How to make meatloaf right — it’s about fat and starch


Can you believe it’s been four decades since “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”? I spent the better part of my Time Warp-ed college years dancing “just a jump to the left.” My real favorite song, though, was “Hot Patootie — Bless My Soul.” That’s the one that unleashed upon the living that remarkable singer, Meat Loaf.

Now, I’m pretty sure that Meat Loaf the chanteur was preceded by meatloaf the dish, but who can deny either’s profound impact on American culture?

Why you need to learn this

You may not be crazy about Meat Loaf, but, if you can’t make a good meatloaf, I question your commitment to American values.

The steps you take

In the more than 10 years I’ve been writing “Prep School” (Yipes!!!), this could easily be the shortest method ever:

1. Combine all your ingredients.

2. Bake until done.

Of course, I’m way too chatty to leave it at that, so let’s start with the ingredients.

First, there’s meat.

(You probably saw that coming, didn’t you, O ye wily Prep Schooner?)

Ah, but what kind of meat? Well, what do you like, because you can make meatloaf out of just about anything that’s not extinct. Beef, veal, lamb, pork, turkey, mastodon. Wait a minute …

Regardless of the meat or combination of meats, you want your meatloaf to have the following two qualities: You want it to be moist, and you want it to be flavorful. Fortunately, both are easy to achieve.

To ensure a moist meatloaf, you need two things: fatty meat and an added starch. Lean meats, like ground turkey or 90 percent ground beef, can seem dry. Thus, I recommend either a fattier beef (like ground chuck) or adding some ground pork or minced bacon.

You’ll also need a starch, like breadcrumbs, uncooked oatmeal or what the French call a panade, a mix of torn-up bread and milk. You add starch because the more you cook meat, the more juice is squeezed out of it as the protein nets tighten. If your meatloaf were made out of meat alone, that juice would flow out of the meatloaf into the bottom of the pan, leaving it as dry as a Bob Newhart routine. The starch actually absorbs the juices, keeping your meatloaf moist.

If you’re using dried breadcrumbs or oatmeal, use about a third of a cup per pound of meat with an equal to slightly less amount of milk. If you’re using torn bread slices, use about a cup, soaked in a third of a cup of milk, per pound of meat.

Now for the other ingredients.

You’ll definitely need egg, roughly 1 per pound of meat. The egg helps hold the whole thing together, making it easier to slice without crumbling like the hopes of a tone-deaf “American Idol” contestant.

Next, your flavoring ingredients. Aromatic vegetables like onion, carrot, green pepper or garlic are lovely. Different chefs advocate variously for adding the ingredients raw or briefly sauteed. Raw is easier, although a brief sweating in oil or butter will bring added moisture to your meatloaf.

Other liquid ingredients like Worcestershire or soy sauce, ketchup or barbecue sauce, add flavor along with moisture. The first two, being more concentrated, would be added in smaller amounts — a tablespoon per pound of meat — than the latter two, which could be added at maybe half a cup per pound.

Other ingredients include herbs, spices, various cheeses, rice, mashed potatoes — you name it. Remember, it’s your meatloaf.

No matter how you flavor you meatloaf, be sure to add enough salt. Salt brings out all those flavors. Without it, your meatloaf will be as sad and tasteless as a clown funeral. Add about a teaspoon for every pound of meatloaf, a teaspoon and a half if you’re using kosher.

Finally, you can mix all your ingredients in a bowl just long enough to bring it together into a homogenous mass. (If this is for a dinner party, by the way, try to avoid the phrase “homogenous mass.” Just sayin’.)

Before baking, cook a tablespoon of the mixture in a little fat in a hot skillet. If you need to adjust any seasonings, do it now and fry another spoonful. When it tastes good to you, mold the mixture on a parchment- or foil-lined baking sheet, or press it into a loaf pan (9-by-5 inches), and bake in a 400-degree oven until it’s 165 degrees in the center, about an hour. Then, let it rest in its fat for about 10 minutes or so to allow any liquid to soak back. That’ll give you the juiciest, most flavorful meatloaf this side of Meatloavia.

Oh, and don’t forget the leftovers: meatloaf sandwiches. Yum.

Here are a few ideas for improving your basic meatloaf:

Greek style: Half and half lamb and beef mixed with egg, breadcrumbs, 2 teaspoons dried oregano and 4 ounces crumbled feta cheese.

Thai style: Half and half pork and turkey or chicken, egg, breadcrumbs, 1 to 2 tablespoons fish sauce, 1 tablespoon each minced garlic and ginger, 2 tablespoons minced cilantro, optional tablespoon bottled Thai curry paste.

Southwestern style: Beef or half and half beef and pork, egg, crushed tortillas (in place of breadcrumbs), 1 1/2 cups fresh or canned corn, cumin, chile powder, cilantro, optional minced jalapeno.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Food

Take a look at the menu for BlueTop, opening today in Chamblee
Take a look at the menu for BlueTop, opening today in Chamblee

Fried pickles are on the menu at BlueTop in Chamblee / Photo from the BlueTop Facebook page A building that was formerly home to a taxi cab company is getting new life starting today. BlueTop — whose name pays homage to the cab company — is opening its doors to the public today for lunch and dinner at 5362 Peachtree Road in...
Celebrate National Sweet Tea Day with these recipes, locally-made teas
Celebrate National Sweet Tea Day with these recipes, locally-made teas

Celebrate National Sweet Tea Day. / AJC file photo Sweet tea isn’t officially the drink of the South, but it might as well be — Georgia State Rep. John Noel even went so far as to introduce a bill in 2003 that would have made it a misdemeanor not to include sweet tea on a restaurant menu. OK, it was an April Fool&rsquo...
Buy This: 3 products that will make dinner quicker and easier but still delicious
Buy This: 3 products that will make dinner quicker and easier but still delicious

Yes, we’re all busy and we welcome a little help in the kitchen but only when that help means we’re making delicious meals. No shortcuts that compromise on quality or flavor. We’ve got three suggestions we think you’ll enjoy using in your kitchen. Good, Really Good Broth from Zoup! The broth you cook with has to...
Still need eclipse glasses for today? Visit this restaurant
Still need eclipse glasses for today? Visit this restaurant

Get eclipse glasses today — while supplies last — at Shoney’s. / Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com If you’re one of the many procrastinators scrambling to find eclipse glasses today, we’re sorry to say there aren’t a ton of options. You could go the homemade route,  ...
Trouble with dairy? A new type of milk could provide a solution
Trouble with dairy? A new type of milk could provide a solution

Maria Elena Sullivan could tell that her daughter Sofia, now 3, had trouble digesting milk from the moment she offered it to her at a year old. Sofia immediately spit it up. By the time she was 2, it was clear from her "serious reaction to it," which included abdominal pain and vomiting, plus the fact that she routinely pushed it away when...
More Stories