Meatloaf is one of those classic and sentimental meals that bring back our childhood memories.
Every family has its own recipe, and most of these recipes have their own unique and exciting ingredients, which makes eating the meatloaf a tasty experience.
Each meatloaf tastes a little bit different from the last and that’s because the recipes are so varied.
In this post, we’ll teach you how to make an amazing meatloaf you and your family will love, every time! I think you’ll agree that the best meatloaf is made from scratch with high-quality ingredients.
But before we proceed, we need to give you some tips that will help you make the best meatloaf in your oven or smoker. You’ve probably been wondering how to get that perfect meatloaf every time.
In this post we'll cover:
- 1 How to prepare the best meatloaf?
- 1.1 Always use meat with high-fat content
- 1.2 Add some moisture in every step
- 1.3 Use soaked breadcrumbs (crustless)
- 1.4 Sautéed veggies are key
- 1.5 Avoid overmixing the meatloaf ingredients
- 1.6 Taste your meatloaf mixture
- 1.7 Make sure that the meatloaf has some space in the pan
- 1.8 Glaze your meatloaf
- 1.9 Allow the meatloaf to rest
- 2 2 recipes for smoked meatloaf
- 3 Smoked meatloaf with Oregano and Beet
- 4 Bottom Line
How to prepare the best meatloaf?
Always use meat with high-fat content
Using leaner meat will make your meatloaf grainer and dry. If you want to use beef to prepare your meatloaf, then make sure that the fat content is at least 15%.
If you’re going to use turkey, pork, or leaner beef, then consider mixing the veal or ground pork in order to get a tender and moist meatloaf.
Another interesting way of adding fat to your meatloaf is by adding chopped bacon to the ingredients. Also, covering the meatloaf with bacon is another amazing way to make your meatloaf tender and moist. Bacon also adds extra flavor, making the meatloaf taste smokier.
Add some moisture in every step
Never forget to add ketchup, eggs, mustard, Worcestershire, tomato paste, BBQ sauce, or any combination of wet seasonings. These seasonings not only add texture and flavor to the meatloaf, but they also make it juicy. Nobody wants to eat a chewy or dry meatloaf.
For an extra moist meatloaf, add some milk. It not only makes your meat more tender but it will help the loaf keep its optimal moisture level while cooking.
If you want to use beef, veal, or pork in your meatloaf, make sure that you soak the breadcrumbs in milk. If you are using ground turkey for your meatloaf, soak the breadcrumbs in cream in order to boost the meat’s fat content.
If you are lactose-intolerant, then don’t worry about this as you can soak the breadcrumbs in stock, and you will still get moist and tender meatloaf.
But, how do you check whether the moisture content is enough? If you notice that the mixture of ingredients is sticking to the bowl, it’s a bit dry, so add some extra liquid.
Always add a tablespoon of liquid a time, until the mixture doesn’t stick to the bowl. Lastly, avoid using packaged breadcrumbs. You can use them if they are convenient but pay extra attention to their texture and check that they haven’t dried out your mixture.
What can I use as a substitute for breadcrumbs?
Not everyone likes breadcrumbs. Or perhaps you’ve just realized you’ve run out! Here are 5 breadcrumb substitutes you can use to cook meatloaf.
Crushed crackers are a great option if you don’t like breadcrumbs. You can use a salty variety from the Ritz brand and it will work just as well as breadcrumbs. Crackers hold the meatloaf together because they act as a binding agent.
Pretzels are also good binding agents for meatloaf. Choose a less salty variety and grind them up in a food processor until they have a texture similar to breadcrumbs.
Uncooked rice is an excellent substitute and binding agent. As it cooks, it doubles in size and sucks up the excess liquids.
Diced cauliflower is a great option to use as a breadcrumb substitute if you want to add more veggies to the meatloaf.
Gluten-free cereal is another option to use if you want to make the meatloaf recipe healthier. Make sure the cereal is crushed up well and fine in texture.
Sautéed veggies are key
Many people will be tempted to ignore sautéing their veggies, but this is an important step that will determine whether you will get a moist and tender meatloaf.
You can try a mixture of onion, celery, and carrots. This mixture is called ‘Mirepoix’ in French, and it is a flavor base, common in European and North American dishes. Usually, you have a 2:1:1 ratio of the veggies. This common mix actually infuses the meatloaf with aromas and flavors.
Cook the mirepoix, and then let it cool before chopping.
You can use a food processor to blend the sautéed veggies, as this will give you a fine mixture, and also save you a considerable amount of time.
Start with the carrots first, and then add the onions and celery, which require less time to process since they are softer than the carrots.
However, exercise extra caution to avoid over-processing the ingredients. You don’t want a mushy paste that resembles baby food. Instead, you want the veggies to add a creamy texture to the meatloaf.
Avoid overmixing the meatloaf ingredients
You might be tempted to overmix, but this will make your meatloaf dense and dry. First, mix together the wet ingredients, and then add the processed sautéed veggies.
Mix them with your hands using a spatula, until they are well mixed. Make sure that the mixture is light-handed and loose. You don’t need to mix the ingredients with a lot of pressure, as the goal is to combine them not grind them.
You might think that the meatloaf is not compact, but you shouldn’t worry as it will become firmer when you put it in the oven.
Taste your meatloaf mixture
By tasting, we don’t mean that you taste it while it’s raw since it’s not recommendable to eat raw meat—even though some chefs use this method.
However, you should note that the other thing worse than a dry meatloaf is a tasteless one. So, just take your time to fry a small portion of the mixture—a teaspoon size just to check the seasoning.
This will assist you to determine whether the seasoning is OK, or you need to add some more herbs and spices.
You’d rather know the seasoning level before cooking rather than when you’ve already baked the meatloaf as this will help you to adjust the seasoning.
Lastly, allow the meatloaf to sit for a while before placing it in the oven or smoker.
Did you know you can buy meatloaf seasoning packets? They contain all the spices and herbs for a classic meatloaf.
If you don’t want to buy the seasoning packets, take a look at these popular seasonings commonly used in meatloaf:
- dried mustard
- dried thyme
- ground black pepper
- onion powder
- garlic powder
- chili powder
Make sure that the meatloaf has some space in the pan
Never fill your baking pan to its edges with the meatloaf—although you might be worried about the shape it will have. But, you should understand that baking a meatloaf using a loaf pan will give you a meat brick.
When selecting a baking pan, never choose a small baking dish or loaf pan. If the meatloaf fits tightly, it means that it will steam. The meatloaf should have some space on the side of the dish.
But, you can opt to use a large baking dish or sheet pan, and make sure that you leave some spaces in the edges to allow the meatloaf caramelize well.
Also, you can opt to make several small loaves, rather than a big meatloaf, since they will cook easily and faster.
In addition, you can easily freeze them for future use. If you plan to make extra meatloaves for sandwiches, then prepare mini loaves as they will remain moist till you use them.
Glaze your meatloaf
Even if you have made your meatloaf using the most amazing and high-quality meat, don’t forget to top it up. Using ketchup works perfectly, but you can also consider using BBQ and chili sauces since they are also fantastic alternatives.
You can spike your meatloaf with ketchup, Dijon mustard, chili powder, Worcestershire sauce, dark brown sugar, and apple cider vinegar. Lastly, you can make the recipe interesting by adding some bacon strips on top of the meatloaf for extra flavor.
Do you cover meatloaf with foil when baking?
Yes, you can cover the meatloaf with a strip of aluminum foil. This keeps the meat moist as it cooks in the oven. Make sure to uncover the meat for the last 15 minutes or so to ensure the meatloaf has a nice brown crust.
Allow the meatloaf to rest
Always allow the meatloaf to rest for approximately 5 to 10 minutes. Wrap the meatloaf with foil as this will keep it hot and moist and ensure a slow cooling down process.
In addition, it will make it easier to slice meatloaf, and also it locks in those precious and luscious juices in the meatloaf.
If you cut the meatloaf while it’s piping hot, it can fall apart, therefore, it’s ideal to slice it after it’s been out of the oven for some time.
Allthingsbbq also has this great video post about it on Youtube:
2 recipes for smoked meatloaf
Smoked meatloaf with Oregano and Beet
- 1¼ lb Ground beet chunk
- 1¼ lb Ground turkey
- 1 lb Ground pork
- 2 whole Bell peppers roasted and chopped
- ¾ cup Fresh bread crumbs
- ⅓ cup Onion (finely chopped)
- 1 garlic clove Freshly minced
- 2 eggs beaten
- 1 tbsp Dried oregano
- 1 tbsp Kosher salt
- ½ tbsp Black pepper
- 1½ cup BBQ sauce (you can use homemade sauce or store-bought)
Follow these instructions to roast your red bell peppers
- First, start by grilling your bell peppers over a charcoal or gas grill—make sure that you grill the sides of the bell peppers until they turn black. It should take around 15 to 20 minutes for this process to be complete.
- Once done, place the grilled peppers in a small bowl, and then use a plate to cover the bowl. This allows the steam to make the skin of the peppers lose. Let the peppers steam for around 15 minutes, and then peel the pepper skins and remove the seeds. You shouldn’t rinse the peppers under running water in an attempt to remove the seeds and the skins since this can remove the smokey flavor.
- Chop the roasted bell peppers and keep them aside for later use.
- Start by mixing all your ingredients in a large bowl—but don’t add all the BBQ sauce. Add only ½ a cup and set the remaining sauce aside to top your meatloaf later. Now, mix all the ingredients together until they are well combined.
- Next, take your baking sheet and create a foil loaf pan. To do this, take a 24” piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil and folding it in half to create a double layer. Mold the sides of the foil upwards to create a loaf pan, and then fill it with the meatloaf mixture.
- Prepare your smoker and set the temperature to 225 degrees F.
- When the smoker is ready, place your meatloaf pan directly on the indirect heat source rack of your smoker, and then smoke for around 3-4 hours, or until the internal temperature of the meatloaf is around 165 degrees.
- If you don’t have a smoker, then don’t worry since you can just as well use your oven, which is an alternative method to smoking. First, preheat your oven to 350 degrees F, and then bake the meatloaf for around 1 ½ hour or until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees F. Make sure that you top your uncooked meatloaf with 1 cup of the remaining BBQ sauce before you place it in the oven.
- Once done, remove the cooked meatloaf from the oven/smoker and then allow it to cool for around 5 minutes. Remove your meatloaf from the pan, and then slice it to serve.
Classic meatloaf recipe
When trying to cook classic meatloaf, it’s important to note that the recipe relies on improving its rich beef flavor, instead of trying to change it to something else.
One thing you should understand about classic meatloaf is that you should top it using a ketchup-based sauce, and mostly, you will have to add some brown sugar for extra sweetness.
The loaf should be fork-tender, but it shouldn’t crumble, and it should have that rich beefy flavor. Every bite of the meatloaf should bring back the taste and nostalgia of the mid-90s.
Why does meatloaf always fall apart?
The common problem most people face when making meatloaf is that it seems to always fall apart. Did you know there are two main reasons for this?
- You are not adding enough binding agents to the meatloaf. Binding agents – breadcrumbs and eggs, are the essential components of a tasty meatloaf. They help the meat stick together and if the meat sticks together well, it will keep its form throughout the cooking process.
- Overcooking – many people think that the pinkish hue of the meat means it is undercooked when in fact, the meatloaf is ready to come out of the oven or smoker. Make sure you always follow cooking instructions and don’t overcook the meat, it has a tendency to fall apart if you do.
How can you make your classic meatloaf tender?
There is something almost everyone hates—making a hard meatloaf. It’s something you should never dream of doing since it can have serious repercussions. To make your classic meatloaf tender, you should add eggs, liquid, and breadcrumbs.
The breadcrumbs should be soaked in the liquid, thus reducing the density of the loaf, while the eggs should bind the loaf altogether. But, you can still become a bit creative when preparing this recipe.
Although some recipes will tell you to use 1 cup of breadcrumbs, use ¾ if you want your meatloaf to be tender, and not to crumble when you take it out of the pan. As well, consider the breadcrumb alternatives mentioned earlier.
So, how do you make a classic meatloaf?
Most of the meatloaf recipes will require you to use milk as the liquid—and that’s how most people prepare their meatloaf.
Although milk is a good option for preparing meatloaf, consider using Worcestershire and beef broth when preparing classic meatloaf since it intensifies the richness of the recipe.
One thing you should understand about classic meatloaf is that it shouldn’t overpower its ingredients, like BBQ sauce—but, you should always make sure that you add the required flavor wherever possible.
Moreover, adding some small quantities of tomato paste and ground sage can make this recipe more interesting. This will give the classing meatloaf a touch of herbal sweetness, which blends very well with the rich beef flavor.
How long does it take to cook a classic meatloaf?
To achieve the best result, you should bake your classic meatloaf for 1 hour at 350 degrees.
Always use a digital thermometer to check on the meatloaf after 45 minutes, since the baking time varies. Your meatloaf can cook within 50 minutes, and at times, it can take up to 1 hour 15 minutes for the meatloaf to cook, depending on the size of the loaf.
All in all, it should be done when its internal temperature exceeds 160 degrees.
Check out these top BBQ smoker accessories as well
Classic meatloaf Ingredients
- Ground beef – 1 ½ lb.
- Breadcrumbs – ¾ cup
- Grated onion – ½ cup
- Beef broth ¾ cup
- 1 beaten egg
- Tomato paste – 1 tablespoon
- Worcestershire sauce – 1 tablespoon
- Table salt – 1 teaspoon
- Garlic powder- ½ teaspoon
- Ground sage – ¼ teaspoon
- Black pepper – ¼ teaspoon
- Ketchup – ½ cup
- Brown sugar – 2 tablespoons
- Worcestershire sauce – 1 tablespoon
- To prepare the sauce, you need to mix the Worcestershire sauce, ketchup, and brown sugar together in a small dish, and then set it aside.
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees
- The crumble the beef gently into a large bowl. Sprinkle it with grated onion and breadcrumbs.
- Add all the other meatloaf ingredients in a separate bowl, and then whisk them to mix. Once all mixed, pour them into the bowl with the meat and then mix them using your hands to achieve the best combination.
- Next, put some tablespoons of the sauce on the bottom of your bread pan, and then add the mixed ingredients. Press them together to create the shape of the bread pan.
- Use the remaining sauce to top the meatloaf
- Now, the meatloaf is ready for the oven, and you can place it in the oven for around an hour, or until its internal temperature is over 160 degrees. Don’t forget to check whether the meatloaf is ready after 45 minutes.
- When the meatloaf is ready, remove it from the oven and allow it to rest for around 5 minutes. You can serve it after that.
Try out any of these two recipes at home whenever you want to prepare a meatloaf. Don’t forget to share them with your friends and family.