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Meatloaf Recipe: Create Your Own

One simple method for hearty, robust meatloaf, endless flavor variations.

by Allison Ehri Kreitler

from Fine Cooking
Issue 109

Meatloaf is my family’s favorite comfort food—that’s one thing we can agree on. What we can’t agree on is our favorite version. I like one with lots of spices, and my husband is partial to sausage and herbs. Dad is a traditionalist, which means beef, horseradish, and ketchup, and Mom goes for a leaner loaf made with turkey. Fortunately, my daughter likes everything I put in front of her. If your family is anything like mine, you’re in luck—this mix-and-match approach to meatloaf gives all of you a chance to choose your own ingredients. The key to a delicious meatloaf is striking the right balance between bread and meat, which creates the perfect texture. From there, just add the ingredients you love, brush the meatloaf with a glaze (or wrap it in bacon!), and soon you’ll have a tasty, satisfying dinner for friends and family—no disagreement there.

Need some inspiration for your creation? Browse our collection of meatloaf recipes where you’ll find everything from decadent Bacon-Wrapped Meatloaf to Stout & Cheddar Meatloaf to a Spicy Southwestern Meatloaf to a Meatloaf with Warm Indian Spices.

Yields 1 meatloaf; serves 8

Cook the aromatics

Heat 2 Tbs. canola or olive oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-low heat. Add 1 chopped medium yellow onion, 2 finely chopped large cloves of garlic, and 1 cup total of any aromatic vegetables (optional; see choices below) and cook, stirring frequently, until softened and just beginning to brown, 6 to 8 minutes. Add 3/4 cup of your aromatic liquid (optional; see choices below), and simmer briskly until almost dry, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and let cool until warm.

Choose up to two aromatic vegetables, 1 cup total (optional)

  • carrots
    Carrots, small-diced
  • celery
    Celery, small-diced
  • fennel bulb
    Fennel, small-diced
  • mushrooms
    Fresh mushrooms, small-diced
  • leeks
    Leeks, coarsely chopped
  • bell peppers
    Bell peppers, small-diced

Choose one aromatic liquid (optional)

  • red wine
    Red wine
  • white wine
    White wine
  • beer
    Beer (stout, wheat, or Pilsner)
  • sherry
    Dry sherry
Soak the bread

Cut 4 oz. medium-coarse white bread such as Italian, French, Portuguese, or sourdough (preferable stale, with crust) into roughly 2-inch pieces. You should have about 2-1/2 cups. In a shallow dish that holds it in a single layer, soak the bread in 1 cup of whole milk, flipping once, until soggy but not falling apart, 5 to 10 minutes, depending on the coarseness and freshness of the bread. Lightly squeeze a handful of bread at a time to remove some of the milk. Finely chop and add to the bowl with the cooked aromatics.

Add the meat

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 375°F.

Add 2 lb. ground meat (see options below) and 2 lightly beaten large eggs to the bowl of aromatics.

Choose 1 to 3 types of ground meat (2 lb. total)

  • ground beef
  • ground bison
  • Italian sausage
    Bulk sweet or hot Italian sausage (3/4 lb. max)
  • ground pork
    Pork (1 lb. max)
  • ground veal
  • ground lamb
  • turkey
    Turkey (not 100% breast meat)
Mix the meatloaf

Scatter your choice of mix-ins (see options below), herbs, and spices (see options below) over the meat, and then sprinkle with 1 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce, 2-1/4 tsp. kosher salt, and 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper. Use your hands to gently mix all the ingredients until just combined—try not to compact the mixture as you do this.

Choose up to 3 mix-ins (optional)

  • Cheddar
    Grated Cheddar: 1/2 cup
  • gruyere
    Grated Gruyere: 1/2 cup
  • blue cheese
    Crumbled blue cheese: 1/4 cup
  • feta
    Crumbled feta: 1/4 cup
  • Parmigiano-Reggiano
    Finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano: 1/2 cup
  • dried apricots
    Very coarsely chopped dried apricots: 1/3 cup
  • dried figs
    Very coarsely chopped dried figs: 1/3 cup
  • dates
    Very coarsely chopped dates: 1/3 cup
  • raisins
    Very coarsely chopped raisins: 1/3 cup
  • currants
    Very coarsely chopped dried currants: 1/3 cup
  • capers
    Chopped capers: 1 Tbs.
  • fresh ginger
    Peeled, finely grated fresh ginger: 2 tsp.
  • scallions
    Sliced scallions, 1/3 cup
  • jalapeno
    Finely chopped jalapeno pepper: 1 heaping Tbs.
  • lemon zest
    Finely grated lemon zest: 2 lightly packed tsp.
  • olives
    Pitted, coarsely chopped olives: 1/3 cup
  • horseradish
    Finely grated fresh horseradish (or strained jarred horseradish): 1/4 cup packed
  • dried mushrooms
    Rehydrated dried mushrooms, chopped: 1/4 cup
  • lime zest
    Finely grated lime zest: 2 lightly packed tsp.

Choose one or two herbs (optional) for 1/4 cup total

  • parsley
    Chopped fresh parsley
  • basil
    Chopped fresh basil
  • cilantro
    Chopped fresh cilantro
  • chives
    Sliced fresh chives
  • thyme
    Chopped fresh thyme (max 1 Tbs.)
  • rosemary
    Chopped fresh rosemary (max 1 Tbs.)
  • sage
    Chopped fresh sage (max 1 Tbs.)
  • tarragon
    Chopped fresh tarragon (max 1 Tbs.)
  • dill
    Chopped fresh dill (max 1 Tbs.)
  • marjoram
    Chopped fresh marjoram (max 1 Tbs.)
  • oregano
    Chopped fresh oregano (max 1 Tbs.)

Choose one or two spices (optional)

  • dried red chile flakes
    Crushed red pepper flakes: 1/2 tsp.
  • fennel seeds
    Coarsely chopped fennel seeds: 2 tsp.
  • smoked paprika
    Pimenton (smoked paprika): 3/4 tsp.
  • ground cinnamon
    Ground cinnamon: 1/4 tsp.
  • hot chile powder
    Hot chile powder, such as chipotle: 1/2 tsp.
  • garam masala
    Garam masala: 2 tsp.
  • ground cumin
    Ground cumin: 2 tsp.
  • ground coriander
    Ground coriander: 2 tsp.
  • ground allspice
    Ground allspice: 1/2 tsp.
  • chili powder
    Mild chile powder, such as ancho: 1 Tbs.
Test for flavor

Heat 1 tsp. canola oil in a small skillet over medium-low heat. Form 1 Tbs. of the meatloaf mixture into a small patty. When the oil is hot, cook the patty on both sides until cooked through, about 5 minutes total. Transfer to a plate and let cool slightly. Taste and adjust the salt, pepper, and other seasonings as needed. Repeat until satisfied with the flavor.

Cook the meatloaf

Line the bottom of a 9x13-inch baking pan with parchment. Transfer the meatloaf mixture to the baking pan and form into a 10x4-inch rectangular block (it becomes loaf shaped as it cooks). Spread your finish (see options below) over the top and lightly down the sides of the meatloaf (for bacon, lay strips diagonally across the loaf, overlapping slightly. Tuck the overhang under the meatloaf).

Choose a finish

  • bacon
    Bacon: 10 oz. (about 9 strips, not thick-sliced)
  • ketchup
    Ketchup: 3 Tbs.
  • honey
    Honey: 2 Tbs.
  • chipotles in adobo
    Chipotle: 2 Tbs. ketchup mixed with 1 Tbs. pureed chipotles in adobo

Bake until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center of the meatloaf registers 160°F (165°F if it contains poultry), 40 to 55 minutes. If using bacon, broil the meatloaf about 6 inches from the broiler element until the bacon is brown and crisped, about 3 minutes. Let rest for 10 minutes. With a large spatula, transfer to a cutting board or serving platter and cut into 3/4- to 1-inch-thick slices.

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