The best meatloaf recipe you’ll ever try, with a sticky, caramelized topping. Total comfort food. My secret trick keeps it moist and tender without falling apart!
Looking for the best meatloaf recipe out there? I’ve got you.
I don’t understand how anyone couldn’t love meatloaf. It’s so hearty, satisfying, and comforting nestled up with a mound of buttery mashed potatoes, a side of steamed beans, and a puddle of ketchup. Ultimate home food, if you ask me.
Perhaps there are some bad meatloaf recipes out there, but meatloaf done right? It’s flavourful, nicely seasoned, tender, and like a big meatball you share. A good recipe like this one is why meatloaf is so popular in America.
How to make meatloaf taste really good.
Two things guarantee a meatloaf that tastes amazing:
- Proper browning. For best browning, I form the meatloaf freehand on a parchment-lined baking sheet. This maximizes the surface area for browning and caramelization of the outer layer, preventing the soggy grey mass that you might have experienced if using an actual loaf pan.
- Proper seasoning. Worcestershire sauce, garlic, parsley, and lots of fresh black pepper are our star flavour builders, plus adequate salt. If you’re unsure about the amount of salt, take a small spoonful of the raw mixture and cook it in a frying pan or microwave so that you can taste it and adjust if needed. (See my article on how to “season to taste” in raw meat dishes.)
Ketchup has a home in the meatloaf mixture and on top of it. Inside, it adds moisture and tangy flavour. Outside it protects the meat from drying out, and caramelizes under the oven’s heat to create an irresistible sticky, charred layer.
What is the secret to moist meatloaf?
- Soak the breadcrumbs in milk to lock in moisture. The crumbs can hold a lot of moisture that meat simply can’t. Let me back up and tell you that I have this amazing meatball recipe. It’s a long-standing favourite in my house. The secret to those meatballs’ incredible tenderness is mixing bread soaked in milk into the meat mixture. I employ the same trick here, with fresh breadcrumbs in lieu of soft bread.
- Cook to 160ºF. Overcooking the meatloaf is a culprit in having it dry out. Ground meat should always reach 165ºF for food safety, but it will continue cooking beyond this as it rests (this is called carryover cooking). Here’s my food scientist’s guide to key meatloaf temperatures for cooking and for doneness.
- And on that note, resting the meatloaf is also very important to let the juices reabsorb into the meat to make sure the meatloaf stays moist. If you cut into it immediately, the juices will all run out.
How to make the very best meatloaf
- Stir together breadcrumbs and milk. let stand to absorb.
- Cook onion and garlic. Cool for a few minutes, then scrape into breadcrumb mixture.
- Stir some ketchup into the breadcrumb mixture, along with Worcestershire sauce, parsley, remaining salt, and the pepper.
- When mixture is cool, stir in the eggs then the ground meat. Use your hands to gently but thoroughly work the mixture together.
- Scrape the meat mixture onto a prepared baking sheet and use your hands to shape it into a loaf shape.
- Dollop on the remaining ketchup, using a spoon to spread it out evenly.
- Bake in until center reads 160ºF.
- Allow meatloaf to rest on pan for 10 minutes before slicing.
How do I keep my meatloaf from falling apart
- Choose the right recipe. Often if meatloaf falls apart, it is because there is too much liquid or add-ins (veggies, etc.) in the recipe and not enough binder (eggs act like glue). It’s a tricky balance, because you want a soft, tender loaf, not a tough dry one. A soft tender loaf, however, is more delicate. Try the recipe below, I find it strikes a perfect balance.
- Rest the meatloaf for at least ten minutes after it comes out of the oven, to allow the juices to redistribute and the loaf to firm up slightly. That small amount of patience will reward you with beautiful, tidy slices.
- Use breadcrumbs. They call simply hold more juices in that the meat can, including the egg binder. This makes the meatloaf beautifully tender while sturdy enough to form and slice.
What meat should I use for meatloaf?
I used a combination of beef and pork. The beef is more flavourful, the pork is more rich and juicy. You could absolutely just use all beef — I’m pretty sure that’s all I had until I started making it myself. I like it either way.
What are some of the best meatloaf side dishes?
- Potatoes: mashed potatoes, baked potatoes or even these easy au gratin potatoes are all delicious options.
- A green vegetable: steamed green beans or snap peas, simple green peas, or a crisp green salad.
- Warm fresh bread, like my grandma’s Oatmeal Brown Bread, is a special treat with homemade meatloaf.
What do I do with leftover meatloaf?
Leftover meatloaf is delicious in sandwiches or heated up by pan frying until crispy. I also like to crumble it into the leftover mashed potatoes and make potato cakes pan fried in butter (like fish cakes).
This meatloaf recipe makes enough for two full meals (at least) for our family of four. I’d argue that the leftovers might be the best part!
Is it better to add milk or water in meatloaf?
Without question, it is better to use milk in meatloaf. The added fat adds richness and moist texture to the meatloaf, and the added milk proteins encourage additional browning reactions (which means more flavor).
No, when baking meatloaf you should not cover it with foil. If you do, it will steam instead of roast, making a grey and soggy, unappealing meatloaf. Baking it uncovered means lots of browning and caramelizing, which is key for amazing flavor and texture in the meatloaf. Cover it only toward the end if your ketchup topping is getting too dark.
Your meatloaf may be dry because you’ve chosen the wrong recipe (try this one, it’s a definite gem), you’ve over-baked it (see my notes on what temperature to cook it to) or you haven’t allowed it to rest before slicing, which allowed the juices to run out instead of being reabsorbed into the meat. You may have also missed the breadrumbs-soaked-in-milk trick that is my true secret.
Instead of putting regular breadcrumbs in your meatloaf, you could panko, gluten-free breadcrumbs, or quick-cooking oats. Whichever you choose, be sure to do my soaking trick to lock in amazing moisture.
You’ll Also Love Meatloaf with Brown Gravy: tender, savory meatloaf with the tastiest easy brown gravy. Total comfort food!
The Best Meatloaf Recipe Of Your Life
- 1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
- ⅓ cup whole milk
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 large onion finely chopped
- 2 ½ tsp coarse salt divided use
- 3 large cloves garlic
- ¼ + ⅓ cup ketchup divided use
- 3 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tbsp minced fresh parsley or 2 tsp dried
- 1 ¼ tsp ground black pepper
- 2 large eggs
- 1 lb ground beef
- 1 lb ground pork or just use 2 lbs total ground beef
- In a large bowl, stir together breadcrumbs and milk; let stand to absorb. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Preheat oven to 350ºF.
- Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat, then cook onion with 1 tsp salt until softened, about 7 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about a minute more. Cool for a few minutes, then scrape into breadcrumb mixture.
- Stir 1/4 cup ketchup into the breadcrumb mixture, along with Worcestershire sauce, parsley, remaining salt, and the pepper. When mixture is cool to the touch, stir in the eggs then the ground meat. Use your hands to gently but thoroughly work the mixture together.
- Scrape the meat mixture onto the prepared pan and use your hands to shape it into roughly 9×5″ loaf shape. Dollop on the remaining 1/3 cup ketchup, using a spoon to spread it out evenly.
- Bake in center rack of oven for about 1 hour, or until center reads 160ºF. Allow meatloaf to rest on pan for 10 minutes before slicing.
- Soaking the breadcrumbs in milk is key to locking moisture into this delicious meatloaf.
- Cook to 160ºF. It won’t dry out and will continue to cook by carryover cooking as it rests.
- Resting the meatloaf is very important to let the juices reabsorb into the meat to make sure the meatloaf stays moist. If you cut into it immediately, the juices will all run out.
- A baking sheet is far superior to a loaf pan for making really tasty meatloaf, because there is more surface area exposed to the heat. All of the surface gets browned and caramelized, meaning more delicious flavor.
Last Updated on November 23, 2023 by Jennifer Pallian BSc, RD