The Secret to a Perfect Meatloaf
Meatloaf is an American tradition. My mother never made it for us, but everyone else I knew ate meatloaf a couple times a month. As an adult, I've made meatloaf for my family more over the last few years.
There are many things you can do with meatloaf once you get the basic concept down to an art. The most important part of making it is knowing when it feels right. You can make any recipe, but if it doesn't feel right, you need to know how to make it come out perfectly every time.
Knowing how you want the recipe to be is the key to being comfortable with anything you cook. Just relax: Cooking should not be a chore. I know lots of you are busy moms; even though meatloaf takes an hour to make, it actually frees you up to multitask with other things while cooking. It's a great dish for the kids to help with because they can get their hands dirty, and that's fine!
- 2.25–2.5 pounds ground beef
- 2 cups plain bread crumbs
- 3 large eggs
- 1 3/4 cups ketchup, separated
- 1 package Lipton beefy onion soup mix
- 4 tablespoons brown sugar, separated
- 1/4–1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup milk, 2% or whole
Tools You'll Want
- 2-cup measuring cup: Try finding one with smaller measurements marked inside or see-through with measurements on the outside.
- 1 tablespoon measuring spoon/large spoon
- 2 loaf pans/8" x 8" pans: Glass or non-stick pans work best.
- Large mixing bowl: If the kids are helping, then make it a really big chip bowl.
- Small rubber scraper: You'll want one to get all the ketchup out of the measuring cup.
1. Assemble Everything
Pre-heat your oven to 350º. Set aside 1 cup of ketchup and 2 tablespoons of brown sugar for the glaze. Combine the rest of the ingredients together in a large bowl, only adding half of the milk. Mix it all together with your hands until everything is incorporated and it feels like a cold loaf of bread dough.
- Do not use skim milk unless you can add some fat to the dish. It is needed when the milk is absorbed by the breadcrumbs. The best substitution is 2 tablespoons of flax because that has a nice concentration of omega-3 in it.
- If you're having a hard time getting all the breadcrumbs damp, add milk 1 tablespoon at a time. It should hold together but have a damp sheen, feeling a little loose but not sloppy or falling apart.
- If it is sloppy, just keep kneading it and add 1/8 to 1/4 cup more bread crumbs to tighten it up.
2. Bake It in the Oven
Divide the meat mixture in half and put each half into a loaf pan. Press the meat down until it fills all the corners and the pan is about half full. If you are using an 8" x 8" pan, shape the meat into a loaf shape and place into the middle of the pan. Press down lightly to spread it out slightly. It should have about two inches of space on each side and fill the middle of the pan from side to side.
Place the pans on the oven's middle shelf with even space on all sides.
- If you are making baked potatoes, sweet potatoes, or squash with the meal, you should also put them in at the same time. They can be spaced around the pans or on the shelf right below the pans.
- If you are baking a side dish like au gratin potatoes, place the loaf pans one behind the other on one side of the oven rack. Then, place the pan with your side dish on the other side of the rack.
Set a timer for one hour or note the time.
3. Cooking the Meal
Make a glaze with one cup of ketchup and two tablespoons of brown sugar. You can add a teaspoon of beef bouillon granules if you like, but the ketchup with brown sugar is our favorite. Mix it together in a bowl and heat it in a microwave for one minute. You can use a small saucepan and heat it through on the stove top if you do not have a microwave. Set it aside until you need to use it.
- When the timer goes off, take out the side dishes and pour the fat that may have collected in the bottom of the loaf pans. At this point, the loaves should have an internal temperature of 165 degrees.
- The first few times you make this, you should check the internal temperature with a food thermometer.
- Spread half of the glaze on each loaf and return it to the oven. Cook for an additional 10 minutes and then turn off the oven.
- You can leave the loaves in the oven until dinner is ready to be served.
This recipe can easily serve five people with an extra loaf to freeze or use another day. We usually have it the next day as is or make meatloaf sandwiches in a similar way to meatball sandwiches. Our senior in high school also has a microwave, so it can be taken in a school lunch as well. Meatloaf keeps in the refrigerator for several days since it is cooked, and slices can be reheated quickly for family members who have activities that encroach on your usual dinner time.
Fun Meatloaf Variations
|Ingredient||Substitute it with||or...||or...|
ground veal and pork (10 oz each)
flavored bread crumbs
5 egg whites + 1 tbsp olive oil
equal volume egg substitute and 2 tbsp oil
equal volume heavy cream
Kikoman teriyaki sauce
3/4 cup applesauce + 1/4 cup marmalade or apricot jam
Lipton beefy onion soup mix
Lipton onion soup mix
package of dry gravy mix
sloppy joe season package
curry powder, to taste
red or white pepper, to taste
2% or whole milk
skim milk or reconstituted dry milk + 2 tbsp ground flax (boxed)
half and half
evaporated milk + water
About the Beef
The ingredients you choose determine the final outcome. If you choose very lean meat, you need to add more moisture to avoid having a dry meatloaf. That is actually cooking science. This recipe uses either 80/20 or 85/15 ground beef or chuck.
My favorite source of meat is Kroger's family packs of ground beef. It is always leaner than stated and very fresh, but it still has enough fat and moisture to keep the meatloaf moist. Grocery stores that package their own meat try to only make enough to meet the demand for that day, so none is left by mid-evening (around 7–8 pm)—don't shop late if you like that kind of meat. You can purchase a five-pound package and save half for another night.
If you are new to cooking or not good at guessing measurements when it comes to ground meat, then go ahead and purchase the pre-packaged meat. This recipe will come out just fine for you.
Questions & Answers
Question: What temperature and for how long do I need to make meatloaf?
Answer: Bake at 350 for 55 - 60 minutes.