Southern Meatloaf

Partially sliced meatloaf with ketchup topping on a white serving platter

The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga

Prep: 17 mins
Cook: 75 mins
Total: 92 mins
Servings: 4 servings
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
638 Calories
32g Fat
35g Carbs
51g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 4
Amount per serving
Calories 638
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 32g 41%
Saturated Fat 12g 59%
Cholesterol 198mg 66%
Sodium 1053mg 46%
Total Carbohydrate 35g 13%
Dietary Fiber 2g 6%
Total Sugars 17g
Protein 51g
Vitamin C 29mg 147%
Calcium 93mg 7%
Iron 7mg 37%
Potassium 1015mg 22%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

This meatloaf recipe is a Southern favorite. It's hard a resist a good meatloaf, especially on a cold day. This ultimate comfort food is a great meal to make when you want to fill the house with some good savory smells and go about your business doing something else while dinner cooks away.

Mashed potatoes and green beans or corn are outstanding side dishes to pair with this old-fashioned Southern-style meatloaf.

It's not hard to make a good meatloaf—flavor and moisture are the key factors to prevent a dry, lackluster meatloaf. The vegetables in this mix will add flavor (along with the ketchup and/or barbecue sauce). A lean/fat ratio of 80/20 is often recommended for the most flavorful meatloaf. But if your beef is quite lean, add some ground pork to the meat mixture to keep it moist.

Leftover meatloaf can be used in sandwiches or sliders. Or freeze it in individual portions for lunches. You can even eat this comfort dish if you're on the keto diet if you replace the breadcrumbs with crushed pork rinds or another low carb item.


Click Play to See This Old-Fashioned Southern Meatloaf Come Together

"Though I did spend some time pulling and prepping ingredients, the method of making the mixture couldn't be simpler. Add everything to one bowl, give it a quick stir and then press it into the prepared pan—quick and easy." —Carrie Parente

Southern Meatloaf Tester Image
A Note From Our Recipe Tester


For the Meatloaf

  • 1 1/2 pounds ground beef (80/20 or 85/15)

  • 20 saltine crackers, crushed

  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onion

  • 1/4 cup finely chopped green bell pepper

  • 1 large egg

  • 1 teaspoon paprika

  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

  • 1/3 cup ketchup

  • 2 tablespoons milk

  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

For the Topping:

  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup ketchup or barbecue sauce

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients. Pre-heat the oven to 350 F.

    Ingredients for Southern meatloaf recipe gathered

    The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga

  2. Grease an 8 1/2 x 4 1/2-inch loaf pan or line it with foil and then lightly grease it. Alternatively, for a free-form loaf, line a rimmed baking pan with foil.

    Greased loaf pan

    The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga

  3. In a large bowl, combine the ground beef with the crushed saltines, onion, green pepper, egg, paprika, garlic powder, salt, thyme, black pepper, 1/3 cup of ketchup, milk, and Worcestershire sauce.

    Ground beef, saltines, and seasonings evenly combined in a bowl

    The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga

  4. Pack the meat mixture into the loaf pan or shape it and place it on the baking pan.

    Meat mixture packed into a loaf pan and top leveled neatly

    The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga

  5. Bake the meatloaf for 1 hour. Carefully pour excess grease into a can or jar (dispose of it in the trash after it cools).

    Browned baked meatloaf in loaf pan with the excess grease poured off

    The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga

  6. Spread the meatloaf with 1/2 to 3/4 cup of ketchup or barbecue sauce and continue baking for 15 minutes longer, or until the meatloaf registers at least 160 F on an instant-read food thermometer inserted into the center. (If you have instead swapped ground turkey or chicken for the beef, cook the loaf to an internal temperature of 165 F.)

    Meatloaf generously topped with ketchup mixture in a loaf pan

    The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga

  7. Let the meatloaf rest for ten minutes before slicing so it holds together well. Then, serve and enjoy!

    Partially sliced meatloaf with ketchup topping on a white serving platter

    The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga


  • Meatloaf can be tough if overmixed, so mix it lightly with your hands or spoon. 
  • If you want to make sure the seasoning is to your taste, fry a small amount of the mix. Taste and adjust the seasonings in the raw mixture.
  • To ensure the meatloaf is fully cooked, insert an instant-read thermometer in the center of the loaf. The minimum safe temperature for ground meat is 160 F, and 165 F for ground poultry.
  • A meatloaf pan is a good investment, especially if you make meatloaf frequently. The specialty loaf pan includes a perforated insert. The meatloaf is placed in the insert, allowing excess fats to drip into the outer pan as the loaf cooks.

Recipe Variations

  • For a Cajun flavored meatloaf, replace the paprika, garlic powder, salt, and thyme with 2 teaspoons of Cajun seasoning.
  • Instead of ketchup in the meat mixture, use barbecue sauce, chili sauce, or zestier cocktail sauce.
  • Shape the loaf by hand and bake it in a rimmed baking pan or sheet pan.

How to Store and Freeze Meatloaf

  • If well-wrapped in foil or an airtight container, meatloaf will keep for up to 5 days. Reheat individual slices gently on the stovetop or in the microwave, adding a little more barbecue sauce or ketchup to keep it moist.
  • You can freeze individual slices of meatloaf in foil to defrost and reheat for sandwiches or quick meals or freeze the rest of the loaf. Defrost in the refrigerator overnight and reheat in a low oven until completely heated through, adding more barbecue sauce and/or ketchup if desired.
  • To freeze an uncooked meatloaf, wrap the shaped loaf in plastic wrap and then foil. Alternatively, line a loaf pan with foil and place the meatloaf in the pan. When the loaf is frozen, remove it from the loaf pan and wrap it in plastic wrap and then foil. Freeze meatloaf for up to 4 months.
  • To reheat a meatloaf from frozen, put it on a baking sheet or in a loaf pan. Bake the frozen meatloaf for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until it registers at least 160 F (165 F if there is poultry in the loaf).

What Can I Use in Meatloaf Instead of Milk?

If you don't have or can't use milk in this meatloaf recipe, feel free to swap out equal parts of any of the following ingredients:

  • Nondairy milk such as soy, oat, or almond
  • Water
  • Beef, vegetable, or chicken stock

How Do You Keep Meatloaf Moist?

There are several factors that keep a meatloaf moist. First, using ground beef with a higher percentage of fat, as this recipe calls for, is key. Egg, milk, and Worcestshire sauce also add some liquid, and the veggies in the mix will add some moisture as well. Using ketchup and/or barbecue sauce also contributes flavor along with moisture—especially the last bit that gets brushed across the top while baking.

What Can I Use In Meatloaf Instead of Saltines?

The saltines, along with the milk and egg, help hold the meatloaf together, and the crushed crackers soak up excess liquids, which adds moisture. If you don't have saltines, use plain or seasoned breadcrumbs, quick-rolled oats, round butter crackers, or gluten-free crumbs. If the crumbs are not seasoned or salty, add an extra 1/2 teaspoon of salt.