My wife ran across a reference to “runza” and asked me if I knew what it might be; I didn’t, so I looked it up:

A runza (also called a bierock, krautburger, or kraut pirok) is a yeast dough bread pocket with a filling consisting of beef, cabbage or sauerkraut, onions, and seasonings. Runzas can be baked into various shapes such as a half-moon, a rectangle, a round (bun), a square, or a triangle. The runzas sold by the Runza restaurant chain are rectangular while many of the bierocks sold in Kansas are round buns. […]

The runza sandwich originated from pirog, an Eastern European baked good or more specifically from its small version, known as pirozhok (literally “little pirog”). Volga Germans, ethnic Germans who settled in the Volga River valley in the Russia Empire at the invitation of Catherine the Great in the 18th century, adapted the pirog/pirozhok to create the bierock, a yeast pastry sandwich with similar savory ingredients. When the political climate turned against the Volga Germans, many emigrated to the United States, creating communities across the Great Plains. These immigrants, including the Brening family that settled near Sutton, Nebraska, brought their bierock recipes with them. Sarah “Sally” Everett (née Brening), originally of Sutton, is credited with adapting her family’s bierock recipe into the runza and also inventing the name for the sandwich. In 1949, Everett went into business selling runzas with her brother Alex in Lincoln.


Many sources agree that Sally Everett invented the name “runza” although it is likely she adapted it from an existing name for the sandwich; either the krautrunz, an older, different German name for the bierock, or the Low German runsa, meaning “belly”, alluding to the gently rounded shape of the pouch pastry. The modern German ranzen, also meaning satchel, derives from runsa.

Are you familiar with this tasty-sounding item? And does anyone know anything further about krautrunz, runsa, or any other possibly related words?


  1. I don’t know it but it sounds like an East European cousin of the Cornish pasty, which are traditionally half-moon-shaped.

  2. Stu Clayton says

    kraut pirok) is a yeast dough bread pocket with a filling consisting of beef, cabbage or sauerkraut, onions, and seasonings

    In Germany that’s a Greek “pita”, with pork instead of beef and leaving out the tzatziki (which I always leave out). *Krautpork !

  3. I went to see the total solar eclipse on 21 August 2017 in Nebraska. I saw several Runza restaurants along the state highways and stopped at one out of curiosity. The runza was fine for fast food.

    (Beautiful, clear wide skies for the eclipse. I was in the middle of a pasture, and crickets started chirping and the robins singing their evening song.)

  4. PlasticPaddy says

    The Bierocks would seem to be similar to Krauttaschen (I am not sure whether you see these in the Rhineland). There are also Krautkrapfen, which are open at the top. Bierocks and Krauttaschen are sealed at the top.

  5. J.W. Brewer says

    You sometimes see pierogies which are approximately half-moon shaped. This sounds like a Teutonic appropriation of a prototypically Slavic dish, although admittedly the Volga Germans may have suffered undeserved misfortune and persecution as a result of the bad actions of other Teutons whom they did not control. But call them empanadas if you want a non-Slavic name.

  6. The key distinction from an empanada or for that matter a pierogi is that the runza is made of yeast bread. It is beef and cabbage and cheese baked inside a big fluffy dinner roll. You surround the filling with dough and then let the runzas rise, like rolls.

    They are fun to make at home. America’s Test Kitchen has an outstanding recipe, although only available to subscribers I think.

    I’m from Kansas so I am used to the round ones, common wherever there were the descendants of Czech settlers. Maybe Willa Cather’s Bohemian characters ate the square ones.

  7. Keith Ivey says

    So they’re similar to Texas kolaches?

  8. Yes, although I don’t remember ever encountering a runza with a sausage or hot dog in it, and the absence of cabbage in the Texas version is a big difference.

  9. Keith Ivey says

    My only experience with a Texas-style “kolache” was one made here in DC, and it was filled with saag paneer, so not exactly authentic.

  10. The idea seems similar to char siu bao / BBQ pork buns, though those look like they have denser dough.

  11. J.W. Brewer says

    Late in his career in the chemical industry my dad was inter alia running a small company in Houston that manufactured some sort of special high-end fiberglass (it cost more than generic/commodity fiberglass, but was better for certain specific applications, so those users would pay the premium). Every December someone would make a run up to the Hill Country and come back with a huge batch of kolaches to include in baskets handed out to the entire staff (total headcount maybe 100 or 150?) in lieu of e.g. “here’s your free Christmas turkey courtesy of the company.” I don’t think very many (possibly none) of the employees were personally of Czech-American descent, but everyone rolled with it. I’m pretty sure this custom predated my dad’s involvement with the operation; it doesn’t seem like the sort of thing he would have innovated.

  12. George Grady says

    Runzas are extremely popular at University of Nebraska football games (and other sports, for that matter). They’re iconic in Nebraska, like crab cakes in Maryland, or cheese steaks in Philly . A few years ago, the Athletic had a good article about them and their role in local sports culture:

  13. I had a bierock once, but I don’t remember where. It seemed to me to be across between a calzone (for the crust) and cheesesteak sandwich (for the filling).

  14. I’m only familiar with runzas under that name because of the Runza fast food chain.

    There’s also a restaurant in Kirksville, MO, Pagliai’s that has what is used to call a ronza (since renamed), which is basically a like a pizza that’s folded in half before it’s cooked.

  15. I have never heard of runzas or bierocks. I will have to get to Nebraska.

  16. “Bierock” is apparently pronounced “buy-rock”, not the German way. According to Wikipedia there are people trying to claim the etymology is Turkish “börek”, even though “bierock” is pretty much how you might expect many German speakers to reproduce “pirog” (and the dish resembles a Russian pirog far more closely than it does a börek).

  17. Capra Internetensis says

    Seems to be what I know as a grout bun, which I suppose (now that I think of it) must be a deformation of kraut bun.

  18. Wikipedia’s List of U.S. state foods has none for Nebraska. (Texas has eleven.) Perhaps the fact that Runza is a trademark militates against its adoption, although the Nebraska State Soft Drink is Kool-Aid®

  19. Rather infuriatingly, neither wikipedia nor wiktionary tell how to pronounce “runza”.

    For tango parties, we occasionally bake fusion pastries, “empanadas rusas” with plain yeast dough but traditional Argentine-style fillings. Some of my recipes are here:

  20. Rather infuriatingly, neither wikipedia nor wiktionary tell how to pronounce “runza”.

    Somehow fitting, considering the lack of a solid etymology.

  21. David Marjanović says

    In old literature, schoolbags and the like are often called Ranzen. I haven’t encountered that word otherwise. I wore a Schultasche.

    My only experience with a Texas-style “kolache” was one made here in DC, and it was filled with saag paneer, so not exactly authentic.

    Seems close enough to a Viennese Topfengolatsche(n)

  22. Trond Engen says

    When I started school I had a ransel. I remember deliberately switching to ryggsekk, which I think most of the other kids said, but I don’t remember exactly when, except that it was a few years later. We moved between my second and third grade, and I have a clear memory of adapting to a new linguistic environment, but that particular change isn’t mentally connected to the relocation.

  23. John Cowan says

    Somehow fitting, considering the lack of a solid etymology.

    Dog lacks a solid etymology (pace Piotr), but its pronunciation is known ….

  24. ранец, a school satchel with shoulder straps, was common in Russia in the day. Wikipedia suggests that Schulranzen is still a thing in Germany.
    The official reasoning is that it’s not as bad for small children’s posture as either strap-less briefcases and satchels or soft backpacks. It’s easier to put papers into it because of a boxy shape and wide opening. Naturally being recommended for the initial classes of school, but not later, makes it a stigmatized sign of immaturity, too

  25. In Russian some shift from portfel’ to sumka for flat things with one strap and, accordingly, expansion of sumka to it happened, i think in 90s.

    Ranets (Nor: tornister) is what they use in elementary school for reasons given by DP.
    Actually they are similar to adult leather briefcases, just with straps…

    Also it is what soldiers in wore in pre WWI times. (Also other box-like things word on back: e.g. a jet pack. but apparently I read of those less often than about 19th cneutury soldiers)

    Ryukzak is just a backpack, usually soft.
    Prototypicall those are worn by what in Soviet times was called ‘tourists’ (nowadays a “tourist” makes photos with iPhone, back then it was a girl or bearded guy in windbreaker jacket and with a backpack, heading to the forest, a hiker).

  26. Wikipedia suggests that Schulranzen is still a thing in Germany.

    It is.

  27. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    Ransel used to be the little sack that vagabonds in caricatures would carry on a staff over their shoulders. It doesn’t feel cromulent for what school children have been using for the last 50-60 years, at least, but it may occur in older literature (where I don’t know how they were constructed, however).

    School children now have skoletasker and some of those are rygsække. I think the age correlation is the same as others have described, but I also see older kids carrying ones with shoulder straps but using the carrying handle instead. After that they feel old enough to use adult style bags.

    Actually, rygsæk is any backpack. I have a big, soft one I use for travelling and shopping but a seventh grader wouldn’t be seen dead with one.

  28. Seems close enough to a Viennese Topfengolatsche(n)…

    Whereas an American Cheese Danish does not seem that similar to a Topfengolatsche, even though it is apparently a direct descendant (via Austrian bakers who were baking Topfengolatschen as Wienerbröd* in Denmark). Why Viennese bakery innovations like the croissant and Wienerbröd are now far, far tastier in the countries that adopted them than they are in Vienna is a mystery I haven’t solved. (I could also add Sam Adams Vienna Lager to that list, a beer style that has been extinct in Vienna for generations).

    *spelling it in Swedish because I don’t have a Danish keyboard

  29. @Vanya: I heard from a Viennese expatriate bakery owner that the reason was simple—no Jews left in Vienna.

  30. David Marjanović says

    I wore a Schultasche

    …which soon stood out as old-fashioned, as normal people came to use ordinary backpacks instead. I never cared, though. The old sort works wonderfully as armor against attacks from behind. Or even as a passive-offensive weapon: simply stop, and anyone running after you suddenly has a problem, while you’re protected from the impact.

  31. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    Oh, you had the version with spring-loaded bayonets too?

  32. I wore a Schultasche
    Me too, up to the middle school years, and my daughter had one in elementary, in the mid-to-late noughties. In my family, the thing was called Tornister when it needed a specific designation, otherwise it was simply Tasche (“Hast du deine Tasche für morgen gepackt?”). (Schul)Tasche, Tornister, Ranzen are all equally valid designations for me, although Ranzen is a book word for me that I don’t use actively.

  33. David Marjanović says

    Oh, interesting. I know Tornister only as what Napoleonic-era soldiers wore on their backs. (And as Danish for any old backpack apparently.)

  34. Allan from Iowa (formerly Nebraska) says

    Runza, at least the trademarked chain, is pronounced with the STRUT vowel.

  35. I know Tornister only as what Napoleonic-era soldiers wore on their backs
    Yes, that’s another meaning of the word for me, but the one that I learnt second. When I first came across the saying Jeder Soldat hat den Marschallsstab im Tornister, it sounded funny to me because I associated the word Tornister with little school children.

  36. Interesting etymology:

    From earlier Tanister, from (now defunct) Czech tanystra, from Hungarian tanisztra, taniszra, taniztra, tanizra, known in the 19th–21st century (now) in the form tarisznya, considered both from Byzantine Greek τάγιστρον (tágistron, “nosebag”) from ταγίζειν (tagízein, “to feed”) and from Latin canistrum.

  37. David Marjanović says

    Hungarians everywhere you look!

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