A flavor-packed Nordic burger for Memorial Day: Karbonader

Memorial Day weekend is here, and although it doesn’t look good for any outdoor barbecues here in New York, I am sure that in the rest of the country there are those of you who will fire up that grill and enjoy time off outdoors.  I love this weekend because it is sort of a ribbon-cutter for the beginning of summer;  time to shed some clothing, go to the beach and enjoy a slower tempo overall.

Norwegians love to barbecue – they will pull out their grill if the temperature stock goes slightly above 5-6 degrees Celsius (yes, I do like to exaggerate a bit).  Being outdoors is really important for people who go through a long, dark and cold winter.  Summers are short, so every day has to be taken full advantage of, and not a minute is wasted being inside.

I decided to feature karbonader today, because this is a recipe you can prepare and enjoy both inside and outside.  Karbonader is a very classic, Norwegian meat patty traditionally made from 100% ground pork, but sometimes half pork and half beef or veal is used.    Karbonader is equally popular in Denmark, where it is  regarded as a typical Danish dish.

What makes karbonader different from a regular meatball you ask? First of all,  its oval shape. Secondly, the meat used in karbonader is much less fatty,  on average the fat content should only  be about 6%.  Because of its low fat content,  the meat mixture tends to be heavily with salt and pepper and add flavor in other ways such as different spices, although traditionally the patty is supposed to be about the meat flavor and not any additional flavors.  Karbonader also do not contain a lot of liquid, although egg is an acceptable binder.


Image source:  roarstang.no

This dish is incredibly versatile in that it can be served warm with mashed peas and potatoes for dinner, and it also makes for a delicious open face sandwich served cold:  topped with caramelized onion and sliced cucumbers.  Even more luxurious: Top with a sunny side up egg, now we’re talking!


Image:  ooop.no

Karbonader is often seen on the Norwegian koldtbord (smorgasbord) at festive occasions, and in my family we even serve them with our big Christmas meal alongside the pork belly, pinnekjøtt (cured/dried mutton) and sausages.  Karbonader were traditionally reserved for Sundays only, as it was viewed as a luxury because meat was rare to come by, and consequently very expensive.

The word “karbonade” comes from the Italian word carbone or carbonata, which translate into a meat patty   prepared over hot, glowing coals.   “Carbo” is Latin for coals.   Which proves my point that they are perfect to prepare for a barbecue, although this may not be very traditional in Norway. Let’s start a new trend, shall we?


The word “karbonade” can also refer to a seafood patty (fiskekarbonader). In this instance, the fish is roughly ground up rather than fine,  and no liquid is added, as opposed to ‘fiskekaker’ (fish cakes) which are also a very popular Norwegian food.

Whether you are barbecuing or just want to prepare a tasty Norwegian inspired dinner or snack, try out the karbonade recipe below.  The classic accompaniment is caramelized onions, and in my mind is what makes this dish. I suggest you try this combination for maximum effect! 🙂

KARBONADER MED STEKT LØK  (Karbonader with Caramelized Onions)

Serves 8

1/2 lb ground pork

1/2 lb ground beef or veal

2 slices white bread, torn in pieces

salt and pepper to taste

1 tbsp Dijon mustard

1 tsp ground ginger

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1 egg

2 tbsp fresh thyme, oregano or sage, chopped

* 2-3 tbsp heavy cream *Only if you want to add some fat/richness to the karbonader

Caramelized Onions:

2 large Vidalia onions, peeled and cut in half, then thinly sliced

2 -3 tbsp butter

salt and a dash of sugar

Hamburger buns or baguette

Lettuce leaves, tomatoes, cucumbers

To prepare karbonader:

Preheat oven to 350F. Mix all the ingredients in a bowl, season generously with salt and pepper. Form into oval patties, and lightly score them on one side (this creates a really nice surface when cooked), add a bit of oil in a  saute pan and saute the patties on both sides until golden brown, about 1-2 min on each side. Place them  in oven and let them finish cooking, about 8-10 min.

To prepare the caramelized onions:

Add the butter to a large saute pan over medium heat.  Place the onions in the pan along with the salt and a bit of sugar.  Let them cook until dark brown and caramelized, about 20 minutes. (Resist the urge to move them around too much)

Place the karbonader in a hamburger bun  or on top of a baguette or good bread with the caramelized onions, lettuce, tomatoes and cucumber, and garnish with any other items you may like (mustard, relish, etc).  I like to enjoy them with a nice green salad.


Image:  matfokus.no

Wine pairing suggestion:   Odfjell Orzada Carmenere 2011

This wine has lots of red, juicy ripe fruit like cherries, raspberries and plum coupled with spice, tobacco and vanilla. A complex, powerful wine with smooth tannins that is sturdy and can stand up to strong, smoky barbecue flavors. Retails around $18.


5 thoughts on “A flavor-packed Nordic burger for Memorial Day: Karbonader

  1. Sophie33 says:

    This is the smae way, I make my own home-made hamburgers! I also serve my home-made hamburgerds with caremelized white or red onions. Your basis recipe is the basis of my recipe & then I add add inns,…

  2. Brian says:

    Every time I’ve been to Norway with my dad, he has to have at least one karbonader every single day we’re there. So, we decided to make these for him for Christmas after doing a few prep runs to make sure we had it right.

    Most of the ones we had in Norway were the roadside diner variety, but one that we had in Larkollen really stood out as a delicious, well cooked example of the dish, and the one that we wanted to emulate. This one came out almost exactly like it.

    He apparently enjoyed his Christmas meal, but was too busy chewing to actually say “it’s good”, as he went through two of them in quick succession. Great recipe! Thank you for posting it!

    • Sunny says:

      Hi Brian! Thanks so much for your comment, and for visiting my blog! Apologies for the delay in replying, I thought I had replied already.. So happy the recipe worked out for you, please continue to stop in and stay in touch! Cheers, Sunny

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