Meatloaf is a time-honored favorite, an ideal dish for family dinners and cozy gatherings. It is also the perfect meal to make ahead—or make double the recipe—and freeze so it is ready to go on a busy weeknight. The meatloaf mixture can be combined, formed into a loaf, and frozen before cooking. You can also bake the meatloaf and then freeze it to eat later on.
Although a somewhat humble dish, meatloaf can take some time to prepare. If you have time today to cook but don't plan on eating the meatloaf until tomorrow, you can place the uncooked meatloaf in the refrigerator overnight. In fact, some cooks believe this improves the flavor of the finished dish. Just be sure to wrap or cover tightly before refrigerating. If you'd rather bake the meatloaf ahead of time, make sure to cool it completely before wrapping and placing in the fridge. The meatloaf should be baked and eaten within a day or two.
If you don't plan on eating the meatloaf in the next day or so, you will want to place the meatloaf in the freezer until ready to use. Follow the recipe to mix the ingredients and form into a loaf, then wrap very well with plastic wrap and place in an airtight freezer bag. Raw meatloaf should last up to six months in the freezer.
One thing to be aware of, however, is if the meat was frozen before you made it into the meatloaf—depending on how it was defrosted will determine whether it is safe to refreeze or not. Frozen meat that was thawed in the refrigerator is ok to refreeze, according to USDA. If the meat was previously frozen and you are not sure of how the meat was handled, you may want to play it safe and bake the meatloaf before freezing it. Just let it cool to room temperature before wrapping in foil; then place in a sealed plastic bag, and store in the freezer up to six months.
Baking Frozen Meatloaf
When planning to cook the frozen raw meatloaf, it is best to take out of the freezer and place in the fridge the night before to thaw. Then bake as directed by the recipe. If you didn't have the forethought, simply use the temperature called for in the recipe but bake the meatloaf 1 1/2 to 2 times longer than directed. Always check for doneness with a meat thermometer—it should read 160 to 165 F.
If the frozen meatloaf is cooked already, remove wrapping and place in the oven to reheat. This will take about 1 1/2 hours at 350 F (make sure the center of loaf reads 160 F on a meat thermometer).
Using Meatloaf Leftovers
If you find yourself with too much leftover meatloaf, don't fret! There are plenty of interesting ways to serve this dish. Of course, the best use for leftover meatloaf is sandwiches, but you can also use leftovers by crumbling pieces of cooked meatloaf into chili or mixing it into a sauce served over pasta or rice. Leftover meatloaf is also a natural as a filler in casseroles that call for ground beef.
And when it comes to leftover meatloaf, think small! Small squares of meatloaf make a great cold appetizer—place on mustard-buttered cocktail bread and top with sliced olives or your choice of condiments. For a warm appetizer, toast cocktail bread first, top with horseradish sauce, meatloaf, and grated cheese. Then heat quickly in a hot oven.
Cooking the Best Meatloaf
Meatloaf is one of those recipes that may seem like a no-brainer, but it is also the type of recipe that can be bland or dry unless certain ingredients are included and the temperature and time in the oven are correct. With a few cooking tips and hints, making a meatloaf will be as simple as the dish itself.
There is a myriad of meatloaf recipes, from standard to gourmet and seafood to vegetarian. You might be pleasantly surprised when substituting other foodstuffs for the typical ground beef. Just think of your favorite combinations of standard dishes and let your imagination take control—experiment with different fillers, herbs, and spices to make a ho-hum meatloaf become the star of the dinner table.