Meatloaf is a classic American dish that's always a family favorite. And while it's an overall simple dish to make, there are a few things—like cook time—that can trip up home cooks. We've got a few simple tips and tricks to ensure your next meatloaf is flavorful, moist, and perfectly cooked.
Use the Right Meat
Ground chuck is the beef of choice for the most flavor, and it happens to be the cheapest option, too. Higher grades of ground meat mean less fat and therefore a healthier meatloaf, but they also tend to mean less flavor, more shrinkage, and a drier end product.
Topping the loaf with bacon strips or salt pork adds moisture, flavor, and tenderness. Those watching fat content might want to use turkey bacon or other low-fat alternatives. If you like a mixed-meat loaf (beef, pork, and veal is classic), feel free to experiment with different ratios as long as the total weight of the meat remains the same.
Add-ins and How to Add Them
The general rule is to use about one-half a cup of filler per pound of meat. "Filler" can include ingredients like breadcrumbs, mashed up bread, oat bran, grated potato, grated carrot, and mashed potatoes. Soft bread crumbs make a more tender, juicier loaf than dry crumbs. You can briefly soak dry crumbs in a bit of milk before adding.
If you're using cheese, add a cup of grated cheese to the meatloaf mixture before baking and another half cup over the top of the loaf during the last 15 minutes of baking. Add one-third a cup of vegetable juice, wine, beef broth, beer, or other flavorful liquid to the mixture. Tomato sauce can also be added to the meat mixture for moisture and flavor.
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Get the Right Texture
For a firmer textured meatloaf, use ground meat that has been run through the grinder at least two or three times. And don't overdo the breadcrumbs—too much will make the loaf spongy.
For a loaf with a more tender texture, use once-ground meat and do not over-knead the mixture or the texture will be lost. Mix just enough to combine the ingredients. If you like a moister loaf, add a mashed wet slice of white bread instead of breadcrumbs.
Cook Time and Temperature
The internal temperature of the meatloaf should register 170 F for beef or 185 F for pork. The typical meatloaf should be baked in a standard 4x4x8-inch loaf pan at 350 degrees for 1 to 1 1/2 hours. To minimize cracking, smooth the top of the loaf by rubbing in a little cold water before baking. For individual servings that bake quickly, mound the meat mixture into greased muffin tins and bake for 20 to 30 minutes.
After removing from the oven, let the meatloaf stand for about 20 minutes before serving. During this time, the meatloaf will finish cooking internally and will set up, making it easier to slice and serve.