8 Common Mistakes That Will Leave You With Subpar Meatloaf
What's humble, homey, and grossly underrated? Meatloaf. This classic entree simply doesn't get the acclaim that it deserves. Frankly, if you think that you don't like meatloaf, you probably just haven't enjoyed a great slice of it — yet. And that is something that we need to fix ASAP.
So, where can you go wrong when making meatloaf? Despite the approachable ingredients and simple technique required, there are actually a handful of common mistakes that can turn a succulent, savory slice of meatloaf into a dry, flavorless slab of mediocrity. (Sorry to be harsh.) That's definitely not what we're going for. To avoid future meatloaf heartbreak, here are the most common mistakes that cooks make when it comes to this American staple dinner and how to avoid them for a lifetime of above-average meatloaf.
You're Not Sufficiently Seasoning the Meat
This is crucial. Unseasoned meat, as you can probably guess, doesn't taste like a whole lot once baked into a loaf, so it's important to add ample salt in order to bring out the inherent savory flavors of the ground meat. A good rule of thumb is to add one teaspoon of kosher salt per pound of meat. Before you cook the meatloaf, it's not a bad idea to very quickly saute a small nub of the meat mixture and give it a taste. If you feel like it needs a bit more seasoning, then adjust as necessary before baking the entire loaf. Black pepper is up to your discretion. If you prefer a strong, peppery flavor, then be generous with your cranks of pepper; if not, then just a touch will do the trick.
You're Using Lean Meats
Think of the difference in flavor between a beefy hamburger and a turkey burger. Sure, they're both technically burgers, but one is way juicier and more succulent (hint: it's not the turkey burger). The same logic applies to meatloaf. Making a loaf using ground meats with a lower fat content, like ground turkey or chicken, can be difficult because the lack of fat can lead to a dry texture. To assure a tender, juicy loaf, I'd recommend using ground beef with at least 15% fat content. If you're feeling fancy, get creative and use a mixture of ground beef with lamb, veal, or pork. However, if you have ground turkey in the fridge and want to make it work, you can always add a tablespoon or two of olive oil into your raw meat mixture in order to boost the succulence level.
You're Not Adding a Sweet Component
While it may seem counterintuitive to add a sweet element to a savory dish like meatloaf, it is essential to the balance of flavors. Whether you use ketchup, brown sugar, white sugar, or maple syrup (or a mixture), you really do want a couple tablespoons of something sweet to balance out the savory notes provided by the meat and seasonings. Trust me on this one.
You're Not Adding a Starch
Ultimately, you need to add some sort of starchy component into your meat mixture to give structure to this loaf. Whether you use plain breadcrumbs, Panko breadcrumbs, or torn-and-soaked stale bread, this is going to help keep the meatloaf intact. In addition to the starch, you'll also need some eggs in there to help bind everything together. Typically, one large egg per pound of meat should do the trick.
You're Adding Raw Vegetables to the Meat
Even though a typical meatloaf bakes for upwards of an hour, because the oven temperature is at a moderate 350°F, this isn't enough heat or time to thoroughly cook down the veggies in the loaf. For this reason, it's imperative that you saute any veggies and aromatics before mixing them into the meat to slightly soften them and unlock their flavor. Anything from onions to garlic to carrots to celery to fennel would be a great vegetable addition.
You're Slicing Into the Loaf Too Early
I know, I know. How are you supposed to wait to dig into your mighty loaf when your kitchen smells so good? Set a timer for 10 minutes, walk away, do whatever it takes to distract yourself, and when you come back, the loaf will be ready for you to cut into. If you slice into the loaf moments after it comes out of the oven, the juices will run out and leave you with an unnecessarily dry loaf. Let it rest — it's worth the wait.
You're Not Doubling the Batch
Listen, if you're going to go through the process of making one meatloaf, you might as well make a second, slice it up, and stuff it in your freezer for future enjoyment. Simply place the slices on a parchment-lined sheet pan until they've barely frozen, then transfer them to a plastic zip-top bag and store in the freezer for up to six months. You'll be so happy with yourself when you need a quick, easy meal down the road.
You're Not Making the Most of Your Leftovers
If you have some extra meatloaf kicking around in your fridge, I better see you making meatloaf sandwiches ( a cheesy meatloaf melt is ideal) or crumbling it up and adding it to pastas, soups, and casseroles.