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11 Secrets That Will Make Your Next Meatloaf Unbelievably Good

collage: milk being poured into fresh crumbled bread in blue bowl/shaping uncooked meatloaf on sheet pan/serving of meatloaf and mashed potatoes with cooked meatloaf in background

The Secret To Good Meatloaf? Using These Meatloaf Hacks

Today’s post is all about a dinner staple that too often gets a bad rap: meatloaf. A good meatloaf is the stuff that the coziest comfort food dreams are made of—as long as it is made with the care and attention it deserves! That little bit of extra care and attention is the true secret to perfect meatloaf.

That’s why I’m sharing 11 useful tips that will help you ensure your meatloaf turns out moist, flavorful, and delicious every time. Consider these simple tips the antidote to the dense, dry, utterly disappointing creations that have sullied meatloaf’s good name over the years!

All you have to do is apply one or more of these tips (or all of them, if you’re feeling ambitious!) to your favorite meatloaf recipe. But just in case you don’t already have a favorite meatloaf recipe, feel free to use the one I’ve provided for you at the bottom of this post! :-)

11 Simple Tips For Making Perfect Meatloaf

hands pouring beaten eggs into meatloaf mixture in blue bowl

1. Mix Up Your Meat Mixture

If you’ve always made your meatloaf with beef, try mixing it up by adding another meat! Substitute up to half of your beef for ground pork or sausage to enhance the overall flavor and texture of your loaf.

Some people prefer to add ground chicken or turkey to their meatloaf mixture to make it a bit leaner. (Just be careful with this, because fat content is one of the secrets to making a moist and flavorful meatloaf!)

Related: Firefighters’ Macaroni Goulash + 20 More Frugal Ground Meat Recipes

hands holding shredded cheese above raw meatloaf

2. Fill It With Cheese

This one is self-explanatory: fill your meatloaf with cheese. It gets all melty and gooey in the oven, and gives the finished meatloaf a very “cheeseburgers on the grill in the summertime” sort of vibe. Mmmm…

Related: Cheesy Crockpot Meatloaf

carrots, celery, and onions cooking in white skilled with green spoon stirring/hand pouring Lee & Perrins sauce into sauted veggies

3. Boost The Flavor

Want to know how to make your meatloaf recipe better? The wet ingredients you choose can add moisture and flavor to your finished meatloaf. Try adding a bit of ketchup, BBQ sauce, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, mustard, A1 sauce, or even V8 juice to your meat mixture!

Another option for adding flavor (and a sneaky way to make it a bit healthier) is to add some sautéed veggies to the mix. Add cooked carrots, celery, mushrooms, zucchini, or spinach to your mix to enhance your meatloaf’s moisture, flavor, and texture.

hand pouring milk into crumbled bread in blue bowl/hands holding dry bread crumbs over bowl of raw ground meat

4. Respect The Breadcrumbs

Far from being a “filler ingredient,” breadcrumbs are crucial to the alchemy of meatloaf-making. When mixed into the meat, the breadcrumbs absorb and retain the fat and juices that might otherwise seep out and leave it bone-dry.

Feel free to get creative with your choice of “breadcrumbs!” Panko breadcrumbs are a classic choice, but you could swap them out for crushed saltines, fried onions, stuffing mix, or even instant potato flakes.

hand putting a spoon of seasoning in tomato soup/ hands wrapping raw bacon slices around raw meatloaf on a sheet pan

5. Give It A Glaze

Finishing off a meatloaf by covering it in a sticky glaze is a time-honored tradition. Many use a mixture of ketchup and brown sugar, but you could use canned tomato soup, Heinz 57, or even brown gravy instead.

Or you could forgo the glaze entirely in favor of draping your meatloaf with a blanket of bacon. Just drape uncooked strips of bacon over the top of your formed meatloaf, tuck the ends underneath, and bake.

Related: 30 Minute Mini Meatloaves — Quick, Delicious, And Easy On The Wallet!

shaping meatloaf on sheet pan with silicone liner

6. Ditch The Pan

A lot of people rely on loaf pans to provide their meatloaf with shape and structure, but the pan isn’t necessary. Try a more rustic approach by forming it by hand on a sheet pan!

One of the benefits of this approach is that there’s more exposed surface area, and that means more delicious caramelization. You can also make mini ones on a sheet tray instead of one big loaf, which makes for better leftovers.

Related: Mini Meatloaf “Cupcakes” With Mashed Potato “Frosting”

hands mixing meatloaf ingredients

7. Get Hands On

When it comes to mixing meatloaf, your hands are the best tools for the job! Incorporate the ingredients carefully and avoid compressing them too much for the perfect texture.

8. Handle With Care

Along the same line as the previous tip, be careful with your meat mixture when you’re loading it into your loaf pan. Packing it down or squishing it too much will make it tough and dense!

(That’s another reason why forming your meatloaf by hand on a sheet pan is a good option!)

sliced meatloaf and serrated knife on aluminum foil

9. Let It Rest

Always let your meatloaf rest for at least 10 minutes after taking it out of the oven. Cutting into it too early will cause all the moisture to seep out, leaving you with dry and underwhelming meatloaf.

10. Do A Taste Test

In order to know that your meatloaf is properly seasoned, you have to taste it before you cook it. There’s an easy way to check the taste of your meatloaf before putting it in the oven (and don’t worry, it doesn’t involve eating raw meat!)

After you season the meatloaf mixture, just cook a bit of it in a pan on your stovetop! Once it’s cooked through, you can taste it to check that the flavor is where you want it.

checking meatloaf temperature with an instant read thermometer

11. Check The Temperature

Forget about playing the guessing game to determine whether or not your meatloaf is cooked through! Use a digital thermometer to know for sure. Once it reads 155°F, it’s done!

What’s your comfort food of choice?

meatloaf

Perfectly Moist Meatloaf

Jill Nystul
Easy, comforting, and delicious — use this recipe to make a quintessential meatloaf your family will love.
4.67 from 3 votes
Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Servings 6 people
Calories 493 kcal

Ingredients
  

  • 1 Tbs butter
  • 1 small yellow onion finely chopped
  • 1 carrot finely chopped
  • 1 stalk celery finely chopped
  • 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 slices white bread torn into pieces
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 2 pounds ground beef
  • 2 eggs beaten
  • 1/2 cup canned tomato soup
  • 2 Tbs brown sugar
  • Salt and pepper
  • parsley to garnish

Instructions
 

  • Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat, then add onions, carrots, and celery.
  • Season with salt and pepper and cook until soft, about 5 minutes.
  • Turn off heat and add Worcestershire sauce. Let cool.
  • In a large bowl, combine bread pieces and milk. Let bread soak.
  • Add ground beef, eggs, and cooked vegetables to the bread mixture and season with salt and pepper. Use your hands to gently combine the ingredients.
  • Gently form into a loaf and set on a foil-lined sheet pan.
  • In a small bowl, combine tomato soup and brown sugar. Pour over the loaf and spread to evenly coat.
  • Bake at 325°F for about one hour, or until meatloaf reaches an internal temperature of 155°F.
  • Let the meatloaf rest for 10 minutes, then sprinkle with fresh parsley and serve.

Nutrition

Calories: 493kcalCarbohydrates: 14gProtein: 30gFat: 35gSaturated Fat: 14gCholesterol: 169mgSodium: 264mgPotassium: 610mgFiber: 1gSugar: 8gVitamin A: 1918IUVitamin C: 4mgCalcium: 93mgIron: 4mg

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Food & Recipes

  • Meatloaf always reminds me of my Mom. She had her own special glaze she used and my Son and I still use it to this day. One thing I will stress is to not glaze your meatloaf until the outside has a nice, dark crust. If you glaze too early, the glaze will slide right off on onto your sheet pan.

    If you have family members who claim they don’t like meatloaf, make it a day ahead and slice it like a loaf of bread. Fry it up in a pan and serve with a side of gravy.

  • I’ve never eaten meatloaf. It’s not much of a thing in England. Love the sound of it but what sort of things do you serve it with? Does it need a gravy?

  • Meatloaf coming out dry? Add 1/4 cup of unsweetened applesauce, and no it won’t change the taste!

    In a hurry? Use stuffing mix instead of breadcrumbs, they’re already seasoned.

    Want to spice things up? Use BBQ sauce or honey mustard instead of ketchup for the glaze.
    You could even try my favorite glaze,
    1/4 cup yellow mustard
    1/4 cup brown sugar
    just enough apple cider vinegar to make it pourable.
    Mix it in a 2-cup measuring cup with a fork and pour it on before baking, let the meatlof rest for about 10 minutes before digging in.

  • A lot of great tips and recipe ideas.I want to know if the applesauce is a substitute for the egg as it is in cake making.I’m 74 & made 100’s of meatloafs.My mom & I always used Nabisco cracker meal in the bright teal blue box.Does anyone remember this? Never had to crush saltines
    That’s what I used in meatloaf,meatballs,and for breaded pork chops,cutlets,chicken breast.

  • I’m with Colleen doing it the way my mother made it with rolled oats and hers was never dry. As a matter of fact she used the recipe from the Quaker Oats box. I do make mine with turkey and turkey sausage as that is what the family really likes and a topping almost like Colleen’s but no Tabasco sauce. I have always shaped mine in usually 2 loaves and always add a little water to the pan. There have been times when I’m in a hurry and didn’t want to wait for the oven to bake it so did it as burgers in my Lodge pan. They turn out really well and then they can eat them as burgers or like a slice with all the regulars on the side. They also love cold meatloaf sandwiches so none ever stays in the refrigerator for long.

  • I’ve used a mixture of bison and turkey for a heart healthy loaf. I always use rolled oats and egg for the binder as my mother did before me. My son taught me his glaze of ketchup, Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco that makes it all amazing. My MIL taught me to shape my loaves in a skillet to get that yummy crust everywhere.
    I sometimes make a ground lamb variation using Mediterranean herbs and feta cheese with a homemade tzatziki sauce on the side. Ok, now I’m hungry!

  • When our kids were little, I started making meatloaf into different shapes. No one was allowed in the kitchen while I was busy with the ‘art work’. The kids loved this! When they were old enough, they started taking turns with making the different shapes. They now have passed this tradition along to my grandchildren.

  • Hi, this week I tried the beef with my turkey. I also use oatmeal (not instant) as my binder, 1-2 eggs, carrots, zuchinni, & onion soup mix. The glaze is cream of mushroom soup (no water added). Trader Joes has an excellent cream of portabello mushroom soup sold seasonally, which gives it a great flavor.

  • If you don’t feel like buying or making breadcrumbs I found that crushed saltines do a nice job. When I worked in foodservice I learned to substitute breadcrumbs for sliced bread soaked and mushed up in milk. I used approximately one slice of bread per pound of meat. Use enough milk to be able to get a slurry. To this mix I would add the eggs, seasonings, onions, Worcestershire sauce, etc. Adding these to the slurry makes sure that all the ingredients are evenly distributed.

  • Hi, I love your meatloaf tips! My hub and I LOVE meatloaf!! The last 4 or 5 times I’ve made one, I’ve used my Instant Pot, and it comes out wonderfully. I use ground turkey, sautéed onions, carrots, celery, and bell peppers, butter bread that has been soaked in cream, eggs, and seasoning. I make a glaze of chili sauce and different kinds of jelly; I’ve used apricot, pineapple, grape, orange marmalade, and pepper jelly. They’re all good! Thank you for always sharing such wonderful information with us❣️

  • I cook my meatloaf in the shape of a donut in a large baking dish. That way it’s the same width all over and doesn’t take as long to cook, and I can scoop the fat out of the center hole easily.

    • I had a recipe once that cooked the meat loaf in a ring and then for presentation a yummy mushroom sauce filled the center. Can’t find the recipe but your favorite sauce or gravy would work.

  • I use 2 lb lean ground beef, 1 medium onion and bell pepper to taste, chopped, 2 heels bread made into crumbs, 2 eggs, 1/4 cup milk and small can tomato sauce, salt and pepper to taste. Mix all together and bake @375 for 45 min. Spread ketchup over top of loaf and return to oven for additional 10-15 minutes. This recipe was in a church cookbook given to me several years ago. I discarded the recipe I had used for years and only make it by this one now. I have had numerous people that want the recipe, never any left when I take it to a church function. If you try it, hope you like it.

  • I use a mixture of 1/3 ground beef, 1/3 ground pork and 1/2 ground veal. Often it is sold in the grocery store as meatloaf mix and already packaged/combined this way. It is not too dry when cooked and adds wonderful flavor which is not too hamburger-like in the finished product which makes it a unique and delicious meal. Add a baked potato, vegetable and salad or muffins and you’ve got a meal fit for your king!

    • When I lived in PA, we would get this blend of beef, pork and veal. I have not seen it in the stores since we moved away. It is, indeed, a tasty blend of meats! I will need to purchase them individually and make my own blend. Meatloaf is my hubs favorite meal, aside from spaghetti and meatballs! With the cooler weather approaching, a small side of homemade macaroni and cheese will be on the menu.

  • I love meatloaf and also like to try other folks recipes! Compared to your recipe, mine is way simple! I use 1 lb ground beef and 1 lb sausage, 1 egg, 1 small to medium onion, 1 cup bread crumbs. Mix with hands. Remove From bowl, place in glass Corning ware pan with lid. Cover with 2 cans of tomato soup, cover with lid. Cook for an hour and yum!!!

  • I quit trying new recipes 20 years ago when I happened upon Taste of Home’s Little Cheddar Meat Loaves. I don’t the dry oats, eggs, onion, shredded cheddar, and milk make the biggest difference, but the brown sugar, ketchup, and yellow mustard topping make the biggest difference. I’ve made it as little individual loaves and a large loaf to save time and either way it’s delicious!

  • I almost always make my meatloaf in a crockpot. I usually use a couple beaten eggs, minced garlic, onions, and mustard powder. Then, at the end of cooking, I top it with a sauce mixture of ketchup, yellow mustard, mustard powder, and brown sugar. It always turns out moist. I like the idea of the potato flakes. I can’t use bread due to allergies but would like something to use in it’s place; I will need to give those a try.

  • My go to has been a “taco” meatloaf! Salsa for the vegetable and tomato flavor…some taco seasoning, an egg or two…..and in place of bread crumbs, crushed tortilla chips. Throw in some of your favorite shedded cheese, and tada….taco meatloaf!

  • An easy hack for the vegetable mixture (mirepoix): I put a quartered large onion, four peeled roughly chopped carrots, and four chopped celery stalks in my food processor and pulse until chopped. Then I saute it in butter and a 1/2 tsp poultry seasoning until softened. I put this mixture in 1 cup containers and freeze them. I can put this into just about anything I’m cooking (savory) for added flavor and nutrition. One initial mess and a little gold mine waiting in my freezer. You could, of course, add bell pepper, mushrooms, zucchini, spinach, kale, or whatever else you like.

  • Many years ago I cut out a recipe from the NYDailyNews……titled….”It’s a Wonderful Loaf” !! Two of the ingredients were apple sauce for moisture and the other was wheat germ. Turns out a very good meatloaf. Now I will add some of the suggestions here.

    • I make meatloaf with unsweetened applesauce also. It’s my family’s favorite. But I don’t add wheat germ. I add oatmeal instead of bread. Could you please tell me how much ground meat you use along with the amount of wheat germ? Thank you.

    • For those of you that put applesauce in your meatloaf… could you share how much to add and do you use it as a substitute for another ingredient? Thanks! :-)

  • I’ve never had meatloaf, and making it has always been on my bucket list. Guess I know what I’ll made for tomorrow’s dinner! Thanks so much for the post. :)

  • I’ve used a good recipe that includes quinoa and is baked in mini-loaves using a muffin pan. Like Joni S’s veggies it cooks in the meat juices and serves as binding in place of bread crumbs. I’ve also considered using ground flaxseed as the binding, as it’s an insoluble fiber that absorbs moisture and would presumably keep the meat moist as it does with bread.

    It is getting to be meatloaf season…I actually don’t use much ground beef in the summer as I’m not a huge fan of hamburgers, but bring on the comfort food!

  • I only liked my mother’s meatloaf, which never had a dry “loaf” look to it. It was always amazing, meatloaf with an Italian spin to it. First, she skipped ketchup and used barbeque sauce (also as a glaze.) She also put grated Italian cheese in it. And no breadcrumbs…instead, you take a few slices of whatever bread you’ve got, wet it under the faucet, wring it out, then tear it into chunks and work it into the meatloaf mixture. She never, ever used a breadpan. The meatloaf was always hand formed into an oblong loaf in a big rectangular pan, similar to the picture above. 350 degrees for an hour, and voila. Perfect, moist, flavorful meatloaf (and don’t skimp on the garlic!)

  • I use 2 lbs of ground beef and 1 lb of ground pork – nice mix and with it, you don’t have to saute veggies ahead of time. Because of the fat content, onions, bell peppers, whatever you are putting inside the meatloaf will cook to soft stage just from the oven and fat inside the mixture. Saves a step.

  • I have used creamy cesars dressing, about 1/3-1/2 cup depending on the size of your loaf, it makes the juciest and most flavorful meatloaf ever :)

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