Last updated November 26, 2018
There’s a deli/butcher shop in Burton, Michigan, called Nehring’s Market. We’re more than acquaintances with the Nehring’s as Ralph and his wife are my late younger sister Janet’s Godparents. Ralph and his crew of cutters make a Ground Bologna Sandwich Spread that tastes almost exactly like this recipe. This recipe is what my mom made for at least five decades.
Somewhere down the line, we think mom’s recipe, and what the Nehring’s crew offers in the store, crossed paths and are, in fact, of the same lineage.
A working bin of the spread at Nehring’s Market, December 30, 2008, in the middle of being transferred to the small tubs for sale in the case.
This lunchtime and picnic favorite is available by the pound in some variation in just about every deli and butcher shop in the midwest. It’s simple to make: Kids absolutely love helping grind the bologna in the meat grinder. A lot of this recipe doesn’t actually need to be measured. This is one recipe you can make ingredient-by-ingredient, tasting as you go, creating your own flavor, and using different brands and various flavors of each of the ingredients.
Ground Bologna Sandwich Spread goes by at least a couple different names. There are likely others, which I’m attempting to find. In some places it’s known as:
- Ham Spread/Ham Salad: This seems a misnomer, as there’s certainly no ham in the recipe. But this appears to be similar to what Irma S. Rombauer called Mock Chicken Drumsticks (City Chicken) in the original versions of her Joy Of Cooking. The 1943 edition lists both pork and veal as ingredients, but no chicken. Many versions of City Chicken today only use pork. So a Ham Salad that contains bologna but no ham also makes sense.
- Bologna & Pickle Spread: But of course.
- PM Sandwiches: This is the term used in northeastern Pennsylvania, according to Jackie who commented on this post on March 29, 2018. In explaining the term, Jackie wrote “We called them PM sandwiches, meaning pickles & meat or party meat because it wasn’t a party without it.”
- Funeral Salad: So-named because in some areas it’s regularly served at wakes.
- Monkey Meat: This is mentioned in the comments, and Google users search for Monkey Meat and land on these types of recipes. I have no idea why it’s called this in some areas. But please, eat no monkeys. Ground bologna is much better.
Regional variations on the recipe also include American or cheddar cheese, dill pickles, or chopped hard-boiled eggs.
Historical Note: In chats with Hungry Christel up in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, we believe the historical recipe this preparation came from is what’s called Fleischsalat. A simple staple in Germany that’s loosely translated as “meat salad”, it’s different from the similar preparation Wurstsalat or “sausage salad” in that Fleischsalat contains a German mayonnaise that’s mostly sunflower oil, among other differences. You can use a German ring bologna (aka “ringwurst”) for Fleischsalat, and you need to use a German pickle as well … but it’s the German delicatessan mayonnaise (there’s another style that’s a differenbt preparation) that you’ll find to be expensive.
You can take the leap to make your own Leberkäse, which is a baked loaf of meat, to use instead of the ring bologna. It would also certainly be less expensive to make your own sunflower oil-based German mayonnaise. Be aware though that homemade mayonnaise only has a life of a couple days due to the use of raw eggs in its preparation. But remember, for authenticity German-style ingredients matter.
Of course, ya’ gotta have good meat. Finding the right ring bologna is an important step as it affects the flavor of the finished spread. The most popular ring bologna, such as Ekrich and many others, have roots in the Pennsylvania Dutch communities. What you want to find is a good German ring bologna, as the Pennsylvania Dutch versions won’t taste the same whatsoever.
Koegel’s Ring Bologna is the only stuff most home cooks use for this recipe. Albert Koegel was raised in the city of Durlach, Germany, in the late 1800s. When he was of age he joined one of Germany’s well-respected apprenticeship programs under the supervision of a Master Butcher. In a few years he had earned his Meister Wurstmacher designation, indicating he was a Master Sausagemaker. The product I use, shown below, is his own original recipe from the early 20th century. Find yourself a good local German meatpacker (there are many, such as at Alpine Village in Torrance, California) and use their ring bologna.
There’s another option as well, which is what Nehring’s uses. We’ll get to that shortly …
Koegel ring bologna, one of the preferred products for this recipe.
In the recipe below for Ground Bologna Sandwich Spread, I include a step about skinning the ring bologna before grinding it. However, the hot dogs in natural casings for the Homestyle Flint-Style Coney Sauce that I make regularly don’t get skinned before being sent through the same grinder. Unfortunately one day my brain swapped the two procedures. I made a batch of this spread for Mary and I … while only glancing at the recipe for ingredient amounts. As I was grinding the ring bologna, I noticed the ground bologna seemed to stay inside of the grinder more than usual. I thought maybe the disks on the front of the grinder were simply stuffed so, using a butter knife, I dug all the meat out of the disassembled grinder, then finished the batch of sandwich spread.
The following day after eating sandwiches made from this batch for lunch, we had a good laugh (more Mary than myself as it was at my expense!) over having to dig large pieces of natural casing from each bite of our sandwiches.
Chunks of Koegel bulk bologna from a 10-lb chubb, the other preferred bologna for use here.
In January 2017 while visiting up north near Flint, and at Nehring’s Market itself while getting some ring bologna for this recipe, I asked for a couple lbs of beef bologna from a 10-lb chubb. I asked for it not to be sliced as I was planning on slicing it about 3/8″ thick, especially since I already had the ring bologna for the spread. The meat cutter looked at me strangely and, while holding the chubb of lunchmeat bologna, said “But this is what we use for the spread.” Ummm … what?? It turns out home cooks have likely used the ring bologna because it’s more readily available in most stores. (I’ve found Koegel’s ring bologna as far away as Lafayette, Indiana.) But the chubbs of beef bologna are generally only found in delis in Genesee County and surrounding areas, while grinding slices from the 1-lb packs is a royal pain.
The bottom line: Ring bologna is not a requirement. You could also use a good German-style beef lunchmeat bologna. (Again, for accurate flavor make sure it’s not from a Dutch-style company.)
A few notes about the ingredients:
- Bulk bologna and ring bologna are spiced differently, so final seasoning of the resulting spreads will differ.
- Yellow onions aren’t as harsh as white onions, so we specify yellow.
- Duke’s Mayonnaise has a nicer flavor profile than Hellman’s, but as Duke’s can be difficult to find outside the south using less Hellman’s to get the same type of flavor and texture is fine.
The best batch I’ve made so far uses Koegel bulk bologna, Duke’s Mayo, French’s yellow mustard, yellow onion, sweet gherkins, and no salt or pepper whatsoever.
The original image for this post, circa 2008.
Make all kinds of good stuff, and to enhance your reputation in the kitchen, make sure you can repeat it. And be sure that I will skin the ring bologna for the Ground Bologna Sandwich Spread from now on.
Ground Bologna Sandwich Spread
1-1/2 lbs ring or bulk unsliced bologna
2 – 3 baby sweet pickles
3 1/8″ slices from 1 medium-size yellow onion
1 cup Duke’s or Hellmann’s mayonnaise
2 tsp yellow prepared mustard
Salt & pepper (optional)
1 loaf white bread
1 old-fashioned hand-driven meat grinder
1 8″ x 8″ glass dish
1 large mixing bowl
1 2-quart storage container with lid
If using ring bologna: Remove any strings or clips off the ends. Cut the bologna into 4 sections for easier handling. Slit one side of each section lengthwise and remove the casing.
Install discs onto the front of the meat grinder for a fairly small grind and grind the bologna into the glass dish. After digging the rest of the bologna out of the grinder, dump the bologna into the mixing bowl.
Finely-chop the sweet pickles till you have about 1/2 cup, and then do the same with the slices of onion. Add the chopped pickle and onion to the ground bologna in the mixing bowl, then add the mayonnaise and mustard and mix it all together till it’s smooth. Taste it, adding some salt and pepper to punch up the flavor if necessary.
Transfer it to the storage bowl and refrigerate the spread until it’s ice cold. Use a fork to put a layer of spread about 3/8″ thick (my kids like it about 1/2″ thick on a slice of white bread, then close with another slice. Serve with kettle-cooked potato chips or steaming-hot French fries.
- Koegel’s bulk bologna from a 10-lb chubb or original-flavor ring bologna are the preferred choice. The garlic or pickled varieties also make for an interesting flavor. Other brands from other “real” German meat suppliers may be acceptable substitutes.
- While it’s possible to grind the bologna in a food processor, a better texture is created using an old-fashioned hand-driven meat grinder. These are available in specialty and antique shops, commercial food equipment dealers, and the cooking section of Cabela’s in Dundee, Michigan.
- Both Nehring’s Market and Grandma Joyce used Miracle Whip dressing instead of the mayonnaise. She also ground the pickles and onions through the grinder instead of chopping them separately. Grinding the pickles and onions also squeezes their juices into the ground bologna, which adds an interesting touch to the already tangy flavor of the Miracle Whip dressing. Oddly enough, she liked my version better, even though she insisted on using Miracle Whip for her own batches!