Many adults have less-than-fond memories of their mother’s meatloaf, studded with raw onions and slathered with bottled ketchup. But within the last few years, there’s been a resurgence of interest in meatloaf, along with other family-friendly comfort foods. Now, meatloaf is becoming a popular menu item in many restaurants specializing in upscale comfort food. The new EATT, in Chicago’s River North neighborhood, offers it on the menu. And The Meatloaf Bakery, also in Chicago, specializes in various types of meatloaf.
Although meatloaf is becoming a popular restaurant item, it’s really a simple dish for home cooks. Frozen, pre-made meatloaf is available at the grocery store, but it takes only 5 minutes to mix ingredients for a from scratch meatloaf. And when you choose the ingredients, you can make your meatloaf from local, organic, or sustainably raised ground meat. That option is usually not available in the grocery-store freezer.
When I first made meatloaf for my own kids, I used my mother-in-law’s simple recipe. And the kids (my husband too, of course) really liked it. Since then, from-scratch meatloaf, made with organic or grass-fed hamburger if possible, or other organic ground meats, has been an occasional treat in our menu rotation.
I’ve made my meatloaf with three kinds of meat: chicken, beef or a beef-and-pork mixture, and turkey. All rely on my mother-in-law’s basic recipe, which combines the meat with 1 egg and 1/3 cup of seasoned bread crumbs per pound of meat. This formula is very similar to the many other meatloaf recipes online at sites such as allrecipes.com. In lean times, such as wartimes or times when food was expensive, home cooks “stretched” the meat by adding more fillers.
The recipe for barbecued-chicken meatloaf, at the end of this article, stretches the ground chicken with textured vegetable protein (TVP). Mixing in a meat substitute is one way to reduce the amount of meat your family eats, and reducing meat consumption has been touted as an important component of sustainable eating.
Meatloaf does take about an hour to cook through and therefore isn’t a quick dinner. But it takes only 5 minutes to mix and requires little attention once it goes in the oven.
When I make meatloaf for my family of four, I start by cracking the egg in a large bowl. I then add the bread crumbs and any flavorings, and mix. I follow this with the meat. To mix the ingredients thoroughly, it’s necessary to use a large spoon, or better still, my hands.
I then place the meatloaf mixture in a loaf pan and bake until the appropriate temperature is reached on a meat thermometer (about 1 hour). For chicken or turkey, a meat thermometer inserted in the center should read 180 degrees. For beef, the temperature should be 160 degrees if you like your meatloaf well done. If you like your meatloaf somewhat more rare, the temperature can be lower. In general, it takes a loaf made with 1 pound of meat about 45-60 minutes at 350 degrees to reach the proper temperature.
If you don’t have a loaf pan, form a meatloaf shape on a regular baking pan for a more “free-form” appearance. Baking times may vary.
Minced meat loaves date to the 5th century and were mentioned in Roman cookbooks. Meatloaf is a traditional dish in Germany, Belgium, and Holland. Modern American meatloaf is over 100 years old, with an early recipe appearing in print in 1899,
Meatloaf recipes can also be adapted as meatballs. Instead of shaping the meatloaf ingredients in a single loaf and baking, shape the meat mixture into balls and bake on a cookie sheet or cook in tomato sauce.
Meatloaf recipes multiply well. For your own convenience food, double or triple the batch, shape the meat into multiple loaves, and freeze those that you won’t be cooking right away.
If you are interested in eating more sustainably, look for grass-fed, sustainably raised, or organic beef for your meat loaf. I find local grass-fed beef at Chicago’s French Market. Whole foods sells organic beef, and some grocery stores sell Laura’s organic beef in one-pound packages. For turkey, I use organic ground turkey thighs from Whole Foods if possible. Using the thigh meat makes the meatloaf moister and more flavorful. As an added plus, the ground turkey thighs are less expensive than ground turkey breast. Whole Foods also sells ground chicken. Again, look for the dark meat.
Nana’s Basic Meatloaf
1/3 c. Italian-seasoned bread crumbs
1 t. salt and 1/2 t. pepper, or to taste
1 pound ground beef, beef and pork, or turkey thigh
Mix the egg, bread crumbs, salt, and pepper together in a bowl. Add the meat and mix. Shape into a loaf and place in a loaf pan. Bake at 350 degrees F until the internal temperature is appropriate for that type of meat, about 45-60 minutes. A meat thermometer should read 180 degrees for turkey, or 160 degrees for well-done beef, or 165 degrees for beef and pork.
BBQ Chicken Meatloaf
1/2 cup textured vegetable protein (TVP)
1/4 c. Italian seasoned breadcrumbs
1 T. Worchestershire sauce
3-4 T. barbecue sauce (I like Sweet Baby Ray’s)
Soak the TVP in water until soft and drain. Mix TVP, chicken, breadcrumbs, egg, Worchestershire sauce, and 1 T. barbecue sauce in a bowl. Turn into a loaf pan and top with remaining barbecue sauce. Bake at 350 degrees about 1 hour until meat thermometer registers 180 degrees.