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Meatloaf Recipe: Create Your Own

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.

Master Meatloaf Recipe

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, small-diced

Celery, small-diced

Fennel, small-diced

Fresh mushrooms, small-diced

Leeks, coarsely chopped

Bell peppers, small-diced


Choose one aromatic liquid (optional)

Red wine

White wine

Beer (stout, wheat, or Pilsner)

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)



Bulk sweet or hot Italian sausage (3/4 lb. max)

Pork (1 lb. max)



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)

Grated Cheddar: 1/2 cup

Grated Gruyere: 1/2 cup

Crumbled blue cheese: 1/4 cup

Crumbled feta: 1/4 cup

Finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano: 1/2 cup

Very coarsely chopped dried apricots: 1/3 cup

Very coarsely chopped dried figs: 1/3 cup

Very coarsely chopped raisins: 1/3 cup

Dried currants: 1/3 cup

Chopped capers: 1 Tbs.

Peeled, finely grated fresh ginger: 2 tsp.

Sliced scallions, 1/3 cup

Finely chopped jalapeno pepper: 1 heaping Tbs.

Pitted, coarsely chopped olives: 1/3 cup

Rehydrated dried mushrooms, chopped: 1/4 cup

Finely grated fresh horseradish (or strained jarred horseradish): 1/4 cup packed

Finely grated lemon zest: 2 lightly packed tsp.

Finely grated lime zest: 2 lightly packed tsp.


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

Chopped fresh parsley

Chopped fresh basil

Chopped fresh cilantro

Sliced fresh chives

Chopped fresh thyme
(max 1 Tbs.)

Chopped fresh rosemary
(max 1 Tbs.)

Chopped fresh sage
(max 1 Tbs.)

Chopped fresh tarragon
(max 1 Tbs.)

Chopped fresh dill
(max 1 Tbs.)

Chopped fresh marjoram
(max 1 Tbs.)

Chopped fresh oregano
(max 1 Tbs.)

Choose one or two spices (optional)

Crushed red pepper flakes: 1/2 tsp.

Coarsely chopped fennel seeds: 2 tsp.

Pimenton (smoked paprika): 3/4 tsp.

Ground cinnamon:
1/4 tsp.

Hot chile powder, such as chipotle: 1/2 tsp.

Garam masala: 2 tsp.

Ground cumin: 2 tsp.

Ground coriander:
2 tsp.

Ground allspice:
1/2 tsp.

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 9×13-inch baking pan with parchment. Transfer the meatloaf mixture to the baking pan and form into a 10×4-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: 10 oz. (about 9 strips, not thick-sliced)

3 Tbs.

Honey: 2 Tbs.

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.


Rate or Review

Reviews (3 reviews)

  • kitchenbitch | 08/07/2021

    I have used this article many times since it was first printed in the magazine. I never liked meatloaf...until now. I absolutely love the variations and get raves when I serve it. I think using dried fruits makes a huge difference! I usually double the recipe and freeze smaller portions for two, (my husband and I). When those are gone, I try a different variation. It's never boring!

  • User avater
    EMM3773 | 02/22/2021

    Great recipe maker -- I have used this twice and made two very different meatloafs, depending on what I had in the fridge at the time. Only comment I have is that it took much longer than 55 minutes at 375 to cook to 160. Both times, mine were in the oven for about an hour and a half. The other thing that would help is the ability to make recipe notes on "make your own" articles ... that way I could remember all the ingredients I used. Thanks FC for bringing the website back ... that was a scary couple of months without my favorite online recipes!

  • user-7412361 | 12/30/2020

    Whooaaa! How could I be the first reviewer when this method has been my go-to for years, ever since I saw it on the front cover of FC in line at the grocery store. I have made countless, mouthwatering variations since. I used to use the guidance, cut from the print magazine, when I assembled, but after a while it was looking pretty ratty, spattered with Worcestershire, maybe a bit of raw meat form lightly hand blending. I do mostly rely on my memory, but thought it was time for a reminder. Let your imagination go!!!! use some lamb & feta. Skip the ketchup (I hate ketchup: I use mustard, & a fruit jam). Gorgonzola & bison, pine nuts, leftover green beans that are in the fridge, rice. Let your taste bud preferences and inventiveness be your guide (and - oops, don't waste drop of your chosen aromatic liquid . Thank you FC, and, most of all, the author, for the best print edition of FC I ever purchased. (and, needless to say, friends are always asking me for "my recipe") Cheers!

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