Meatloaf can be as easy or elaborate as you want.
Once you mastered your basic homestyle meatloaf recipe, you can start adding your own little touches to create a meatloaf recipe that’s truly your own.
- 1/2 cup ketchup or BBQ sauce on the bottom of the pan before adding the meat
- use choice of 1/4 cup bread crumbs, cracker crumbs, favorite vegetables or 3/4 cup of rolled oats as binding agent
- ketchup or BBQ sauce on the top of the meat
- glaze with ketchup, brown sugar mixture
- whole cloves down the loaf for each individual slice
- herbs to your own taste
- couple tablespoons of chili sauce at the 30 minute mark
But let’s start with the basic elements that make the perfect meatloaf. You don’t want to stray from that!
Tips for making the perfect meatloaf.
Choose 80/20 quality ground beef.
- that means it contains 20% fat which makes a moist meatloaf
- it is usually called ground chuck – ask your butcher for it if necessary
- never use lean ground beef – your meatloaf will crumble or fall apart
- we usually mix 1/2 ground beef & half ground pork for more flavor and pleasing texture as well as for a moist meatloaf
Use a binding agent or panade.
- a binding agent keeps the meatloaf from crumbling, gives it a nicer texture, and creates a fuller loaf
- add an egg
- use choice of 1/4 c bread or cracker crumbs, panko, crushed croutons in your favorite flavor, brown rice or 3/4 c of rolled oats
- a panade is a starch and liquid mixture that is used as a binding agent – mix 1/2 starch (listed above) and half liquid such as milk or beef broth, soak for a few minutes while mixing meat & seasonings, then add to meat mixture
- you can add also add 1/4 c vegetables like carrot & peas frozen mix, chopped onion or mushroom pieces if desired
Add herbs or spices for flavor.
- your mom’s classic meatloaf probably used onion soup mix
- 1/2 tsp salt unless using onion soup mix – it will help bind the protein as well as season
- 1/2 tsp of your choice of: Italian spice mix or ground spices like basil, thyme, garlic, cumin or dill
- never use a packaged meatloaf seasoning – it mostly contains salt & ingredients that are more of a hindrance than a help
- red pepper or chili seasoning or a shake of hot sauce to taste if you like it spicy – remember less is more
Add sauce or a glaze.
- as a sauce you can use your favorite ketchup or BBQ sauce
- for a classic glaze, mix together your choice of 1/2 cup ketchup or favorite tomato sauce, 1 tablespoon packed brown sugar – optionally you can also add either 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard or honey or a shake of hot sauce (in glaze instead of meat mixture)
Here is our easy meatloaf recipe to get you started.
You can serve meatloaf family-style or be as creative as you desire. Try these recipes.
Diner Style Meatloaf
No-fuss no glaze meatloaf served with mounds of creamy mashed potatoes, peas and gravy goodness.
Bake your favorite meatloaf recipe for 20 minutes in muffin or mini loaf pan* to serve little individual-sized meatloaves.
Bacon Wrapped Meatloaf
On a greased baking sheet with a rim, shape your meatloaf mixture into a loaf shape with wet hands.
Brush meatloaf with ketchup, BBQ sauce or a glaze made of 1/4 c ketchup and 2 Tbsp brown sugar.
Wrap bacon around top and sides of the meatloaf, tucking the ends in bottom. Overlap the edge of next bacon slice. Continue until meatloaf is covered.
Brush with glaze again.
Bake for at least 60 minutes for a 2 lb meatloaf and 90 minutes for a 3 lb meatloaf. Test doneness with a meat thermometer. It should have an internal temperature of 165°F.
Allow it to rest for 15 minutes so it won’t crumble when you slice it.
Flatten meatloaf mixture on parchment into a rectangular shape.
Layer with mushrooms, your favorite white cheese, vegetables or condiments.
Use parchment to help you roll it tightly (like a jelly roll) and cook for at least 60 minutes or until an internal temperature of 165°F.
Allow it to rest for 15 minutes so it won’t fall apart when you slice it.
The best way to serve leftovers the next day is in a meatloaf sandwich.
Everyone can choose their faves: crusty bun, soft bun, favorite condiments.
How do you cook a meatloaf?
There are many ways to cook a meatloaf. Preheat oven to 350 °F.
- put in a greased loaf pan or ring pan/bundt pan for 45 – 60 minutes
- put in mini loaf pan or muffin pan for 20 minutes
- mound in a loaf or individual bun shape on a greased baking sheet with a rim (to catch grease)
Cook uncovered until the internal temperature of the meatloaf is 160°F.
Can I make meatloaf ahead of time?
Prepare meatloaf as usual and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for up to 5 hours and cook as usual.
Why does my meatloaf crack, crumble or fall apart?
- You need to let your meatloaf rest (out of the pan) for 10 minutes before you try to slice it.
- You need to use 80/20 ground beef – 20% fat so it will be moist
- NEVER use lean ground beef, it’s too dry
- You need to use binding agents like an egg, bread or cracker crumbs
- Over-cooking meatloaf will make it dry and crumbly – it’s done when it reaches an internal temperature of 160°F
- The pile of ground beef needs to become cohesive, so when adding your spices, mix it until there are no longer “strings” and a nice texture (still slightly sticky) but don’t over-mix or it will be tough.
Do I have to cover meatloaf with foil?
You can cover a meatloaf in a pan with aluminum foil to keep it moist, but remove it 15 minutes before its done. It’s more important to me for a meatloaf to have that cooked/crustiness on the top and edges, so I don’t cover it at all. If you have a good meatloaf recipe, this is not necessary. If you have a glaze on the top, using foil could remove the topping if it is touching the loaf.
How do I store leftover meatloaf?
Refrigerate in air-tight container or wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Can be stored in fridge for 3-4 days.
Can I freeze meatloaf?
To freeze raw meatloaf, line loaf pan with foil, add meatloaf and wrap tightly to prevent freezer burn. When frozen, remove from pan and put in a large freezer bag to prevent contamination from the raw meat. Label and date. Defrost meat thoroughly in fridge overnight and cook according to recipe. Can freeze for up to 2 months.
Freeze cooked meatloaf whole by wrapping it tightly in aluminum foil to protect from freezer burn. Place in freezer bag, label and date. Defrost meat thoroughly in fridge and cook according to recipe. Can freeze for up to 3 months.
To freeze meatloaf in individual-sized slices:
- slice leftover meatloaf, lay slices on a baking sheet covered with parchment and freeze
- put frozen slices in an airtight container and return to freezer
- now you can use as many single slices as required
- can freeze up to 3 months
Do I have to use milk in meatloaf?
Milk is added to panko, bread or cracker crumbs (a binding agent in meatloaf) to create a panade that makes your meatloaf moist, fuller and hold together. You can use beef stock as a substitute for the milk in your recipe if you are lactose intolerant. A panade usually has half starch (crumbs) and half liquid (milk or broth).
Is it okay if meatloaf is pink in the center?
The internal temperature of meatloaf should be at least 160°F when cooked. Sometimes the center can look slightly pink at this temperature. Cook a little longer if necessary, but measure doneness by using a thermometer.
Want to be even more creative?
Try these fun mini meatloaf ideas. Perfect for kids with a picky palate, and creating happy memories with your family.
Want more? See all of our recipes.
Want even more? See our new meatloaf recipes.
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