You may be hard-pressed to find someone who didn't grow up on meatloaf. And that's likely why it's such a favorite comfort food of many. But as many people grow up and move out of their parents' home and into their own, they quickly find that their meatloaf just never turns out like the one they knew so well throughout their childhood.
But why is that? After all, meatloaf is really just meat and some vegetables, right, so what could be so difficult about it? Well truthfully, it's not. But there are a few key things you need to keep in mind when making meatloaf that will make it juicy and delicious and full of all the comfort you remember. And, don't tell her we said this, but it may even turn out better your than your mom's.
1. Use the right meat
Let's get one thing straight. One of the best things about meatloaf is that you can really use any kind of ground meat you want; beef, pork, lamb, even turkey all work! But whatever type of meat you're using, you have to make sure it's the right kind. And when it comes to meatloaf, it's all about using one that has a fairly high fat content.
If you use a meat that's too lean, such as lean ground beef, it's not going to have the fat it needs to remain juicy during the cooking process. If using beef choose a cut that has an 80/20 ratio, meaning that it's 80 percent lean meat and 20 percent fattier meat, usually ground chuck. And if you're using a very lean meat such as turkey or chicken, add some fat to it, whether that's in the form of a little lard, oil, or raw bacon. Making sure there's enough fat in there will give you a perfectly juicy meatloaf.
2. Season and taste
In an effort to cut salt out of their diets, a lot of people don't use enough of it. And even many who don't have dietary restrictions are scared of using it because they think it will make their food too salty. But in the case of meatloaf, when you're after using about two pounds of meat, you need a good tablespoon of the stuff to properly season your meat. And even then, it can be difficult to tell if you've added enough. After all, you can't taste the raw meat to check the seasoning. But there's an easy way around that.
Season your meat with salt and pepper and then heat up a skillet. Take a small bite-size piece of the meat and quickly brown it, making sure it's cooked through. Let it cool just a little bit, and then taste it. It's safe, and you'll be able to see if you need to add a little more salt to the mix.
3. Soak your breadcrumbs
Breadcrumbs are added to dishes like meatloaf and meatballs because it helps bind the meat together and lets it keep its shape. But if you add dry breadcrumbs to the mix, it's going to, well, quickly dry it out. Instead, soak the breadcrumbs in milk for about 30 seconds so they can absorb it. As that soaked bread sits in the meatloaf, it will disperse the liquid throughout the meatloaf, helping it keep that juiciness and tenderness throughout.
4. Be gentle when mixing
Overworked meat will always turn out tough and dry. When meat is over-worked, the proteins of the meat bind together and remain that way throughout the cooking process. And it will also feel and taste that way when it ends up on your plate. To avoid overworking, ditch the big spoons, and use your hands. Fold the ingredients together instead of actually stirring, and as soon as everything is fully combined, stop. Place the mixture gently into the pan you're going to bake it in and gently shape if needed. Never press the meatloaf into the corners of a pan or pat it down aggressively, as that will also make for an overworked and dry loaf.
5. Mix up the glaze
There's a good chance that the meatloaf you grew up was slathered in ketchup before being baked. Or maybe you're mom was a little fancier and used a brown sugar or maybe an apricot glaze. Both of these can be delicious, and if that's how you like your meatloaf, go ahead and keep doing it. But, there are other options.
Consider topping your meatloaf with a Sriracha sauce or a fresh chimichurri when it comes out of the oven. Or, forget the sauce altogether and let butter-soaked breadcrumbs cook along with the meatloaf. You'll be surprised by just how delicious that crunchy buttery topping tastes with your juicy meatloaf!
6. Let it rest
All meat needs to rest when it comes out of the oven, and the same is true for meatloaf. This is not for carryover cooking, as meats like steak and pork rely on, but it is so all the juices can redistribute throughout the loaf and help it retain its shape. When you take the meatloaf out of the oven, tent it and let it rest in the dish it cooked in for 10 to 15 minutes. This is the only way to ensure that you end up with beautiful slices and not just a big pile of meat on a plate.