large bowl mix the flour, sugar, and salt.
Next heat the milk, water, egg, and crisco to 125°f and pour this over the yeast.
In the bowl of a stand mixer add the flour and water mixture and beat on low speed until fully mixed. Then for about 3 minutes turn the mixer up to a higher speed, add the remaining flour and knead for about 6 minutes until the dough is smooth.
Place the dough in an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap allowing to rise and double in size for about an hour.
While the dough is rising, cook the onions for a few minutes until they start to become translucent then add the lean ground beef stirring constantly to break it up into a fine texture and cook until there is no pink left.
Now add the salt, pepper, and garlic powder stirring to combine. Then add the chopped cabbage and cook until the cabbage is wilted and well mixed.
If you're looking for a cheese Runza, add in a 2lb bag of cheddar cheese. Mix allowing it to completely melt.
Bring it all together!
Finally, Preheat the oven to 350°f.
Punch the dough down and using a rolling pin, roll out the dough on a clean work surface.
Cut into 22 squares using a pizza cutter.
Now, working with these one at a time, place ¾ cup meat mixture in the center of each square and fold dough over the filling. Pinch the edges tightly to seal and place them on a well greased baking sheets.
Bake for about 20 minutes or until Golden Brown and ENJOY!
What is Runza
- 9 Cups Bread Flour
- ½ Cup Sugar
- 4 Packages Active Dry Instant Yeast
- 2 teaspoon Kosher Salt
- 1 ½ Cups Whole Milk
- 1 Cup Water
- 1 Cup Shortening (Crisco)
- 4 Large Eggs
- 4 ½ lbs 90% Lean Ground Beef
- 4 Medium Onions (Diced)
- 2 Heads of Chopped Cabbage
- 2 tablespoon Kosher Salt
- 2 tablespoon Black Pepper
- 1 tablespoon Garlic Powder
- In a large bowl mix the Flour, Sugar, Salt, and Yeast.
- Heat the Milk, Water, Egg, and Crisco to 125°f and pour this over the dry mixture.
- Add the flour and water mixture to a Stand Mixer and mix on low speed until fully incorporated.
- Turn the mixer up to a higher speed and knead for about 6 minutes until the dough is smooth.
- Place the dough in an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap allowing to rise and double in size for about an hour.
- In a large Stock Pot cook the onions for a few minutes until they start to become translucent.
- Add the lean ground beef and brown, stirring constantly to break it up.
- Add the salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Stir to combine.
- Add the chopped cabbage and cook until wilted and well mixed.
- Add Cheese (Optional)
Roll the Runzas
- Preheat oven to 350°f.
- Punch dough down and roll it out on a clean countertop.
- Place ¾ cup meat mixture in the center of each square, fold dough over the filling, and pinch the edges tightly to seal.
- Place the rolled Runzas on a well greased baking sheets.
- Bake at 350° for 20 minutes or until Golden Brown and slightly dark on the bottom.
Runza is just as much a Nebraska tradition as the Huskers. I highly recommend trying out this recipe and you'll be happy you did!
Let me know in the comments what you thought and if you made any changes. If you like this recipe you'll also love my recipes for Loose Meat Sandwiches, Onion Chips, Onion Dip, and Cheese Frenchees!
Susan Holsan says
Hey there! Born and raised in St. Louis, MO til I attended college in Hastings, NE. Have been a “ transplanted” Nebraskan since graduating 1976. Was introduced to the runza at a Chautauqua Fair in Hastings while in college. Have made who knows how many of them since then. I have never added garlic to mine but do add a dash of Worcestershire and a generous amount of oregano. Pretty much to taste. My family devours them!! Being almost 100% German, best beverage to serve, is of course, beer! ? Cheers! And thanks for all the cool info!
Hey Susan! Thank you so much for the read! They really are SO good. I typically only make them in the fall/winter during football season but my sister in law has asked three times over the past two weeks when Runza's are going to be made this year. Looks like I might be starting a bit early.LOL