Do you like bierocks? Pronounced “beer rocks”, these meat-filled buns don’t contain any beer (sorry if you were hopeful for that). Their name is probably derived from the Russian word “pirog”, meaning pie. They are sometimes called runzas (lower German for “bun”) in Nebraska. In Kansas, though, they are referred to as bierocks, and have become increasingly popular at restaurants and food trucks. Kansas is home to a number of communities predominantly settled by German immigrants, many of whom arrived from the Volga River region of Russia in the 1800’s, bierocks in hand. Okay, I can’t say for sure if they had them in their hands, but they probably baked some when they got here. Without getting into too much world history here, Russia invited Germans to move there in the mid 1700’s, mainly to help prop up their agricultural industry (think wheat-a major Kansas/Nebraska crop even today). They got to bring their culture, customs, and religious beliefs, and since many were pacifist Mennonites, they were exempt from Russian military duty. Until one day they weren’t exempt anymore. So they came to the American Midwest, bringing wheat seeds and bierock recipes. That’s the abbreviated version, anyway.
Like just about any other recipe with long-ago roots, there are as many ways to make bierocks as there are Midwestern wheat fields. Basically, a bierock consists of dough wrapped around a meat (traditionally beef) and cabbage filling. Some cooks use a sweet dough, some a regular roll dough. Some people add all sorts of seasoning to the meat, while others stop at salt and pepper. The list goes on and on. Some recipes may be more historically accurate than others, but what’s really important, besides ease of preparation, is taste. This recipe is the way my family prefers bierocks. Your tastes may differ, so feel free to switch things up and make them to suit your family. Bierocks, by the way, aren’t fancy-schmanzy German food. They were originally peasant food, ideally portable to take to farm fields, and on long journeys. So no worries about how they look, or what shape you made them-this is rustic food.
And when I’m feeling 100% rustic-and thinking of my great-great German grandmother who got married and ten days later hopped a ship to the United States, eventually making her way to Nebraska first, then Kansas, where she initially lived in a dugout on the river-I make my bierock dough from scratch. (You’ll need about 18 ounces of homemade dough if you’re a DIYer.) But most of the time I’m a 21st century I’m-in-a-hurry-for pity’s-sake-I’m-making-the-filling-from-scratch-what-more-do-you-want-from-me woman. So I use a pretty acceptable substitute: a hot roll mix from the store. I like Pillsbury. They do not pay me to say that-I just like it. You’ll need an egg, a little butter, and some water to go along with the mix. And you’ll need to go someplace other than Walmart-at least in my area-because they don’t carry it anymore (try Kroger or CashSaver). Some people defrost frozen dough rolls and use those, but I’m impatient-and hungry-so I always use the roll mix. I mean, except when I make the dough from scratch. Ahem.
While the dough rests, make the filling. Ground beef, some seasonings, and sauerkraut. I know, a lot of people use cabbage, but we think kraut is more flavorful. As I said above, make this recipe your own. If you want to chop up some cabbage and sauté it, you can. While not everyone uses sauerkraut in their bierocks, it’s not unheard of, either. I find it less work than cutting up cabbage, although I do use my kitchen shears to cut the sauerkraut up a little-mainly because it mixes into the filling better if it isn’t long and stringy. Be sure to drain it! And you’ll enjoy the taste of your bierock more if the hamburger is pretty crumbly, so try not to leave it too chunky.
Assembly time! Make 12 globs of dough-do not worry if these aren’t perfectly round (you can see mine weren’t). Roll ’em out (make sure your board is floured). Add some filling, then some cheese. Nope, cheese isn’t really traditional-it’s just darn tasty. You can leave it out if you want-but don’t, okay? You want some in there, I promise. I like cheddar-use your favorite.
It’s not really a bierock until you make it in to a little meat bun. Just take two pieces of dough opposite each other and gently stretch them over each other so they cover the filling. Do the same on the opposite ends. All tucked in and ready to bake!
If you don’t have a pretty large baking sheet, use two small ones so you don’t inadvertently bake one gigantic bierock by mistake, because they will most definitely spread in the oven. Brush some melted butter on them when they get out of the oven. They are easier to eat (and dip) if you slice them in two on your plate. Delicious with spicy or grainy mustards, or whatever you’d like to dip yours in. They’re good by themselves, too.
My German ancestors didn’t have a fridge, or a freezer. Too bad, because leftover bierocks can be refrigerated or frozen, then easily reheated, making them perfect for your lunchbox or a last minute dinner. Bread dough can get tough when you over-warm it, so reheat at a low temperature gradually.
Put your own twist on these delicious meat pies and let me know how you made yours.
- 1 Pillsbury Hot Roll Mix, plus water, egg, and butter called for on package
- 1 lb. hamburger
- 1/3 c. chopped onion
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tsp. sugar
- ½ tsp. salt, or to taste
- ½ tsp. pepper (I like white pepper in these, but black pepper may be used)
- 1 14 ½ oz. can sauerkraut, drained (or 1 cup drained sauerkraut)
- 1 ½ c. shredded cheese (I usually use sharp cheddar, you can use your favorite)
- 3 Tbs. butter, melted
- Step 1 Preheat oven to 375°. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
- Step 2 In a large bowl, stir together dough according to the directions on the package. Knead 5 minutes, then place dough on surface (like a large cutting board) that’s been sprayed with non-stick spray and turn the bowl upside down over the dough. Let the dough rest while you make the filling.
- Step 3 In a skillet, over medium heat, begin to brown hamburger. Add onion and garlic about halfway through the cooking time. Crumble up the hamburger as it cooks with a spatula as much as possible.
- Step 4 Drain cooked hamburger and transfer to medium bowl. Use a fork to crumble up any remaining big chunks of meat. Stir in the sugar, salt, and pepper.
- Step 5 Drain the sauerkraut. With kitchen shears (or a sharp knife), cut up the sauerkraut so it’s not quite so stringy. Stir it in to the hamburger mixture.
- Step 6 Divide the roll dough evenly in to 12 pieces.
- Step 7 On a floured board, roll one piece of dough out so it’s no more than 1/4” thick, about 5 inches diameter. (Although I try for a circle, it doesn’t really matter if it’s round or square.).
- Step 8 Put ¼ cup of hamburger filling in the center of the dough. Top with 2 tablespoons of cheese. Fold two sides of the dough (stretch the dough just slightly as you do this) towards each other, overlapping each other over the filling. Now fold the opposite ends of the dough over each other. All of the filling should now be covered with dough.
- Step 9 Turn the bierock over and gently tuck in any “corners” underneath the bierock to help prevent cheese from leaking out (a little might, but not much). Place it on the baking sheet and repeat with remaining dough and filling. Leave space between bierocks as the dough rises and expands while baking.
- Step 10 Bake for 15 minutes. Brush warm bierocks with melted butter. Serve with mustard (a spicy or grainy mustard tastes best), or sauce of your choice.
- Step 11 Store completely cooled bierocks in tightly covered container in refrigerator.
- Step 12 Make 3 slits in the top of refrigerated bierock (or cut it in half) before gently reheating in microwave.
- Step 13 Bierocks may be frozen. Cool completely, then wrap individually in plastic wrap and place in freezer bag.