If a big slice of meat loaf smothered in tomatoey sauce is your idea of comfort food, you're in the right place. The cozy meal gained popularity back in the 1930s. Thankfully, our Test Kitchen has also been making meat loaf to juicy perfection for the 90+ years since the launch of Better Homes & Gardens New Cook Book ($20, Target). Here you'll find the simple, yet necessary steps to learn exactly how to make meat loaf from scratch as well as tips for different meat combinations and glaze options beyond ketchup. With a gentle hand, you'll prepare the best meat loaf you've ever tasted (or at least super close to Grandma's or your favorite diner).
How to Make Meat Loaf
To get started, you'll need a great meat loaf recipe. We'll be using our Best Meat Loaf to demonstrate these steps, but you can use the tips while making your family's recipe as well. Preheat your oven to 350ºF and follow this step-by-step process to learn how to make meat loaf in the oven.
Step 1: Prepare Meat Loaf Ingredients
Our meat loaf recipe uses a combination of mushrooms, onion, carrot, and garlic. Not only do these vegetables add nutrients, flavor, and moisture, but they also extend the meat loaf mixture. Cut or shred your veggies in uniform pieces so they cook evenly and the mixture holds together when shaped. Sauté the veggies in a skillet ($30, Target) over medium-high heat 4 to 5 minutes or until tender first to ensure they lose their crunch when baked.
Step 2: Gently Mix the Ingredients
In a large mixing bowl combine eggs, milk, ketchup, mustard, and Worcestershire sauce, and salt. Add the veggie mixture and bread crumbs, stirring until evenly moistened. Next, add the ground beef. With clean hands, use your fingers to thoroughly but gently mix the ground meat into the egg-bread crumb mixture until just combined. Be careful not to overmix. Overmixing can make the meat loaf dense and tough.
Test Kitchen Tip: It's important to mix the wet and dry ingredients well before adding the meat. This ultimately reduces the amount of mixing you need to do. Be sure to use a bowl large enough to hold the entire meat loaf mixture.
Step 3: Shape Meat Loaf
To prevent the meat mixture from sticking to your hands, moisten hands with cold water before shaping. Gently pat and shape the meat mixture into an oblong loaf (about 9x5-inch) that is slightly smaller than your baking dish.
How to Make Meat Loaf without a Loaf Pan
A lot of traditional recipes call for making meat loaf in a loaf pan, but not ours. You can easily create your perfect meat loaf in a 3-quart baking dish ($7, Walmart). Our Test Kitchen finds making meat loaf from scratch in a rectangular dish actually improves browning and allows some of the fat to drain from the loaf into the dish.
Step 4: Make a Meat Loaf Glaze
You can't enjoy meat loaf without that saucy glaze (at least we can't). Our classic glaze includes a mixture of ketchup, brown sugar, and mustard, but you can easily sub your favorite. Try one of the variations included at the bottom of our recipe including apricot-mustard, peach-chile, and cranberry. Don't add the glaze just yet, we'll get to that in the next step.
Step 5: Bake Meat Loaf
Bake the meat loaf for approximately 1 hour or until done (use these tips for how to tell if it is done), spooning the glaze over the meat loaf in the last 25 minutes of baking. Transfer meat loaf to a platter, slice, and enjoy.
The Best Meat for Meat Loaf
Our Test Kitchen finds a pound each of ground beef chuck (85% lean, 15% fat) and ground sirloin (90% lean, 10% fat) to be the best combo for making juicy meat loaf at home. The higher fat content of ground chuck adds flavor and moisture while lean sirloin provides structure. If you want to experiment with something other than all beef, try one of these meat combinations:
Ground beef + bulk sweet Italian sausage
Ground turkey breast + ground pork
Ground beef chuck + ground veal
Test Kitchen Tip: If the mixture is on the lean side, cover the meat loaf with foil for the first 35 minutes to keep it from drying out.
So you've just made a perfect meat loaf from scratch. Now make sure you've got plenty of mashed potatoes and your favorite side dishes to complete the ultimate comfort food meal. Got leftovers? Grill slices for a delicious next-day meat loaf sandwich.