Everyone seems to claim theirs is the best meatloaf recipe. My mother, for instance, swears that hers is the best and yet it’s really nothing more than meat mixed with salt and pepper then crammed into a loaf pan and baked until nearly rock-hard, all topped by straight tomato paste. No wonder I didn’t like meatloaf when I was growing up.
When I was first married, my husband told me he absolutely loved meatloaf so I made it once for him using my mother’s recipe. Notice, I said once. Two bites into it, he politely smiled and claimed to have suddenly come down with a cold so he didn’t have to keep eating. The stuff wound up sitting in our fridge until it was nearly green, then made a very loud thud when I tossed it into the garbage can.
After that embarrassing night I began tinkering with meatloaf recipes. Fortunately, it wasn’t hard to improve on that meat-brick so my husband was at least able to choke down most of my attempts. Then one night about five years ago I stumbled on a winning combination. “DON’T CHANGE ANYTHING!” he and my son both proclaimed.
And I haven’t.
Now, unlike my mother’s meatloaf, mine isn’t exclusively meat. Most meatloaf recipes call for not only meat but a binder (usually breadcrumbs), sometimes an egg, and some kind of seasoning — all topped with a sauce. Some of the worst meatloaf I’ve made relied far too much on the sauce to keep them moist, while others were so heavily seasoned that they didn’t taste much like meat at all.
And, while I have nothing against bacon or other pork products, I don’t believe they belong in meatloaf. In my book, meatloaf means one thing: beef. (That said, you can use ground turkey in my recipe and it will turn out just as delicious… but please don’t tell me.)
The Best Meatloaf Recipe
- For the meatloaf:
- ½ cup yellow onion, minced
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1½ lbs ground beef (no leaner than 90%)
- ½ cup oatmeal (not instant)
- 1 whole egg
- 1 teaspoon season salt (use my mix)
- 4 tablespoons ketchup
- ⅔ cup milk
- For the sauce:
- 1 cup ketchup
- ½ cup brown sugar, packed (or coconut sugar)
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- Preheat the oven to 350 F.
- Grease a loaf pan.
- Heat olive oil in a small saute pan over medium heat.
- Saute onion until it's translucent but not brown (3-5 minutes).
- Tip the onions, with the oil, into a large bowl and add the beef, oatmeal, egg, season salt, ketchup and milk in a large bowl using your hands. (Or use a stand mixer on low.)
- If the mixture is too runny, add a bit more oatmeal. If it's too dense, add a bit more milk. Just don't over-mix it!
- Scoop the meat mixture into the loaf pan, then smooth the top.
- Bake at 350 F for one hour, or until a meat thermometer reaches 150 F.
- Meanwhile, combine sauce ingredients in a small pan over medium-low heat. Stir constantly until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat.
- Spoon sauce onto the meatloaf once it's reached 150 F. Allow it to completely cover the sides, too. Return the meatloaf to the oven and continue to cook another 20 minutes (or until a meat thermometer reaches 160 F).
Now, if I thought our household arguments over meatloaf were over once I found a recipe they both liked, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Rather than arguing over finding the best meatloaf recipe, we now argue over how to make the best meatloaf sandwiches.
Frankly, I opt for simplicity when it comes to my meatloaf sandwiches: I slap a slice between two pieces of bread squirted with ketchup and call it lunch. How do you like your meatloaf sandwiches?
Equipment I Used: