Maggie’s Meatloaf Manifesto
When company is coming I usually choose from three menu selections.
- Pinto Beans, mixed greens and cornbread with watermelon or stewed apples on the side
- Roast Chicken with yellow rice, spinach, rice flour muffins and fruit salad
- Meatloaf with mashed potatoes, green beans, rice flour muffins and carrot-raisin salad
By far the most popular menu is Meatloaf. I think of it as the equivalent of a pot roast for the budget-minded. It also makes an excellent sandwich filling.
Fifty years ago meatloaf was often made with a combination of pork and beef, or sometimes pork, beef and veal. In recent years it’s become more commonplace to use all beef or all turkey. My family prefers all-beef in their meatloaves but after some experimentation I hit upon an all turkey meatloaf that they don’t object to. I’ve found that they really enjoy a combination of both beef and turkey. The beef improves the texture and flavor of the turkey, while the turkey reduces the cost and improves the nutritional profile of the finished dish. Feel free to use any combination of ground meats that suits your circumstances. Ground pork is sometimes quite affordable and it’s quite good combined with ground beef. I’ve never used a combination of pork and turkey, but that would probably work fine too.
Since meatloaf is intended to be a budget-friendly meal, I always use the lowest-priced ground beef which is 70% lean and 30% fat. To reduce the fat in meatloaf, scroll down to the Baking section, below for several solutions.
Meatloaf almost always includes an extender–usually a bread or grain. This makes the meat go further, reduces the cost per serving, and gives the finished loaf a better texture than if meatloaf were made from meat alone. Some recipes I’ve tried call for too much extender. I think this is why meatloaf has developed a poor reputation in some circles. Trying to make a single pound of ground beef into enough meatloaf for 8 hungry people by over-extending it is false economy. Better to use that pound of beef in a casserole or better yet chili or other bean dish, allowing the small amount of meat to flavor a large amount of food. One of the cardinal rules of budget cooking is not to ruin what you’ve got. Over-extended meatloaf makes everyone groan while chili gives them a reason cheer. The moral of this story is don’t add too much extender to meatloaf or it will be yucky instead of yummy.
So how much extender is too much? In my experience the following ratios work well. They offer a good balance between economy and quality.
- 2-pounds ground meat to 1-cup rolled oats
- 2-pounds ground meat to 3 to 4-slices bread, crumbed into bits, about 1-1/2 to 2-cups of soft bread crumbs. Leftover, homemade, gluten-free breads and muffins are especially good for this.
- 2-pounds ground meat to 1-cup cooked rice or other cooked grain like millet or leftover grits.
- 2-pounds ground meat to 1-cup finely ground cereal crumbs, such as cornflakes or Rice Chex or Corn Chex. Make your own crumbs in a blender or food processor.
- 2-pounds ground meat to 2-1/2 cups uncrushed cornflakes or Rice Chex or Corn Chex. Measure the cereal straight from the box, then crush them lightly with your hands before adding to the meat. I usually simplify the measuring process by pouring out a heaping 2-cups.
- 2-pounds ground meat to 2/3-cup dry instant mashed potato flakes.
Note: I use a regular, store-brand versions of cornflakes, made without malt, and store-brand rolled oats for economy’s sake. These are not 100% gluten-free. They are what I like to call gluten-lite. These products are extremely low in gluten. Low enough so that they do not affect my children’s behavior or my digestion. If you have celiac disease or you or your family are very sesitive to gluten then you will want to choose special gluten-free rolled oats, such as Bob’s Red Mill and Rice or Corn Chex instead of cornflakes.
After adding the extender you need a liquid to moisten things up and keep the finished meatloaf juicy. Usually 2-pounds of ground meat require about 1-cup of liquid. This isn’t a strict rule. A little more or a little less liquid, roughly 1/4-cup either way, won’t have much effect on the finished dish.
Water is the least expensive and has the advantage of not interfering with any other flavors or seasonings you’ve added to your meatloaf. Other water based liquids, such as the juice drained from cooked or canned vegetables, work well too.
Some people add egg to their meatloaf. This gives the baked loaf a firmer texture that is somewhat easier to slice when hot. When cold, most meatloaves slice with ease. Those of us watching our cholesterol can use 2-egg whites or 1/4-cup egg substitute instead of a whole egg. If you are adding egg to your meatloaf then reduce the liquid slightly. For instance 3/4-cup liquid, plus 1-egg for 2-pounds of ground meat. See the options below. There are no hard and fast rules about which recipes require an egg and which don’t. When eggs are especially expensive it would be more economical to leave them out. When eggs are cheap they are an easy way to add extra protein to an inexpensive dish.
- 2-pounds ground meat to 1-cup liquid
- 2-pounds ground meat to 3/4-cup liquid and 1 egg
- 2-pounds ground meat to 3/4-cup liquid and 2 egg whites
- 2-pounds ground meat to an 8-ounce can tomato sauce
- 2-pounds ground meat to 1-cup tomato juice or vegetable juice
- 2-pounds ground meat to 3/4 cup (6-ounces) tomato or vegetable juice plus 1 egg
- 2-pounds ground meat to 1/3-cup ketchup or barbecue sauce plus 2/3-cup water
- 2-pounds ground meat to 3/4 cup soymilk plus an egg
- 2-pounds ground meat to 1 cup broth or the liquid from canned vegetables
Lots of us like veggies added to our meatloaf. They add flavor and it’s a good way to sneak some vegetables into the kid’s diet without much complaint. Vegetables are added in addition to your chosen extender and liquid.
- 2-pounds ground beef to 1-cup finely chopped onion
- 2-pounds ground beef to 1/2-cup each finely chopped onion and green pepper or celery
- 2-pounds ground beef to 1/2-cup finely chopped onion and 1-cup shredded carrot or zucchini
- 2-pounds ground beef to 1/2-cup finely chopped onion and a well drained, finely chopped 4-ounce can of mushrooms. Use liquid drained from mushrooms as part of liquid in meatloaf.
- 2-pounds ground beef to 1/2-cup finely chopped onion plus 15-ounce can tomatoes or 10-ounce can tomatoes and green chilies. Since canned tomatoes are so juicy, reduce the liquid you use to 1/3-cup.
- 2-pounds ground beef to 1-1/2 cups shredded raw potatoes or frozen hash browns.
There are as many different ways to season a meatloaf as there are cooks. I like 1-teaspoon salt or seasoned salt and 1/2-teaspoon black pepper for a 2-pound loaf. I usually use this in addition to whatever additional spices I add. For a Mediterranean meatloaf add 1 to 1-1/2 teaspoons Italian seasonings. For a spicy Mexican style meatloaf add 1-tablespoon chili powder and 1/2-teaspoon ground red pepper. One popular seasonings method is to add a packet of dry onion soup mix to 2-pounds of ground meat. This is easy and almost everyone likes it. Another good choice is soy sauce or Worcestershire Sauce–about 2-tablespoons is enough for 2-pounds of meat. When creating your own meatloaf recipe match your extender, liquid and seasonings so they blend together harmoniously. Try borrowing the seasonings from another favorite dish. You may come up with a new family favorite.
I’ve never used a lot of toppings on my meatloaves, but some people think it’s more attractive. Some toppings are best added about 15 minutes before the meatloaf is done cooking. Other toppings like ketchup, may be added before the meatloaf goes in to bake. Another option is to serve meatloaf with gravy. The gravy may be poured over the baked loaf or served on the side during your meal. I list a few simple toppings below.
- 1/4-cup ketchup or barbecue sauce or chili sauce or steak sauce
- 1/4-cup ketchup mixed with 1/2-tablespoon mustard and 2-tablespoons brown sugar
- 2 slices vegan cheese, cut into 4 triangles and arranged down the center of the meatloaf. Add 15-minutes before meatloaf is done.
- 1/2-cup shredded vegan cheese. Add 15-minutes before meatloaf is done.
Meatloaf can bake in any shape pan you like. It doesn’t have to cook in a standard loaf pan. This is simply a traditional shape that people recognize. The meat itself doesn’t have an opinion on which pan you use, so don’t worry about disappointing it.
Meatloaf mixture based on 2-pounds of ground meat fits comfortably in a 9 by 5-inch bread pan. It can also be pressed into an 8 or 9-inch square pan or a deep 10-inch iron skillet. If you have a bunt pan or ring pan, then you can press the meatloaf into it and bake it the way you normally do. When the meatloaf is done allow it to cool for 15 to 20 minutes. Then place a round serving dish on top of the ring pan. Invert the ring pan over the serving dish. Fill the center of your meatloaf with rice or vegetables or mashed potatoes. This is a fancy way to make meatloaf company-friendly.
Small or individual meatloaves are a favorite with children and cook in about half of the time of a conventional loaf-shape. Make muffin-sized loaves by pressing meatloaf mixture into muffin cups. Another option is to divide the meat into 8 portions. Shape each portion into a mini-loaf or oval shape. Arrange the individual loaves in a 9 by 13-inch baking pan. Bake according to your preferred method. At 375° they will take about 30 minutes to cook through. If portion control is a challenge for your crew, then individual loaves are a handy way to make sure everyone gets the same amount.
If you’d like a traditional meatloaf but are trying to cut down on the saturated fat in your diet try a specialized meatloaf pan. A standard sized loaf pan comes with a similarly shaped, slightly smaller insert with holes perforating the bottom. The meatloaf mixture goes into the insert. The insert fits into the loaf pan. As the meatloaf bakes all of the fat drips down into the outer pan leaving the actual loaf high and dry above the grease. If, like us, you usually purchase regular ground beef that is 70% lean and 30% fat, then this pan is especially nice because it allows you to use the most economical form of ground beef, and reap the health benefits of a leaner cut. I bought mine at Walmart for about $8 a few years back. They probably cost between $10 and $15 now. This is my meatloaf pan of choice.
If you don’t have and will not be purchasing a meatloaf pan, you still have a couple of other options for baking your meatloaf without the extra fat. The first is to use a broiling rack. Prepare your meatloaf mixture according to your customary method. For 2-pounds of ground meat only use 1/2-cup of liquid, then add 1 or 2-eggs. Shape the meat mixture into an oblong log shape and place it on the rack of your broiler pan. Bake the meatloaf according to your regular method. It might cook a tiny bit faster. As the meatloaf bakes the fat will drip down into the broiler pan. The outside of the meatloaf will take on a nice roasted texture. Transferring the meatloaf to a serving dish is easier if you allow the meatloaf to cool for about 15 to 20 minutes beforehand. This also makes it easier to slice.
The final way to remove the fat allows you to bake it your normal way in whatever pan you choose. When the meatloaf is done and swimming in fat, carefully pour the fat from the pan while holding back the loaf with a spatula. I drain the fat into an empty tin can. This is tricky work and is easiest if 2 adults cooperate to do it together. You have to pour off the fat right after taking the meatloaf out of the oven. If you allow it to sit then the fat will absorb back into the meat as it cools. Since this trick must be done while everything is scorching hot from the oven, it should not be attempted by children or clumsy adults, such as my husband.
As for cooking time and temperature, it depends on the size and shape you have chosen for your loaf. Small muffin-size loaves and individual meatloaves will cook in 20 to 30-minutes at 375° to 400°. Thin meatloaves, like those pressed into a 9-inch square baking pan, can also be baked at 375° to 400°. This size pan will take about 40-minutes to cook through. Larger, traditional sized meatloaves must cook at a lower temperature; 350° is standard. Tall or thick meatloaf must cook for at least an hour, and sometimes an extra 15 to 20-minutes is necessary, especially if the meat was still partially frozen when you prepared the meat mixture. Meatloaves should read a minimum of 165° on a meat thermometer to be considered completely cooked.
(my family’s favorites are in parentheses)
- 2-pounds ground beef or ground turkey or 1-pound of each
- Extender of choice, see above (1-cup rolled oats)
- Liquid of choice, see above (8-ounce can tomato sauce)
- Vegetables of your choice, optional (1/2 cup chopped onion and 1-cup shredded carrots)
- 1 teaspoon salt OR seasoned salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- Topping of your choice, optional
Make sure the meat is completely thawed. Combine all of the ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Make sure your hands are clean and then use them to mix everything together. Take your time and do it thoroughly. Transfer the meatloaf to a loaf pan. Mash the meat down firmly to remove any air bubbles and to give the finished loaf a firm texture. I actually lift the loaf pan a few inches above the countertop and then let it drop back down. I do this several times. This method settles the meat very firmly into the pan and eliminates any air bubbles which can cause the finished meatloaf to have cracks.
Bake at 350° for a full 60 to 70 minutes, or until a meat thermometer inserted in the center reads at least 165°.
If you want a faster cooking meatloaf then pat it into an 8 or 9-inch square pan. Bake at 375° for 35 to 45 minutes, or until a meat thermometer reads 165°.
If desired you may add the topping of your choice. You may also omit the seasonings above and replace them with your own. Baking time remains the same.
Makes 8 servings. The following nutritional data is made from the parenthetical ingredient suggestions.
Per Serving: 285 Calories; 16g Fat (52.5% calories from fat); 21g Protein; 13g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 68mg Cholesterol; 345mg Sodium.
Exchanges: 1/2 Grain(Starch); 2-1/2 Lean Meat; 1 Vegetable; 2 Fat.
Another Easy Meatloaf
- 2 pounds ground beef or ground turkey or 1-pound each
- 1 cup finely chopped onion, or 2-tablespoons dry onion, or 1-tablespoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 2 tablespoons Worcestershire Sauce
- 1/3 cup ketchup or barbecue sauce
- 2/3 cup water
- 1 cup leftover cooked rice
Thaw the meat if necessary. Combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl. Use your hands to mix it all together. Make sure all the ingredients are evenly distributed. Transfer the meat mixture to a large loaf pan. Press the meat down firmly to eliminate any air bubbles. Smooth the top with your hand to make it even. Bake the loaf at 350° for a full 60 to 70 minutes. It may seem done sooner than that, but it’s not. It’s especially important to make sure ground meat is thoroughly cooked before eating. If you have a meat thermometer then bake the loaf until the temperature in the center of the loaf is at least 165°.
Remove the loaf from the oven and allow it to sit for 10 to 15-minutes to firm. Slice and serve. Makes 8 servings. This will serve a small family with leftovers for sandwiches or a larger family for a single meal. If you have a very large family make double the recipe and bake your meatloaf in a 9 by 13-inch baking pan. Bake for about an hour.
If you like your meatloaves glazed then squirt a bit of ketchup or barbecue sauce over the loaf before baking. It will have a pretty glaze on top when it’s done.
Makes 8 servings.
Per Serving: 271 Calories; 16g Fat (53.4% calories from fat); 19g Protein; 12g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 68mg Cholesterol; 487mg Sodium.
Exchanges: 1/2 Grain(Starch); 2 1/2 Lean Meat; 1/2 Vegetable; 2 Fat; 0 Other Carbohydrates.
Thanks for this recipe and recommendations. My family had an envie for some meatloaf and I need to be gluten-free so we used your family’s favorite style of meatloaf. Started with two pounds of 73/27 ground beef and increased it to one teaspoon of garlic, one teaspoon of Tony Chachere’s, and one teaspoon of red pepper flakes (the only black pepper in the house is in the table grinder). It was delicious! When I make it again I will back down the red pepper flake to your recommended half teaspoon of pepper. It was just a little too hot with a whole teaspoon. It was exactly what my family was craving—I really thought the one cup of carrots and one cup of rolled oats was too much, but I was so wrong. The oats gave a good chewy meaty texture and the carrots were almost undetectable but lent their moistness to the loaf making sure it stayed tender and delicious! This one is going into regular rotation. Thanks again!
Oh yay! So happy it worked out for you.