Meatloaf: What Is It And How Was It Invented?

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  June 4, 2022

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The history of meatloaf is quite interesting, especially when you consider that it’s NOT EVEN a traditional American dish!

Meatloaf is typically made with ground beef, pork, and veal usually served with gravy. It was invented by the Romans as found in the cookbook Apicius from the first century AD. It made its way to America in colonial Pennsylvania where German-Americans had “scrapple” with pork scraps, cornmeal, and flour.

Let’s explore all of the winding roads meatloaf had to go through to end up on your plate today!

What is meatloaf

A Brief History of the Loaf

Ancient Origins

Who knew the meatloaf we know and love today has been around since the 4th or 5th century? It all started with the Roman cookbook Apicius, which presented a recipe for patties made of chopped meat, bread, and wine. Fast forward to the late 1800s and the invention of the meat grinder, which inspired the American meatloaf we know today.

The Great Depression

The Great Depression only increased the popularity of the meatloaf. Thrifty housewives used inexpensive mix-ins like mustard and bouillon to make the dish more flavorful. And during World War II, rationing inspired meat-free loaves.

The 1950s and Beyond

The 1950s and ’60s saw the invention of creative recipes like Bacon-Dill Meatloaf and Spicy Peach Loaf. In the ’70s and ’80s, veal, pork, and beef “meatloaf mix” became popular, making the dish dinner party-worthy. The ’90s saw upscale versions of the dish, and today, chefs are getting creative with international flavors and stuffing, wrapping, and lacing their loaves.

Where Did Meatloaf Come From?

The Ancient Roman Origins

Ah, meatloaf. A classic dinner dish that’s been around for centuries. But have you ever wondered who was the first to come up with this delicious dish? Well, it turns out that the earliest recipe for meatloaf can be found in the ancient Roman cookbook Apicius, which dates back to the first century AD. Unfortunately, the author of Apicius is unknown, so we can’t say for sure who invented the original meatloaf. But we can say that the Romans were the first to come up with the idea!

The German-American Influence

Fast forward to the colonial era and we find the German-Americans living in Pennsylvania had their own version of meatloaf. It was called scrapple and was made with pork scraps, cornmeal, and flour. Although it wasn’t exactly the same as the meatloaf we know and love today, it was a major influence on the American version of the dish.

Modern Meatloaf

Nowadays, meatloaf is a staple in many households. It’s a hearty, delicious meal that’s easy to make and even easier to eat. So the next time you’re enjoying a big slice of meatloaf, remember to thank the Romans and the German-Americans for their contributions to this classic dish!


Meatloaf Vs Beef Loaf

When it comes to meatloaf and beef loaf, there’s a lot of confusion. After all, they both involve ground meat, so what’s the difference? Well, the main difference is in the type of meat used. Meatloaf is typically made with a combination of ground beef, pork, and veal, while beef loaf is made with just ground beef. This means that meatloaf is usually more flavorful and moist, while beef loaf can be a bit dryer. Additionally, meatloaf is usually served with a sauce or gravy, while beef loaf is usually served plain. So, if you’re looking for a flavorful, moist dish, go for meatloaf. But if you’re looking for something a bit simpler, beef loaf is the way to go.

Meatloaf Vs Luncheon Meat

When it comes to the difference between meatloaf and luncheon meat, it’s all about the shape. Meatloaf is a shaped mass of baked ground meat, usually served in slices. Luncheon meat, on the other hand, is a type of sausage or molded loaf meat that’s sliced and served cold. So if you’re looking for something to serve warm and in a specific shape, meatloaf is the way to go. But if you’re looking for something to serve cold and in slices, luncheon meat is the perfect choice.


Meatloaf’s been around for centuries, but it wasn’t until the late 1800s that the American version of the dish was born and it’s been a STAPLE ever since.

I hope you’ve learned a lot from this guide on the history of our beloved ground meat dish.

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Lakeside Smokers is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with BBQ Smoking (& Japanese food!) at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.