Smokey Chipotle Meatloaf

Everything you need to know to make the best meatloaf ever, including 10 tips & tricks.

Smokey Chipotle Meatloaf | LunaCafe

A cursory review of the web will tell you, if you don’t know already, that everyone thinks their meatloaf (or their Mom’s meatloaf) is the best meatloaf in this or any other world. Actually, I agree. I have loved every homemade meatloaf I have ever eaten. When I’m eating it, it’s definitely the Best. Add spicy gravy or sweet, sticky ketchup glaze and a perfect mash of potatoes, and I am in Heaven!

But this said, I ran into some pretty “interesting” meatloaf recipes in my recent tour of the genre on the web, some of them claiming to hold the “secret” to meatloaf nirvana. One claiming “best” status boasted a can of mushroom soup and a package of Lipton onion soup mix. Another included a can of tomato soup. I can only hope I never encounter these on a dinner plate.

There were some interesting discussions and recipes, however, which I share with you under Cookin’ with Gas below. I really must try the buttermilk meatloaf idea.

But on the whole, most of the recipes were so similar, it begs the question, why don’t good cooks riff on this concept more often? After all, it’s simply ground meat, a binder, a lightener, and optional flavorings.

So that’s what I’m doing here today: riffing on a basic concept. First though, it may help to review a few meatloaf tips and tricks.

Smokey Chipotle Meatloaf | LunaCafe

The Best Meatloaf Tips & Tricks

  • Purchase excellent quality ground meat from a meat vendor that takes pride in his products. This is no time to buy the 20% fat, ground gristle that is on sale because the freshness seal has expired. (I use ground beef with only 7% fat if I am also including pork sausage, which has enough fat on its own to keep the loaf moist. If you are using all beef, purchase it with 15% fat.)
  • In my experience, 100% ground beef makes the least interesting and most dense meatloaf.
  • Experiment with different combinations of ground meats, both for flavor and for texture benefits. A little ground turkey really lightens up a meatloaf. And I love ground pork in my meatloaf as well.
  • The binder, lightener, and additional flavor elements must be in proper proportion to the amount of ground meat used. Too little and your baked meatloaf will be a dense, leathery brick. Too much and your baked meatloaf will fall apart when you try to cut it. The proportions indicated in the below recipe are Just Right, as Goldilocks likes to say.
  • For the lightest texture in the finished loaf, combine the meatloaf ingredients lightly and briefly with your fingertips. Lift and separate; do not mash or knead the ingredients together.
  • To ensure that your meatloaf is properly seasoned before you bake it, put a spoonful into a sizzling, oiled, nonstick skillet, mash it down, and sauté on both sides until browned and cooked through. Now taste, and adjust the seasoning in the raw mix accordingly.
  • Bake your meatloaf on an edged baking pan, rather than in a loaf pan. This will give you more delicious crust, which I like to top with a sweet and sticky glaze of some sort. The glazed crust gives the meatloaf another wonderful dimension.
  • Do not over bake meatloaf. When an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the loaf reads 165º, the loaf is done. (The temperature will continue to rise a few degrees after taking the loaf from the oven.)
  • Allow the baked meatloaf to rest, covered lightly with foil, for about 15 minutes after removal from the oven. The juices will be more evenly distributed and absorbed and the meatloaf will be easier to cut.
  • Use a serrated bread knife and a gentle sawing motion to slice meatloaf.

Smokey Chipotle Meatloaf | LunaCafeThe Best Smokey Chipotle Meatloaf

I love the Arizona dessert in the winter. When I’m under that big sky, I like to imagine what it would be like to cook with that wonderful palate of ingredients all the time—in my (pretend) adobe-tiled outdoor kitchen with its wood-fired grill and hand-crafted wood-burning oven. The chiles! The citrus fruit! The smoky flavors! The Mexican and Southwest culinary traditions and techniques!

But it’s January, cold, raining, and I’m writing this from our nectarine and chartreuse kitchen studio in downtown Portland, Oregon instead. However, the following Southwest-style meatloaf is in the oven, and I plan to whip up a mash of potatoes with yams, and Gorgonzola in a minute. Life is good.

2 pounds ground beef (15% fat)
2/3 pound each ground beef, pork or Italian pork sausage, and ground turkey
1 pound ground beef, ½ pound ground pork, and ½ pound Italian pork sausage (my favorite)

3 eggs, lightly beaten
1½ cups finely torn or chopped crumbs (without crust) from French or Italian baguette
½ cup minced onion
½ cup sliced green onion
½ cup minced red bell pepper
½ cup minced green bell pepper
2 tablespoons minced or pureed garlic (6-8 cloves)

½ cup Smokey Chipotle Honey Barbecue Sauce
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons Spanish smoked paprika
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

½ cup Smokey Chipotle Honey Barbecue Sauce

TECHNIQUE NOTE Usually, I would indicate to use your hands when mixing the ingredients for a meatloaf. However, this meatloaf contains chipotle chile (which is hot!) and it will permeate your skin. Then later, if you touch your face, or God forbid, your eyes, you will not like me anymore. J Therefore, after we add the additional ingredients to the meat, we will mix this meatloaf with a large metal spoon.

  1. In a large mixing bowl, using your fingertips, combine the ground meats, lifting and separating the strands. Do not mash or knead! (The only meat that will require mashing with your fingertips is pork sausage, because of its high fat content, which makes it sticky and difficult to separate.) Reserve for a minute.
  2. Wash your hands and switch to a large metal spoon for the remainder of the mixing.
  3. In a medium mixing bowl, using a large metal spoon, combine the eggs, bread, onion, green onion, red bell pepper, green bell pepper, garlic, Smokey Chipotle Honey Barbeque Sauce, Worcestershire sauce, oregano, thyme, salt, and pepper.
  4. To make sure your meatloaf is properly seasoned before you bake it, put a spoonful into a sizzling, oiled nonstick skillet, mash it down, and sauté on both sides until browned and cooked through. Now taste, and adjust seasoning to the raw mix accordingly.
  5. Divide and scoop the meat mixture out onto two sheets of foil. Weigh each half and redistribute to have two equal weight meatloaves. (For this testing, my loaves each weighed 1 pound 9 ounces.)
  6. Using thin, disposable rubber gloves (or wrap your hands in plastic wrap), form each mound of meat into an oval loaf that is a consistent diameter from end to end (so the loaf cooks evenly).
  7. Line an edged baking sheet with foil, carrying the foil up over the edges of the pan. Coat the foil with vegetable oil spray.
  8. Position the two loaves on the foil and coat each loaf thickly with Smokey Chipotle Honey Barbecue Sauce.
  9. Bake at 350º in the upper third of the oven for 65-70 minutes, until an instant-read thermometer registers 165º when inserted into the center of each loaf.
  10. Remove from the oven, drape with a sheet of aluminum foil and let rest 15 minutes before cutting.
  11. Slice with a serrated bread knife, using a light sawing motion.
  12. Serve hot; or let cool, and then seal and refrigerate for making meatloaf sandwiches later.

Makes 2 loaves; each will serve 3-4.

Smokey Chipotle Meatloaf | LunaCafeSmokey Chipotle Honey Barbecue Sauce

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ cup minced onion
¼ cup green bell pepper
¼ cup red bell pepper
2 tablespoons minced or pressed garlic

1 tablespoon pureed canned chipotle chiles in adobo sauce (freeze the remainder in 1 tablespoon dollops)
1 cup apple cider vinegar

1 cup ketchup
½ cup local honey
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon dry mustard

  1. In a sauté pan, melt the butter and add the onion, green bell pepper, red bell pepper, and garlic. Cook slowly, without browning, until the onions are translucent and softened, about 10 minutes.
  2. Add the chipotle and apple cider vinegar. Increase the heat and reduce the liquid by half.
  3. Add the ketchup, honey, Worcestershire sauce, and dry mustard. Stir to combine and then simmer slowly for about 3 minutes to meld the flavors and thicken the sauce somewhat.
  4. Remove from the heat, pour into a container, and let cool. After cooling, cover and refrigerate until needed.

Makes about 2 cups.

Smokey Chipotle Meatloaf | LunaCafeThe Best Smokey Chipotle Meatloaf Sandwich

Part of the reward of making meatloaf is having leftovers for sandwiches. The only secret to making a great meatloaf sandwich is to start with the best meatloaf you can make and then add the best bread, mayonnaise, and mustard you can lay your hands on.

In Portland, there is a local bakery called Dave’s Killer Bread that sets up a booth every week at the Portland Saturday Market. The freshly baked breads are loaded with whole grains and seeds but are also light, chewy, and slightly sweet. The 21 Whole Grain Bread is delicious toasted and a great partner to meatloaf.

Mustard is also a must and for this I turn to one of my favorite local condiment producers, Earth and Vine. Their Chipotle Honey Lime Mustard is perfect here. Or you might want to try their Tangerine Habanero Mustard.

2 slices Dave’s Killer Bread (21 Whole Grain), or other favorite bread
Best Foods mayonnaise, or other high quality mayonnaise
Earth and Vine’s Chipotle Lime Mustard, or other favorite mustard
small handful watercress
thinly sliced yellow or red onion
3 or 4 ¼-inch-thick slices well-chilled Smokey Chipotle Meatloaf

potato kettle chips
whole olives

  1. Toast the bread and then spread mayonnaise on one side of both slices.
  2. Spread mustard on one of the slices.
  3. Layer watercress, onions, and meatloaf on the other slice.
  4. Put the two slices together, plain sides to the outside, and cut in half on a slight diagonal.
  5. Serve with chips, olives, and cornichons.

Makes one sandwich.

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  1. Beth says

    Hi! I am aware you wrote this blog post over a year ago, but I have a question. Would there be anything wrong with using 1 pound of beef and 1 pound of pork as opposed to adding turkey or italian sausage for a third meat?

    I never enjoyed meatloaf until I had my mother-in-law’s version. She makes little individual meatloaves and uses an electric skillet to cook them. One would think that they are more like hamburgers, by the way I describe them, but they aren’t at all! I would love to make my own meatloaf and this version appears to be one that even my husband would love.

    Thanks for sharing the recipe and I appreciate, in advance, your feedback on my question.


    PS – Also, thank you for the tip about pureeing the chiles with adobo and freezing them in single portions. I have thrown away more cans of those chiles than I care to admit, and I shudder at the waste each and every time!

    • Susan S. Bradley says

      Hi Beth!

      No, nothing wrong with that at all. It’s fun to experiment with different combinations of meat. And sausage is –well — pork. :-) It is, however, typically high in fat content, which helps to keep the meatloaf moist. It also has a few spices that potentially add to the final flavor. (In this recipe, those spices are overpowered by the Chipotle Honey Barbecue Sauce and are thus not essential.) There’s no need to be concerned about moistness here, with the added barbecue sauce and breadcrumbs that soak up and hold that moisture. Go for it!

      Thanks for stopping by and good luck on your “mini” meatloaf adventure. That sounds like a great approach.


  2. Byron says

    I have a version of your recipe in the oven and it’s smelling better by the minute. Can’t wait. Great recipe and great photos. I’m a sucker for food photos.

  3. Radar says

    White chocolate cheese cake and chambord—what a pity–I would be most happy to take that off your hands for you! In the name of friendship of course!(The meat sandwich ROCKS-better than hot)!

  4. Radar says

    Had the meatloaf tonite–the chipotle is really good-flavorful but not over the top-I am a big fan of hot and sweet-so this really worked for me. Baking on a sheet pan instead of in a bread pan will be a must from now on. Looking forward to sandwiches with the rest of it! Thanks so much.

    • sms bradley says

      Thank you, Radar, so glad you liked it! The sandwiches are a big bonus. If I wasn’t buried in chocolate this week (the All Chocolate all Month celebration), I would definitely make another meatloaf. As it is, we’re having Luscious White Chocolate Raspberry Cheesecake with two small glasses of Chambord for DINNER. heh heh

  5. says

    Thanks for this very thorough dissertation on meatloaf – your version here definitely sounds delicious. Add a little chipotle to anything and it’s going to taste good in my opinion!

    • sms bradley says

      Thanks Scott! I’m with you on the chipotle. I’m working on the ultimate chocolate pudding for LunaCafe’s February All Chocolate All Month and I’m thinking chipotle + chocolate might be a very good thing.

  6. says

    Wow, what a great alternative to the regular ol’ meatloaf! This sounds delicious-and those photos are mouthwatering! I’m definitely bookmarking this recipe!

  7. says

    Hey Homie!
    It is always good to find a local person’s blog and yours is incredible! My stomach is rumbling at the pictures and I can almost smell it. Come over and check out my blog in Manzanita. Keep up the good work.

    • sms bradley says

      Thanks, Dana! Manzanita is one of my favorite destinations on the Oregon Coast. Love long beach walks all bundled up in the winter. Also like to dream that we live in one of those houses overlooking the beach. :-) The intro on your site is fortuitous, as I have been contemplating over the past few week how every thought, person, occurance, action, and so forth is always the perfect teacher at the perfect time. I have noticed in my own life that there are no exceptions. So of course food and our relationship to it is a great teacher. For me cooking is joyful expression, exploration, learning, and sharing. Creating with foods that are grown in one’s own garden or close to home and in the season they naturally grow is rewarding and grounding. Supporting sustainable agriculture practices, and the folks who work so hard to produce our food, just makes good sense. Happy cooking!

    • sms bradley says

      Thanks Jillian! I actually didn’t grow up eating meatloaf (not in my Mom’s culinary repertoire, plus she was the Sunday cook only and really loved presenting the more expensive cuts of meat on her night). So, like you, I came to appreciate it rather late too. It wasn’t until I was teaching pate classes that I began to take a closer look at what can be done with the humble meatloaf. Now I’m hooked. :-)

  8. says

    So I thought I had a great recipe for meatloaf (didn’t you allude to that in the beginning?!), and then I read this one and I know I’ll have to try it. Can’t wait!
    Thanks for another challenge.

    • sms bradley says

      Tammy, I’m sure your recipe IS wonderful. It’s just hard to go wrong with a homemade meatloaf, and there is wide latitude on the proportions and ingredients. I am being lazy this morning (still in my PJs) and catching up on the pile of cooking magazines. Cook’s Country March edition features a “Glazed Meatloaf” that has good basic proportions of ingredients. The thing that strikes me about the article, however, is that they too insist on baking the meatloaf on an edged baking sheet, rather than in a loaf pan. If I had to call out one thing that makes a supreme difference to the finished loaf, this would be it. I want a little bit of that yummy sticky topping in every bite and a loaf pan creates a mushy bottom and unglazed sides. On a baking sheet, the liquid that releases from the meatloaf while it bakes spreads out on the pan and almost dries up, so no bottom mush effect. Have a great weekend!

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