Everything you need to know to make the best meatloaf ever, including 10 tips & tricks.
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.
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.
The 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 (recipe below)
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 (in a pinch, use your fave prepared 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.
- 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.
- Wash your hands and switch to a large metal spoon for the remainder of the mixing.
- 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.
- Add to meat mixture and combine well.
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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).
- Line an edged baking sheet with foil, carrying the foil up over the edges of the pan. Coat the foil with vegetable oil spray.
- Position the two loaves on the foil and coat each loaf thickly with Smokey Chipotle Honey Barbecue Sauce.
- Arrange a rack in the upper third of the oven, and heat oven to 350ºF.
- Bake 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.
- Remove from the oven, drape with a sheet of aluminum foil and let rest 15 minutes before cutting.
- Slice with a serrated bread knife, using a light sawing motion.
- 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 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
- 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.
- Add the chipotle and apple cider vinegar. Increase the heat and reduce the liquid by half.
- 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.
- Remove from the heat, pour into a container, and let cool. After cooling, cover and refrigerate until needed.
Makes about 2 cups.
The 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
- Toast the bread and then spread mayonnaise on one side of both slices.
- Spread mustard on one of the slices.
- Layer watercress, onions, and meatloaf on the other slice.
- Put the two slices together, plain sides to the outside, and cut in half on a slight diagonal.
- Serve with chips, olives, and cornichons.
Makes one sandwich.
Cookin’ with Gas (inspiration from around the web)
- Make the Best Meatloaf
- Melt in Your-Mouth Meatloaf
- Video: Coyote Meatloaf with Gorgonzola
- Bob Jamieson’s Best Meatloaf
- Sacramento Magazine: Best Meatloaf
- About.com: Meatloaf Tips and Cooking Hints
- About.com: Make the Best Meatloaf
- Tipnut.com: 10 Taste Meatloaf Tips and Tricks
- Food Network: 25 Meatloaf Recipes
- Food Network: Best Ever Meatloaf
- Bobby Flay: Roasted Vegetable Meat Loaf with Balsamic Glaze …