Paired with mashed potatoes, meatloaf is a comfort food all-star. But if you’ve ever baked a dry meatloaf or pulled it out of the oven only for it to crumble apart as you slice into it, you know that it can be a tough dinner to perfect.
We asked chefs and recipe developers for their best tips when it comes to making a winning homemade meatloaf. From choosing the right meat to perfecting the panade, here are the fixes for any potential meatloaf mishaps.
Mistake: Using lean meat.
How to fix it: Using too lean of meat will lead to a dry meatloaf, cautions James Peisker, chef, butcher, and co-founder of Porter Road in Nashville, Tennessee. Skip the ground turkey or lean ground beef. Instead, go for ground beef that’s 80/20, meaning it’s 80 percent lean beef and 20 percent fat. The fat content will help ensure your meatloaf stays moist, holds together, and packs plenty of flavor, Peisker says.
Mistake: Slicing the meatloaf too soon.
How to fix it: It’s dinnertime. The kitchen smells good. You’re hungry. But hold tight. Slicing into your meatloaf as soon as it comes out of the oven releases the juices onto the plate or the pan, and the loaf can fall apart, Peisker says. Instead, let the meatloaf rest for 15 minutes before you cut into it to serve.
Mistake: Not making a panade.
How to fix it: A panade—which is the fancy word for a starch and liquid mixture—is the secret to keeping your meatloaf tender. But a lot of meatloaf recipes that call for breadcrumbs don’t have any instructions to add liquid, says Jeremy Hood of the cooking blog KtchnDad. Without a proper panade, you’ll end up with what’s essentially one giant hamburger, he says. “Meatloaf should be light and tender when you bite into it,” he says. “To get this texture you need to add equal parts of bread crumbs and liquid.”
Mistake: Not letting your breadcrumbs soak long enough.
How to fix it: When you’re making your panade, you’ll want to soak your breadcrumbs or bread in milk, allowing them to become completely hydrated, says Scott Hines, the executive chef of B&O American Brasserie in Baltimore, Maryland. This isn’t a super quick process though; you’ll want to make sure the bread crumbs soak for five to 10 minutes, he says.
Mistake: Using skim milk.
How to fix it: When you’re making a panade with milk, use evaporated milk or whole milk, suggests Jessica Formicola, a recipe developer and blogger at Savory Experiments. Skim milk won’t help with the binding much.
Mistake: Using fresh breadcrumbs.
How to fix it: If you’re making your panade with homemade breadcrumbs, make sure they’re either stale or toasted, says Sharon Beck of Kosher Private Chef in Miami Beach, Florida. “If not, your bread will end up soaking up some of the moisture, leaving you with a dry meatloaf.” She recommends mixing breadcrumbs with an egg to help your meatloaf keep its shape.
Mistake: Using boring ol’ bread.
How to fix it: Get creative with the bread you use for your breadcrumbs. Chef Jessica Shillato of Spotted Salamander in Columbia, South Carolina suggests a sweet white bread like brioche or Hawaiian roll.
Mistake: Overworking your meatloaf as you mix it.
How to fix it: The more you mix it, the tougher your meatloaf will end up, cautions Hines. “Have all your ingredients ready and add them to the meat mix all at once. That way, you’re only mixing once,” he says. “When mixing, mix just enough to combine all of the ingredients, being careful that you don’t over-mix.”
RELATED: The easy way to make healthier comfort foods.
Mistake: Not cooking your veggies.
How to fix it: Celery, onions, and carrots are great additions to meatloaf. But a common meatloaf misconception is that you can skip cooking the vegetables and throw them in raw. Instead, sauté those veggies, Beck says, because they’ll infuse more flavor then if they were raw, and they’ll help the meat retain moisture.
Mistake: Forgetting a glaze.
How to fix it: A combination of mustard, ketchup, and brown sugar makes for an easy and delicious glaze, Beck says. When you glaze the top of your meatloaf before baking, it helps retain moisture.
Mistake: Skipping spices.
How to fix it: No one wants a bland and boring meatloaf! Beyond salt and pepper, you can add flavor to your meatloaf with garlic powder, onion powder, and even paprika, Beck says. “Those three spices will assist in the browning of the meat and provide excellent flavor,” she says. Should you want to spice up your meatloaf even more, add basil, oregano, thyme or rosemary, and fennel. But keep in mind that a little fennel goes a long way, Beck says.
Mistake: Overcooking your meatloaf.
How to fix it: Use a digital meat thermometer to check the internal temperature of your meatloaf, suggests Jessica Randhawa, the head chef and recipe developer of
The Forked Spoon. You’ll want the temperature at 160 degrees Fahrenheit when you pull it from the oven.
Mistake: Making too thick of a meatloaf.
How to fix it: Instead of opting for a large brick of meatloaf, make a more shallow, round loaf, she says. You can actually free-form your meatloaf on rimmed baking sheets. When you make a thinner meatloaf, it won’t need to cook as long and will be less likely to dry out, she says.
Mistake: Not tasting the mix.
How to fix it: If you’re trying a new recipe or cooking a large meatloaf, cook a little bit of mix first and give it a taste before you cook the whole meal, suggests Hines. That way, you can adjust the seasoning as needed.
Keeping these expert-approved tips in mind will help you make a consistently great meatloaf that’s packed with flavor. Don’t forget the mashed potatoes!