Everyone loves meatloaf, and with good reason. This economical entree can be flavored almost every way you can think of, it's easy to make, and it's delicious hot or cold. Here are some tips to make the best meatloaf.
The most important tip? Don't handle the mixture too much. If you over mix the ground meat it will compact, squeezing liquid out during cooking, resulting in a tougher, drier loaf.
Meatloaf consists of three basic ingredients: ground meat, a binder like bread crumbs or oatmeal, and liquid. I always soak the binder in the liquid before adding the meat. Then you won't end up with dry chunks of bread in your meatloaf - one of the most common complaints about meatloaf!
When you're making meatloaf from ground turkey or chicken, you must add lots of binder or the loaf will be too compact and heavy. For traditional meatloaf recipes, you can use all ground beef, or add ground pork to the mixture for a little lighter texture and a more interesting loaf.
My mother always baked her meatloaf on a broiler pan that came with ovens in the 1970s. It has slits in the top rack instead of wires, and a bottom section to catch drippings. This keeps the meatloaf intact but lets fat drain away during cooking.
Adding other ingredients to meatloaf will help add moisture and flavor and make the texture lighter. Plus you'll get more vitamins and minerals in each serving! You can add mashed or grated carrots or potatoes, diced and cooked onions, chopped tomatoes, chopped mushrooms, cooked spinach, cheese, or sour cream. The meatloaf might not hold together as perfectly with these add-ins, but it will taste fabulous. And seasonings are so important.
After the meatloaf is cooked, let the meatloaf sit for 15-20 minutes before serving. This allows the juices to redistribute, so the texture is juicy, tender, and just perfect throughout.
I have not met a meatloaf that can't be frozen before or after cooking. Just thaw cooked and frozen meatloaf in the microwave for a fabulous dinner in minutes. If you freeze before cooking, don't thaw the meatloaf, put it in the oven, and bake 1-1/2 to 2 times longer than the original recipe recommendations.
And remember, you're using ground meat in these recipes, so for food safety reasons, use an instant-read thermometer and cook beef meatloaf to an internal temperature of 160 degrees, poultry meatloaf to 165 degrees.
Use your imagination and have fun with these recipes. And when you invent your own wonderful recipe, write it down so you can re-create it.