It doesn’t take much to avoid the dry, dense and lifeless loaves reminiscent of grade school lunches. With a little know-how and a few simple ingredients, a juicy, tender and flavorful meatloaf that your grandmother would be jealous of is within your grasp.
Begin by soaking 1 cup of stale breadcrumbs, crushed crackers or quick-cooking oats in 1/2 cup milk. Soak for at least 10 minutes, or until the mixture is soft and mushy.
Adding a starch is one of the keys to keeping meatloaf moist. Adding a dry starch draws moisture out of the meat, but soaking the starch in milk provides continuous moisture to the loaf as it cooks and helps bind the meat together.
For a classic meatloaf, finely dice 1 onion and mince 2 cloves of garlic. Saute the onion and garlic in a small amount of oil for about 5 minutes, or until they are soft. This releases the moisture from the vegetables and makes sure there are no crunchy bits in your finished loaf.
For a more flavorful meatloaf, try sauteing shredded carrot, finely diced celery or thinly sliced mushrooms with the onion and garlic.
Combine Wet Ingredients
Add the sauteed vegetables to the soaked breadcrumbs, along with 1 large egg, 1/4 cup ketchup, 1 teaspoon salt and some freshly cracked pepper. Stir the mixture together until mixed well.
Combining these ingredients before adding them to the meat helps you avoid overmixing the meatloaf.
Crumble 1 1/2 pounds of ground meat into a large bowl. You can use all ground beef, or combine it with a small amount of ground pork or veal for more flavor. Many grocery stores sell prepared meatloaf blends alongside the other ground meat.
It’s important to use ground meat with a decent amount of fat to keep the loaf moist and tender, preferably 15 percent fat or higher.
Shape Into a Loaf
Add the bowl of wet ingredients to the ground meat and mix with your hands just until the mixture looks even. Avoid overworking the meat, which makes for a very compact, pastelike meatloaf. Shape the meat mixture into a loaf on a baking sheet covered with foil and lightly misted with nonstick spray.
It may seem odd not to use a loaf pan for a meatloaf, but allowing air to circulate around the loaf as it cooks creates a nice caramelized crust on all the edges. Using a loaf pan traps the juices and causes the meat to stew rather than bake.
Make Your Glaze
There are several options for meatloaf glaze, from straight ketchup to your favorite barbecue sauce, but we prefer a tangy sweet mixture of ketchup, brown sugar and apple cider vinegar. Stir together 1/2 cup ketchup, 2 tablespoons brown sugar and 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar. Spoon the glaze over the entire loaf, making sure not to miss the sides.
Bake the Loaf
Bake the meatloaf in a preheated 350-degree F oven for 60 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees. Let the loaf rest for 10 minutes before slicing, to allow the juices to redistribute and the loaf to firm up.
Slice & Enjoy
Meatloaf sandwiches are a classic way to use up your meatloaf leftovers (if you have any), but slices can also be tightly wrapped and frozen. Frozen slices can be quickly reheated in the microwave or even sauteed in a skillet to achieve a nice crispy crust.