Instant Pot Grandma Lil’s Stuffed Cabbage

When certain foods enter our mouths, they are so much more than just the delicious flavors we are tasting – they are also about nostalgia, family and love.

One bite of my beloved Grandma Lil’s old-school, delicate and outrageous stuffed cabbage does that to me every time.  So I just KNEW I had to do her and this magnificent meal of hers justice and convert it to the Instant Pot!

Cherish your family and loved ones. Savor the seconds cooking with them and the time you’ve shared. Share their story and spread it onto others so they may leave a mark in this world – no matter how big or how small. It is up to us to carry on the legacy of others. This way they live forever.

From our family to yours, we hope you enjoy it as much as we do!

Here’s How I Made It!:

My mom and I are about to show you how to make her mom’s (my grandma’s) stuffed cabbage.  So pull up a chair and a loved one because this one is what family cooking is all about!

Let’s start by adding the trivet and some water to our Instant Pot.

And then laying a head of cabbage on top.  Secure the lid and cook on high pressure.

Meanwhile, boil some water on the stove and cook some rice.

Now we’ll focus on our meat mixture.  We’ll start with some ground chuck beef and an egg….

..and a little kosher salt.

Now let’s grate an onion into the meat…

…grind in some pepper…

…and add in a little garlic.

So at this stage it should look like this.

Once our rice is done cooking, add that to the meat mixture…

…and mix it up by hand.  Nothing as therapeutic as kneading some meat together!  Set aside when done.

Once the cabbage is finished, we’ll remove it from the pot (and clean the inner pot out quickly and return it when done)…

…and peel off each layer.

As each layer is peeled off, take note of the thick vein that is grown down the center…

…and using a knife, carefully slice that thick part of the vein off…

…and then take the leaf, shaved vein side down.

Now, using our meat mixture, take about a typical meatball-sized amount…

…and roll it up in the cabbage leaf starting from the bottom…

…and work your way to the top…

…pinching in the sides along the way and making sure the seam side is on the bottom.

Repeat the process until all many of the cabbage leaves have been used, stuffed and rolled up.

Now taking the remaining inner core of the cabbage and a knife…

…chop it up and set aside because now we’re going to make…

…THE SWEET & SOUR SAUCE!  We’ll begin with some tomato juice…

…some salt…

…some pepper..

…a little fresh squeezed lemon juice…

…some white sugar…

…and some tomato paste.  Mix it up well and set aside.

Back to the Instant Pot, let’s add the trivet back in along with a little water…

…and ladle in some of the sauce…

…along with some of the chopped cabbage.

Set half of the stuffed cabbages on top of the trivet…

…and cover with some of the sauce.

Looking good!  Now, in typical lasagna fashion, we’ll repeat the same steps again with our remaining chopped, cabbage, stuffed cabbage and sauce.

Repeat after me: chopped cabbage…

…some sauce…

…the remaining stuffed cabbage…

…more sauce…

…the rest of the chopped cabbage…

…the rest of the sauce…

…and a little bit of Crisco for good luck (this was a secret ingredient my grandma used – it’s used to make the sauce even smoother)!  Secure the lid and cook at high pressure.

And when done cooking, it’s going to look like this!

Transfer our beautiful stuffed cabbages into a serving dish…

…along with that amazing sweet & sour sauce!

Ain’t the beautiful?!

We love you, Grandma Lil and hope we did you proud and are thankful we get to share your legacy with the world!

Instant Pot Grandma Lil's Stuffed Cabbage
Yield: 6

Instant Pot Grandma Lil’s Stuffed Cabbage

Instant Pot Grandma Lil’s Stuffed Cabbage

This is the very dish that awoken my curiosity (and love) for cooking. My Grandma Lil made THE best stuffed cabbage - but there was a catch. She never wrote her recipes down. So my mom & I decided to re-create it to the best of our knowledge and for the Instant Pot.

Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour 1 minute
Total Time 1 hour 6 minutes


  • 1 large head of cabbage (get one that will fit your Instant Pot), steamed with leaves peeled and remaining core chopped (see Jeff's Tips)
  • 5 medium yellow onions; 1 grated for the meat mixture and 4 chopped into chunks for the sauce mixture
  • 2 pounds ground beef (the less lean, the better)
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup either long grain white or brown rice, cooked according to instructions (optional, it’s really just a texture thing)
  • A few pinches of black pepper
  • A few pinches of kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon crushed or minced garlic
  • 2 (46-ounce) cans or bottles of tomato juice (Grandma Lil used Sacramento brand and so do we)
  • 1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
  • 3 fresh lemons, squeezed and juiced
  • 1/4 cup white granulated sugar
  • 1 tbsp of Crisco (I don’t know exactly why my grandma added it, but she did, so we do too)


  1. Place the head of cabbage, core facing down, on the trivet in your Instant Pot with 2 cups of water. Hit Manual or Pressure Cook High Pressure for 8-10 minutes (the larger the head, the more time). Quick release, transfer the cabbage to a bowl or plate, let cool and dump out the water from the pot once done. I find this is SO much easier than boiling it and makes the leaves much easier to peel!
  2. While the cabbage is cooking, immediately boil water on the stove to make the rice for the meat filling. Cook according to package (usually about 15-20 minutes).
  3. Make the meat mixture which includes the ground beef, 1 grated onion, the egg, garlic, the rice (make sure it’s cooled down some), and one pinch of salt and pepper (see Jeff's Tips). Mix by hand (it’s fun!) Note: The rice is totally optional if making this for Passover and want to keep kosher for it.
  4. Take the cooled cabbage and carve out a a little circle around hard core on the bottom and remove – only carve about an inch deep into the cabbage. This will make the leaves easier to peel. CAREFULLY peel off each layer of leaves and set on a plate. Be sure to shave down the thick vein which runs down the center and is toward the bottom of each leaf as well. Layer all the leaves on top of each other, shaved vein side down.
  5. With the vein side of each cabbage leaf facing down, take about a meatball sized amount of the meat mixture and place at the bottom (the wider part) of the leaf and then roll it up and tuck in the sides. Repeat this until all the flexible cabbage leaves are used up and set aside on a plate. Make sure you stop when about 3/4 of the cabbage is gone and you are left with the harder, whiter part. When done, depending on the size of your head of cabbage, you can get as many as 18-20 rolls!
  6. Chop the very white and harder remaining part of the cabbage up into thick flakes and also chop the 4 remaining onions and set aside (you may not use all of this but better safe than sorry in case you do).
  7. Make the sweet & sour sauce by mixing together the tomato juice, tomato paste, sugar, lemon juice, pinch of salt and pepper. Taste it! Make sure it’s up to your tastes. If you want more lemon, add more lemon! If you want more salt and/or sugar, add more salt and/or sugar!
  8. With the trivet in the Instant Pot, we are going to assemble our stuffed cabbage and sauce lasagna-style. Start by adding in 1/2 cup of water and then spooning in enough of the sauce so that the bottom of the pot is covered. Add a handful of the chopped onions and chopped cabbage. Then, layer in as many of the stuffed cabbages you can (but don’t squeeze them in there) with the seam of the roll facing down. Pour more sauce over the layer of stuffed cabbage. Now cover with more chopped cabbage and onions and pour more sauce over that. Add another layer of the stuffed cabbage covered with more chopped cabbage and onions and top off with the rest of the sauce and add the Crisco to the top. (Note: Be mindful of your Instant Pot’s brim. We filled our 8qt. to the max line but if you have a smaller pot like the 6qt, you should do this portion in 2 batches).
  9. Secure the lid and hit “Manual” or “Pressure Cook” High Pressure for 18 minutes. Because there is SO much going on in this pot, it is entirely likely it will take a good 35 minutes or so for the screen to switch from “On” to the 18 minutes countdown without the pressure pin popping up yet. It may not even come up until the final 10 or 5 minutes of cooking. THIS IS PERFECTLY NORMAL AND FINE FOR THIS RECIPE. It will cook PERFECTLY!
  10. Allow a 15 minute Natural Release when done and when the display reads “L0:15” or “00:15,” finish with a quick release. All-in-all, you’re looking at about an hour of cooking time.
  11. Using a slotted spoon, carefully transfer the stuffed cabbages to a nice, big serving dish and add the sauce with the chunks of cabbage and onions to it and enjoy!

Jeffrey's Tips

You can also get an extra head of cabbage just to make sure you have enough leaves for rolls.

If you wish to season the meat more, add any or all of the following: 2 teaspoons each of garlic salt and parsley flakes and 1 teaspoon each of garlic powder and onion powder in Step 3 while making the meat mixture.

Due to the size and volume, I used an 8qt Instant Pot instead of a 6qt to make this. You can totally make it in the 6qt, you’ll just need to likely make in two batches instead of one.

With this dish, if the pin doesn’t pop up and it begins to count down before it does, it’s fine. Don’t worry about it – it’s just because there’s a LOT of volume being taken up in the pot. It will still still cook perfectly.

You can totally make and freeze this ahead of time and then defrost and warm up in a pot the day of serving!

Reader Interactions


  1. Mickey Cashen

    Thanks, Jeffrey, for this excellent variation on cabbage rolls. Most of the Polish recipes I’ve seen from relatives or online use tomato sauce or tomato soup (and much less volume) so the sweet-and-sour sauce is a new and great idea for me! Less tomato liquid volume might be the solution for those of us with 6 qt. Instant Pots.
    As a type-II diabetic, I use low-GI Index Basmati Rice and cook it as is common for long-grain rice: rice added to twice its volume of boiling water (and optionally a dash of cooking oil to prevent sticking) in a small cooking pot. When the water begins to boil again, cover the pot, simmer on very low heat for 12 min. then let it sit off the hot burner for 18 min., never removing the lid for that half hour. Let it cool, as you wrote, so it won’t turn to mush as it’s mixed in with the ground beef, etc.

  2. Susan

    This sweet and sour version of stuffed cabbage is exactly what I was looking for! Thank you for sharing your grandmother’s recipe. I also loved the endearing video with your mom. I haven’t yet made the rolls but I bought your cookbook (which I love) and made Grandma Lil’s Unstuffed Cabbage Stew which as your mentioned has the same flavor profile. It is absolutely delicious! I added a dollop of sour cream before serving. I just finished a bowl and had to let you know how much I enjoyed it.

  3. Robin

    Oh BOY, I am in love with this post! Being 100% Jewish, AND from the projects of NYC, I grew up on stuffed cabbage, and make it myself quite a bit. Just got an IP. This is going DOWN so soon in it! Also, ever use sour salt!?

    Happy Chanukah!

  4. Elaine Steinke

    Hi Jeffrey and Mom, I am so enjoying your instant pot recipes! But I also learned a new cabbage rolling technique from your Mom! She tucks in the end of the rolls after the roll is completed and this holds the cabbage better than my method of ‘tuck as I roll’. So glad your Mom took cooking classes! I am on my second batch as Santa brought the IP for Christmas and I have been making many of your recipes thank you! Grandma Elaine.

  5. Helen Aarness

    I must follow the FODMAP diet, thus no onion or garlic for me. What would you substitute? I try horseradish, dill, ginger and radish in recipes. Any other ideas?

    • Amy

      I also follow low FODMAP. I use dill and safe chicken bouillon. This is one of my favorite meals. No onion or garlic is needed.

  6. Sandra

    My grandma was Slovac & made stuffed cabbage. Your meat mixture is similar to her recipe. She used raw rice & added some tomato sauce to the meat mixture. Grandma used only tomato sauce to cover & salt & pepper for her sauce. I still use her recipe. I will have to try your sweet & sour version.

  7. Barb P

    I loved my grandma’s stuffed cabbage, but have not seen her sweet and sour sauce recipe before, so I can’t wait to make this and be spirited back to 1950s Brooklyn! BTW, my mom used to freeze and then defrost the
    cabbage; she said that makes it easiest to peel off the leaves.

    • Steve

      I am assuming that you are freezing a whole head, correct? How big is the diameter? How long does it take to thaw out, and where do you place the head to let it thaw? Thanks, I haven’t tried the freezing method, although I have heard of freezing it before hand.
      I usually core it, put it on top of a cereal bowl, put some water in where the cored hole is, cover the whole thing with plastic wrap, and nuke it for 10 mins. Let it cool for until it can be handled and start removing leaves. It works pretty good. I can easily get about 10 to 12 leaves off. Then nuke it again to get more leaves off.

    • Valerie

      I had a Jewish friend a long time ago that gave me an easier way to make the sauce. I also loved my Mom’s stuffed cabbage, which was very similar to your Mom’s. She said her Mom worked for a caterer and they used the same amount of ketchup and ginger ale and that’s all. Sometimes I use a little chili sauce in a bottle for more of a kick. I use my crock pot. I have to say the sauce is just as good but just a little different.

    • Jaye

      I am a 76 year old Bubby! BEST RECIPE EVER! GRANDMA LIL IS SMILING! Sure beats being scared to death of my mom’s pressure cooker! Used more lemon juice to kick it up a notch!

        • Diane Manley

          Thank you for this post.You are an awesome, young man. I am going to try your grandma Lil’s recipe…sounds delicious. My cousin Pat made very good stuffed cabbage She added lipton onion soup mix to her meat/rice mixture. She made layers of bacon, saurkraut and the rolls. Too much to hope for your advice switching to instant pot? Would you cook bacon a little first?

  8. Nan

    Please put the printable recipe at the top. All of the commercials make it almost impossible to read recipe. There was an ad covering this space to leave a comment. The ad content is getting rediculous.
    Excellent recipe btw, when i could get to it.

  9. Rosemarie Considine

    Yea Gads, I am 89 and still learning and yes I still love to cook. I must say your recipe it’s pretty much like I make it now and the way my mother did. Only difference is the tomato sauce that I used. I love the idea of the sweet and sour sauce and will try it next time. Thank you young man and you have a lovely mother!

  10. Rhonda

    Excellent recipe .. I dumped my own… the only things I changed was:
    1 medium sweet onion instead of 5
    4 tsp garlic
    1 gallon bag of frozen tomatoes (garden) & 2 tsp of dried tomato flakes and 1″ of chicken stock to cook down for 15 min. under pressure ..then use immersion blender
    1 lemon
    1 stick of butter instead of crisco
    The butter makes it taste like the french quarter tomato basil soup.. smooth

  11. Kathy

    Loved this dish. But I won’t be using the pressure cooker for the cabbage. I add the partially cored cabbage, core down, to a large pot of boiling water. As it cooks I peel the softened outer leaves away using tongs. When I used the pressure cooker the outer leaves were overdone, shredded easily and the inner leaves were just “ok”. But the dish? Delicious! Just like Bubby’s

  12. Sharla

    As a kid I grew up eating cabbage rolls. I made this recipe and it was absolutely fantastic……Thanks to Grandma Lil and to you Jeffrey and your Mom for sharing it. I’ve put my grocery order in for the ingredients that I need to make them again. The cooking time with the IP is really so quick compared to other methods.

  13. Nicky

    This is so yummy! Thanks for the great recipe as always! Lemons had me intrigued but it works so well especially the next day!
    But question. When i made these my rolls floated and some came unravelled. Did anyone experience this or how to remedy? It was an 8qt full as full can be too. Thanks so much!

  14. Nicky

    This is a great recipe! Thank you for sharing as always! The lemon intrigued me and works so well!
    But question.. I used 8 qt. Filled to the top. The rolls floated to the top and some unravelled. Did this happen to any one else? And how you remedy it? Im trying the tucking the one end method to see if it’s any different. Thanks again so much!

  15. Linda Hamilton

    I know this might not be the spot to comment but I made Grandma Lil’s unstuffed cabbage stew (from your first book) this week. My husband & I really enjoyed it. I will be keeping this in my rotation. I am new to IP but getting more comfortable using it. Saw you on Rachael Ray. Keep up the great work.

    • Amy

      I freeze them and they freeze great. I make up individual lunches with the cabbage rolls, mashed potatoes and carrots. Freeze them and grab and go! Whole office is jealous when I’m warming in the microwave.

  16. Andie

    I made this a few years ago and my husband and I just loved it! I made it again today and it was really bland. Do you have any suggestions I have my mistake or what I could do differently?

  17. Judy Irwin

    I learned last week from Rachael Ray that if you freeze the head of cabbage in the freezer overnight then when you take it out you can remove each leaf one at a time.They are totally pliable.It saves time of boiling or pressure cooking it and time to cool it.Great hint !

  18. Bonnie H.

    Your recipe looks delish but I follow my moms recipe (updated to use pressure cooker). Her sauce recipe is the best!

    My hint for you is instead of pressure cooking the cabbage first I put it in the freezer whole, in a plastic bag. Wait a few weeks and remove about two days before you want to use it. After it defrosts the leaves are soft and pliable. I find them much easier to work with than cooked ones!

  19. Meg Staton

    My closest friend in high school’s mother was from Ukrainian and taught me her version of cabbage rolls. It was a lot more labor intensive, but she did finish hers in a more unique manner. She placed the most tough outer leaves in the bottom of the pot, then all the rolls, then topped with tomato soup thinned with water. After baking/braising for an hour, she poured out the soup mixture, saving a cup. She then mixed in an equal part of sour cream, poured it back over the rolls, and baked them for another hour. 50 years later, I’m still doing them the same way. I think it might be time to mix things up a bit and try Grandma Lil’s variation.

    I just ordered your 4th book and hope you’ll come back to Atlanta to sign this one, too. You’ll have to come up with some new dedications though, since after you signed all my son’s and my books, you were forced to comment on my crazy 😜 gray, blue and purple hair.


  20. LaVonne

    Thanks for sharing your recipe. For mine, I always layer in some sauerkraut with the juice and I use seasoned tomato sauce without lemon.

  21. Alice Blair

    I like to brown the rolls before adding the sauce. I think browning them takes this dish to another level. And you do have to insert toothpick to keep leaf wrapped around meatball.

  22. Hope Turasky

    made these twice they always come out perfect. this time I rolled the cabbage rolls uncooked ahead of time and froze them. my question is can I just put them in the instant pot frozen with out thawing them. if yes do I still do 18 minutes on the timer? thank you

  23. Bubbe Sheila

    Jeffrey, I’m a huge fan! And I love this recipe. But could you adapt it for a deconstructed (unstuffed) cabbage roll recipe? I’m old, I work and my time is limited, and I just don’t want to roll if I don’t have to 😹. I’m sure your bubbe Lil would approve. Thanks in advance.

  24. Joanne

    Jeffery, you said you didn’t know why Grandma Lil put the tablespoon of shortening on top. This is what I think. Our family recipe called for salt pork so I think Grandma Lil didn’t have salt pork and subbed the shortening. I have used chopped up bacon in place of salt pork in the layers with tomato soup. Having made several of your recipes in past that I love, can’t wait to try this one.

  25. danielle

    I would prefer to avoid the crisco: I saw one comment that said butter instead, as well as bacon. Id like to keep it simple. Any other suggestions? I do have chicken stock and butter which might be a decent substitute for the crisco? Thanks!! I am so excited to make this in honor of my late Gma who made it every time I visited her. She included yellow raisins but Ill be following this recipe and skip them.

  26. Stephanie

    Made this last night. Taste was excellent. The time posted to make this is way off – took me almost 2 hours start to finish. Used a 6 QT pot so only needed 1 can of the Sacramento tomato juice and could only fit about 1.5 lbs of meat. Made basmati rice separately in my rice cooker and it was perfect. Tasted even better reheated as leftovers. Will make again.


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