October 18th, 2013
04:00 PM ET
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Editor's Note: America's Test Kitchen is a real 2,500 square foot test kitchen located just outside of Boston that is home to more than three dozen full-time cooks and product testers. Our mission is simple: to develop the absolute best recipes for all of your favorite foods. To do this, we test each recipe 30, 40, sometimes as many as 70 times, until we arrive at the combination of ingredients, technique, temperature, cooking time, and equipment that yields the best, most-foolproof recipe. America’s Test Kitchen's online cooking school is based on nearly 20 years of test kitchen work in our own facility, on the recipes created for Cook’s Illustrated magazine, and on our two public television cooking shows.

Say “meatloaf” and most Americans think 1950s comfort food and Mom, but this humble recipe has surprisingly elegant roots in a now-forgotten dish called “cannelon.” A typical cannelon recipe from the original "Boston Cooking-School Cook Book" calls for chopping and seasoning beef, shaping it into a log, and basting with melted butter as it bakes. The wide availability of meat grinders and the advent of reliable refrigeration made ground beef a household staple in the early 20th century and meatloaf recipes gained wide circulation.

As a topping, butter was usurped by tomato sauce until ketchup became popular in the 1920s. The Heinz company created a “House of Heinz” campaign to tout the gourmet appeal their products gave to everyday dishes such as meatloaf. Along with their ketchup, Heinz suggested incorporating other Heinz products, such as beefsteak sauce, chili sauce and olives into meatloaf, or serving cubes of meatloaf with pickle slices for an easy hors d’oeuvre.

For our meatloaf, we skipped the gourmet aspirations and unnecessary mix-ins for a stellar version of the 1950s favorite.

Four Common Meatloaf Mistakes - and How to Solve Them
The beauty of meatloaf is that you can just stir together some meat and vegetables, pack the mixture into a pan and pop it into the oven until suppertime. Right? Wrong. Meatloaf has its challenges, but a bit of know-how can fix them.

Problem: Distractingly Crunchy Vegetables
Solution: Trim Options, Then Sauté
We bypass crunchy vegetables like celery and carrots and stick with assertive onions and garlic. Chop the onions fine and cook them a good 8 minutes over medium heat to ensure that they are soft and sweet.

Problem: Coarse, Hamburger-y Texture
Solution: Break Out the Food Processor
Giving the meat mixture a quick spin in the food processor breaks it down for a smooth, finely textured loaf instead of a shaggy, coarse one.

Problem: Greasy, Pale Loaf
Solution: Bake the Loaf Free-Form
Skip the loaf pan. Baking the loaf on a rimmed baking sheet allows the fat and juices to drain and exposes more surface area for a better crust.

Problem: Watery Glaze
Solution: Glaze from the Get-Go
If the meatloaf is glazed toward the end of cooking, the juices from the loaf cause the glaze to drip off. We broil the meatloaf right away to create a crusty exterior, then use a double-glaze technique for a thick, lacquered finish.

Glazed Meatloaf
(Serves 6 to 8)
From the The Complete Cook's Country TV Show Cookbook

For our old-fashioned meatloaf, we cut ground beef with an equal portion of sweet ground pork for better flavor. As for seasoning, we stuck with tradition: salt, pepper, Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce, thyme, parsley, sautéed onion and garlic. To add moisture and structure, we used a panade (paste) of milk and saltines. Combining the panade in a food processor and then pulsing it with the meat gave the loaf the most cohesive, tender structure. To evaporate the surface moisture that was inhibiting the formation of a crust, we broiled the loaf prior to baking and glazing. Both ground sirloin and ground chuck work well here, but avoid ground round - it is gristly and bland.

For the glaze:
1 cup ketchup
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon hot sauce

For the meatloaf:
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped fine
2 garlic cloves, minced
2/3 cup Saltine crackers, crushed (about 17 crackers)
1/ 3 cup whole milk
1 pound 90% lean ground beef (see note)
1 pound ground pork
2 large eggs plus 1 large yolk
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/3 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
Salt and pepper

1. Make glaze: Whisk all ingredients in saucepan until sugar dissolves. Reserve 1/4 cup glaze mixture, then simmer remaining glaze over medium heat until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Cover and keep warm.

2. Cook vegetables: Line rimmed baking sheet with foil and coat lightly with cooking spray. Heat oil in nonstick skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Cook onion until golden, about 8 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Transfer to large bowl.

3. Process meat: Process saltines and milk in food processor until smooth. Add beef and pork and pulse until well combined, about ten 1-second pulses. Transfer meat mixture to bowl with cooled onion mixture. Add eggs and yolk, mustard, Worcestershire, thyme, parsley, 1 teaspoon salt and 3/4 teaspoon pepper to bowl and mix with hands until combined.

4. Broil: Adjust oven racks to upper (about 4 inches away from broiler element) and middle positions and heat broiler. Transfer meat mixture to prepared baking sheet and shape into 9- by 5-inch loaf. Broil on upper rack until well browned, about 5 minutes. Brush 2 tablespoons uncooked glaze over top and sides of loaf and then return to oven and broil until glaze begins to brown, about 2 minutes.

5. Bake: Transfer meatloaf to middle rack and brush with remaining uncooked glaze. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake until meat loaf registers 160 degrees, 40 to 45 minutes. Transfer to carving board, tent with foil and let rest 20 minutes. Slice and serve, passing cooked glaze at table.

More from America's Test Kitchen:
Chopping onions - are you doing it wrong?
The nerd's guide to making doughnuts
A quicker way to cut kale
What do 2,500 cooking photos look like?
Become a better baker



soundoff (41 Responses)
  1. mgcady

    I recently made a pizza meatloaf (meatloaf rolled with cheese, mushrooms and garlic... no pepperoni since it was for someone who doesn't like sausage/preserved meats). It was fantastic.

    October 22, 2013 at 12:14 pm | Reply
  2. Thinking things through

    I always despised meatloaf. Always. However, I had too much ground beef here, so one day I tried a NEW meatloaf. Instead of bread, I used sweet potato. And absoutely NO sugar, brown or otherwise. No ketchup, either. This was a magical transformation from an alleged "comfort" food to something palatable and wonderful. (You do have to roast the sweet potato until it is soft, before adding it to the ground meat.) The result is moist, tasty and I created it a second time to good applause.

    October 20, 2013 at 10:04 pm | Reply
    • Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫

      Yeah, 'cause there is ZERO sugar in sweet potatoes

      October 21, 2013 at 9:29 am | Reply
      • Carb Cop@Jdizzle

        Sarcasm accepted. FTR:
        One cup of sweet potato contains 27g of carbs.
        A Hershey bar contains 26g.
        One kup of ketchup? 63g
        Enjoy that insulin.

        October 22, 2013 at 7:14 am | Reply
  3. Weez

    Well since there were so many negative comments on this recipe I decided to make it exactly as posted. I've eaten plenty of meatloaves, with bacon, without, with tomato sauce and without. They are all great recipes and all I can say about this one is that yes it's also good and the ketchup sauce, really interesting! :) Don't knock it till you tried it!
    Even the method is good. The food processor gives it less of a "hamburger" texture, broiling it with the sauce before baking locks in the juices. All in all I loved it, so did everyone else in the house :)

    October 20, 2013 at 6:21 pm | Reply
    • Brian

      Yeah, except ketchup.

      October 21, 2013 at 12:11 am | Reply
      • Weez

        Don't knock it til you've tried it :P it's not only ketchup! I don't eat ketchup either but this mix was really good :)

        October 21, 2013 at 1:56 pm | Reply
      • VladT

        Did Ketchup touch you as a child, or something?

        October 22, 2013 at 3:45 am | Reply
        • Brian

          Really sticks in your craw, doesn't it? That's good. The more you defend it, the more you'll have to think about it,.....and ultimately reconsider the sophistication of your palate.

          October 22, 2013 at 1:43 pm |
        • VladT

          My craw is fine, thanks. I have such distaste for onions, as I was born with tastebuds that like just about anything, except onions.

          However, I am not starting petitions on Change.org to ban them, say, like some people who want their craw to remain ketchup-less

          October 22, 2013 at 9:26 pm |
        • Brian

          Change.org? Never thought of that. Thanks. Think I'll take the crusade up a notch.

          October 24, 2013 at 12:30 am |
        • VladT

          Touche

          October 24, 2013 at 12:46 am |
      • Mole Esther

        It's good to flavor them up first. Ketchup was my goto cond0m-mint.

        October 22, 2013 at 7:23 am | Reply
  4. Frank

    Maybe you could consider putting a "print" link on the recipe pages like you have on EVERY other article that doesn't need them. Buncha geniuses on the editorial staff there.

    October 20, 2013 at 3:35 am | Reply
  5. RichardHead

    Hormel My Azz.....Mix in a 16 oz can of Wolf Brand Chili, add cheese and either White or Red Onions,Do the slice thing and Enjoy.

    October 19, 2013 at 6:14 pm | Reply
  6. Weeds

    Jethro Tull knows that pureeing ground meat in a food processor will make it as "Thick as a Brick". Meatloaf was and is supposed to be made with hands and fingers; crumbling the ingredients together and then patted into shape loosely so it doesn't resemble adobe. Diced bread or toast, or bread crumbs- including panco – are superior to crackers. Unless you making your own hamburger, there is no reason (excuse) to use a food processor for anything in a meatloaf.
    Americas Test Kitchen gets a lot of things right. Surprisingly, this simple dish is not one of them.

    October 19, 2013 at 12:13 pm | Reply
    • Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫ @ Weeds

      I prefer panko to any and all bread crumbs. Much better quality

      October 19, 2013 at 3:12 pm | Reply
    • RC@Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫

      And DON'T forget the bacon.

      October 19, 2013 at 4:23 pm | Reply
  7. ericv

    I pretty sure they meant polpettone and not the pasta canelone.

    October 19, 2013 at 11:36 am | Reply
    • ericv

      I'm and cannelone, darn typos. My wife is from Rome.

      October 19, 2013 at 11:38 am | Reply
  8. Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫

    I would do anything for love, except eat that.

    October 19, 2013 at 10:26 am | Reply
    • RC

      Yeah, not a big fan of this recipe. Too many moving parts. Too much like meat paste. I prefer a more coarse mixture. More like burger grind.

      October 20, 2013 at 4:17 pm | Reply
  9. Ctrygrl

    This is meat you don't need sugar. The James Beard recipe for meatloaf is far superior to this. A little fine dry bread crumbs instead of soggy crackers. A little seasoning, bay leaf, and just a hint of green peppers. Bake covered in bacon strips. But please don't put sugar on it. Americans sugar everything and as a result dull the taste of real food. I got nothing against sweet, but bake an apple pie.

    October 19, 2013 at 6:43 am | Reply
  10. clebrowntown

    Bobby Flay has the best meatloaf recipe over at Food Network's site.
    It's got veggies(squash+peppers) along with panko crumbs and the sauce...catsup and balsamic vinegar...OMG...it is going to change your perspective of meatloaf. Sorry I can't remember the exact name but just search meatloaf and Bobby Flay at their site.

    October 19, 2013 at 6:37 am | Reply
  11. RANDO

    HELLO, THESE TEST KITCHEN PEOPLE SEEM TO BE CLUELESS ABOUT MEAT LOAF. RIGHT OFF THE TOP, YOU CAN USE ONE OF THOSE TWO PIECE LOAF PANS (THE KIND WITH THE RACK THAT ELEVATES THE LOAF FROM THE EXCESS FAT) WITH GREAT SUCCESS. AND YES, KETCHUP MAKES A WONDERFUL BASE FOR YOUR GLAZE AND FLAVOR BINDER. I LIKE TO USE THREE KINDS OF MEAT, 1 POUND EACH: LEAN GROUND BEEF OR BISON, GROUND PORK, AND HOT ITALIAN SAUSAGE. ( FOR A SMOOTHER, FINNER LOAF, TRY GROUND VEAL) FOR VEGGIES I USE COARSE DICED CARROTS, COARSE DICED YELLOW OR WHITE ONIONS, AND CHOPPED FRESH GARLIC, ALL SAUTED UNTILL THEY ARE JUST BEGINNING TO SOFTEN, PLUS COARSE CHOPPED RED BELL PEPPER AND MEDIUM FINE CHOPPED POBLANO, JALEPENO OR ANAHEIM PEPPER ( I DON'T CARE FOR GREEN BELL PEPPER) GRIND UP A FEW CUPS OF DRIED REAL BREAD CRUMBS, AND CUT UP SOME GOOD SOURDOUGH TYPE BREAD INTO 1/2 " CUBES AND SPLASH A LITTLE CREAM ON THE BREAD CUBES AND REST. MAKE A GLAZE FROM TOMATO KETCHUP, MEXICAN HOT SAUCE, WORCHESTER SAUCE, AND A DASH OF LIQUID SMOKE.
    MIX EVERY THING TOGETHER WITH THREE EGGS, LOTS OF FRESH GROUND BLACK PEPPER, SALT AND TWO CUPS OF THE GLAZE MIXTURE ADDING THE BREAD CUBES NEAR THE END SO THEY DON'T GET TO MUSHED UP. LINE THE BOTTOM OF THE RACK OF YOUR TWO PIECE LOAF PAN WITH SLICES OF BREAD TO FIT ( THIS WILL ABSORB SOME JUICES, AND FORM A NICE BOTTOM CRUST). FILL THE PAN WITH THE LOAF MIXTURE, AND GLAZE THE TOP WITH SOME OF THE KETCHUP MIX. PLACE IN A PRE HEATED 375" OVEN FOR 90 MINUTES. THE INTERNAL TEMP. SHOULD BE ABOUT 160" AT THIS POINT. LET COOL AND ENJOY. ( I LIKE TO LET THE LOAF REFRIGERATE OVER NIGHT,AS IT SEEMS TO "SET" INTO A MORE COHESIVE AND SLICEABLE LOAF, FROM THIS PROCESS) THESE TWO PECE LOAF PANS ARE GREAT, YOU GET THE MOISTNESS OF A LOAF BAKED IN A PAN, BUT NOT THE SOGGY, GOOPY, GLOP ON THE BOTTOM. WHEN READY, YOU SIMPLY LIFT THE LOAF ON THE RACK OUT OF THE PAN, AND SLIDE IT ON TO YOUR SERVING PLATE. VOILA! PERFECT FIFTIES COMFORT FOOD! ENJOY, RANDO.
    PS. THE COARSE TEXTURE OF THE VEGGIES AND BREAD CUBES, MAKES FOR A COLORFUL "MOSAIC" LOOK WHEN SLICED.

    October 19, 2013 at 2:35 am | Reply
    • Brian

      YOUR CAPS LOCK KEY IS STUCK!!!!!

      October 21, 2013 at 10:32 am | Reply
      • Ann

        So is yours.

        October 22, 2013 at 12:46 pm | Reply
        • Brian

          Really? The end of irony is on an Eatocracy page?

          October 22, 2013 at 1:39 pm |
  12. K Brown

    I agree.....down with ketchup!......use tomato sauce, brown sugar, dry mustard to taste and laced with a little tobasco. Drizzle over meat loaf and bake.......yummy!

    October 19, 2013 at 1:24 am | Reply
  13. Brian

    OMG! Ketchup? Really? I'm throwing up right now. Go with tomato sauce, for goodness sake! Tomato sauce laced with anchovy. And wrap it with bacon. But KETCHUP? Who are all you stupid KETCHUP people? Divest yourselves of this ridiculous condiment!!! I grieve for this nation's palate.

    October 19, 2013 at 12:49 am | Reply
    • VladT

      Weren't you guy with the mad rager in the hamburger condiment eatocracy "debate?"

      October 19, 2013 at 3:03 am | Reply
      • RC

        Exactly. Talk about beating a deceased equine........

        October 19, 2013 at 10:53 am | Reply
      • Brian

        Of course I was! This is a sacred mission. Ketchup is crap. Period!

        October 20, 2013 at 12:08 am | Reply
        • Pinky's Brain

          Sooooo your opinion is the only one that matters? Table for one at the STFU cafe. Please take a seat and about 8 inches of duct tape.

          October 21, 2013 at 8:55 am |
  14. Sean

    And if there are leftovers... refrigerate... and the next day or two... cut some slices, and put between two pieces of bread with mayo, and eat cold... YUMMY!

    October 18, 2013 at 11:45 pm | Reply
    • Brian

      Cold meatloaf with mayo. You understand the zen, brother. I respect you.

      October 20, 2013 at 12:09 am | Reply
    • Marla

      try this: tomato, good quality white American cheese, mayo and day-old cold slice of meatloaf – all on a Hawaiian roll. If you can't find Hawaiian rolls, next best is small potato buns. my gosh, I'm having a melt down here! mmmm – meatloaf slider!

      October 23, 2013 at 10:30 pm | Reply
  15. Burt Ward

    I don't get too fancy with mine. Half Beef, half sausage. Cup of Pace Hot salsa. A couple eggs, pepper, onions, bell peppers, can of drained medium chilis or Rotel. A pinch of cumin, sage, cilantro. My glaze is non HFCS ketchup and Worcestershire sauce. Bake until done.

    October 18, 2013 at 9:25 pm | Reply
  16. foodfight

    Substitute 1 lb of Andouille sausage (remove the casing) for the pork for a major flavor boost.

    October 18, 2013 at 9:14 pm | Reply
    • Ed G.

      That sounds great!

      October 21, 2013 at 10:30 am | Reply
  17. "Criss Kimmy"

    Follow this recipe closely because it is easy to screw it up. For instance, if you put in too many crackers you will end up with something like this on your table.
    Ewwwwwwww!

    October 18, 2013 at 5:30 pm | Reply

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