Meatloaf is the go-to family meal for millions of Americans, with as many ways to make it as there are kitchens. Ours is a meaty, simple approach to the classic meatloaf that serves great for dinner, and still shines the next day for a great meatloaf sandwich. So, grab your ketchup and settle down as we talk ultimate comfort food; meatloaf.
Travel back to fifth century Rome and you may get a dish that has minced meat with died fruits, herbs, and vegetables cooked together into something vaguely like meatloaf. The idea spread into northern Europe, and is actually considered an offshoot of meatballs. Which makes sense as they both contain minced meat held together with some egg.
It is not until the German Americans, historically our source of some great comfort food, starting making scrapple. Other than having a great name, scrapple was the one of the earliest recorded dishes mixing meat with grain, pork and cornmeal in this case. Add the eggs to bind it, which shows up in the 1800s, and you have the core of virtually every meatloaf.
Meatloaf Made Easy
You’ll get solid results with broad appeal following the KISS rule; Keep It Simple… well you know the rest. Adding some bread will retain the juices and the flavorings. Sweet or yellow onion will blend with the meat flavors and add a slight amount of texture from the ground meats.
Choose a more neutral bread, whole wheat actually works quite well. Sourdough, ryes, or pumpernickel and such can add unplanned flavors to the end result. For this recipe use one slice of bread per pound of meat, cut into small cubes. Dice one quarter onion per pound of meat.
About the Meat
You will get great results with an all-beef meatloaf, which is what this recipe will walk you through. That being said, we’ve had fun over the years blending in all kind of meats. One that had nicely blended flavors was ground beef, pork and turkey, which are also readily available in most grocery stores. Our ratio was 3 parts beef to 1 part each pork and turkey. You want to use 80/20 ground beef or leaner. Ground pork’s higher fat is balanced when you use lean turkey.
Beyond that lamb has a lot of flavor, but there are recipes that will include anything from ham to veal, minced chicken or even any game meat. And of course, bacon. There’s always room for that, either minced in the loaf or used as a wrap for extra flavors. We used ground beef because it is the most readily available, and with a little patience you can usually find it for a good price. And hey, it tastes great too.
About the Loaf
To hold the wet flavorings that we add, we use small cubes of bread. The bread holds some of the liquids – soy, Worcestershire, hot sauce, red wine or beer, tomato sauce or catsup, and such – during the mixing process, letting the flavors come out and retaining juice in the cooking stage. This is scalable at one average slice per pound, and a great outlet for the last of a loaf. Sometimes that heel cut is thinner, so you may add a bit more to offset that. Don’t worry if it’s dry or such, it will work just fine.
Milder flavors of bread are best. Some commercial sourdoughs, for example, have flavoring additives that give it more tang, and this may not lead to a good result for your meatloaf. White or whole grain breads work very well. Other flavors, like caraway rye or pumpernickel, may impart flavors that have too much contrast with the end result.
Bells and Whistles
We like keeping this a meat-based dish at the core. Many recipes will use a can of vegetable soup, or any vegetable in the produce section. Some finely minced onion adds nice flavors and a slight crunch to the texture. We won’t belabor the point, add whatever suits your fancy, this is a really good base recipe with onion as the only vegetable.
Eggs go a long way to maintain the loaf shape. By that we mean using raw egg, one egg per pound of meat, is an effective binder. We specify ‘raw’ because there are many recipes that use hard boiled eggs in the center, which makes a good-looking slice to be honest. This recipe uses eggs to hold it together when cooked.
Tips for the Best Meatloaf
In my experience adding fluids is the first step to a juicy end result. As a result, we use soy, Worcestershire, catsup and hot sauce for flavor with the bonuses that they disperse well when mixed, and bring more moisture into play for a juicier result. For hot sauce we like the Mexican style heat, as opposed to Louisiana (think Tabasco) which has a high vinegar content.
This is a good dish to have disposable gloves around for mixing. Clean up is so much easier, not to mention the obvious plus of minimizing any potential contamination. Also, for ease of cleanup, line your pan with parchment paper.
You do get better shape retention if you refrigerate a couple hours after mixing and before cooking. This does slightly extend your cooking times, but it yields good results. Some folks cook their meatloaf in a loaf pan. We found that made for an oily end result, holding all the meat’s fat in the container.
Stepping Up Your Game
This is based on what we did in the restaurant, one of our better selling specials. The restaurant recipes uses more ingredients, and still also shares a lot of components of the first recipe
The first decision is what meats to use. You read that right; meats with an ‘s’, as we mentioned earlier. Groceries today stock ground beef, ground pork, ground chicken, ground turkey, ground lamb, and many offer ground Bison or ‘beefalo’ meat. Your best bet is to pick three.
Be aware that chicken is often ground too fine, almost pasty in many cases, which can be worked with but will make our meatloaf slightly more dense. Lamb has incredible flavor, although a fair number of people are not fans of its distinctive, slightly stronger flavor, so you may want to be judicious if you are using it.
Many restaurant recipes like this are ratio based to offer more flexibility in batch sizing, you will see how we think in those terms. For the meat you’ll get consistent results with two parts beef to one part of two other meats, or 2:1:1. So, for example, a great mix is 2 pounds 80/20 ground beef (20% fat) with 1 pound ground pork and 1 pound ground turkey.
We’re still going to add one egg per pound of meat. Per pound we’ll flavor with one-half teaspoon Worcestershire sauce, one teaspoon soy sauce, one half ounce each red wine and dark beer, and a dash or two of your favorite hot sauce. We’re going to dress it with some ketchup before baking.
Remember, we have those little bread cubes that will suck up some of this moisture then release it back into the meatloaf as it cooks, so don’t be afraid of the liquid. It will be a moister loaf at the start. But the pro tip is to cook it on a sheet pan, or flat pan with edges, that is larger than the loaf. This allows the oil to break out of the meat for a less greasy product.
Lastly, we need some dry seasoning. Per pound;
- one half teaspoon of finely ground black pepper
- one half teaspoon granulated garlic
- one quarter teaspoon celery salt will fill out the flavor profile.
With the eggs and raw meat, you need an internal temperature of 160-165°F to be healthy and safe. So, it is already a lengthy cooking process. Don’t be afraid of the loaf looking dark when fully cooked. In smoked foods that is desirable, called a bark, and does not carry any scorched flavors. Instead, it brings those rich roasted flavors that fill out the dish.
Here’s our two recipes to enjoy, a straightforward home version your family will love, and a slightly more complex style that will expand well with the size of your group.
- 3 Pounds ground beef
- 3 slices bread
- 1 medium onion
- 3 eggs
- 4 Tablespoons catsup, divided
- 2 Tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 Tablespoon worcestershire sauce
- 1 Teaspoon hot sauce
- 1 Teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 Teaspoon granulated garlic
- In a bowl add eggs, 2 Tablespoons catsup, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, pepper, garlic
- Mix well
- Dice onion to 1/4” pieces, add to bowl
- Cube bread slices, add to bowl
- Add ground beef
- Mix well
- Line loaf pan with plastic wrap
- Fill pan with meat mixture, refrigerate for 2 hours or more
- Preheat oven to 375
- Transfer to low sided baking sheet, line remaining catsup down the center
- Cook for 90 minutes, or until internal temperature is 160
- Remove from oven, let set for 10 minutes, slice and enjoy
- Save some for a sandwich the next day!
Restaurant Quality Meatloaf
- 4 Eggs
- 4 Teaspoons Soy sauce
- 2 Teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
- 1 Teaspoon Hot sauce
- ¼ Cup Red wine (2 ounces) (2 ounces)
- ¼ Cup Dark beer (2 ounces)
- 2 Teaspoons Black pepper
- 2 Teaspoons Granulated garlic
- 1 Teaspoon Celery salt
- 2 Pound 80/20 ground beef
- 1 Pound Ground pork
- 1 Pound Fround turkey
- 4 Slices Whole wheat bread in cubes
- 1 Onion diced
- Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
- Based on four pounds of meat. In a large bowl whisk together:4 eggs4 teaspoons soy sauce2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce1 teaspoon hot sauce¼ cup red wine (2 ounces)¼ cup dark beer (2 ounces)2 teaspoons black pepper2 teaspoons granulated garlic1 teaspoon celery salt
- Add:2 pounds 80/20 ground beef1 pound ground pork1 pound ground turkey4 slices whole wheat bread in cubes1 onion diced
- Spray your pan with a light coat of oil or line it with parchment. This might be the time to don some gloves. Mix the ingredients with your hands until they are all well incorporated.
- Transfer to your pan and shape into a loaf. Because it is moist you may not get it to stand much more than 3-4” tall, just scale the rest of the shape accordingly.
- Make a shallow trough down the middle of the loaf and pour a thick ribbon of ketchup all the way along it.
- Bake until a thermometer reads 165 degrees in the center.
- Serve with ketchup or mushroom gravy, or the sauce of your choice. And be certain to save some for sandwiches the next day!