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.
Problem: Distractingly Crunchy Vegetables
Problem: Coarse, Hamburger-y Texture
Problem: Greasy, Pale Loaf
Problem: Watery Glaze
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:
For the meatloaf:
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: