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Theory of meatloaf: need help, mine come out like bricks

I'm trying to come up with a recipe for meatloaf that does not use breadcrumbs or bread, or tomatostuff.

I usually make meatloaf with eggs, and of course spices of various sorts, but they usually wind up coming out like bricks.

It looks to me like a reasonably moist meatloaf uses some sort of liquid, such as ketchup, milk, tomato sauce, etc. And it looks to me like the purpose of the breadstuff is to soak up liquid, thus trapping it.

Anyone have any observations about meatloaf? Any really unusual recipes out there?

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  1. I don't use fillers or extenders in my meatloaves. I like to use a combo of ground chuck and fresh sausage, bulk Italian, Chorizo or breakfast type sausage. Usually a pound of each. I put the meats in the bowl of my KA stand mixer along with whatever seasonings and a couple of raw eggs and beat it well with the paddle. Form into a loaf and bake about an hour. It makes a good loaf and slices well for sandwiches the next day. They slice well after standing. Approach it like making a good burger. Would you bulk it up with bread crumbs, rice and the like? The mixer keeps it from being too dense by beating in some air.

    I'd like to amend this. I do use chopped peppers, onions and garlic sauteed in butter and added to the mix among other seasonings. The fillers and extenders are really an economic measure to make it all go further. I do not bake my meatloaves in a loaf pan , but freeform it on a baking sheet. The result is flavorful but not too dense and it does slice beautifully. I like to serve it up with some beef gravy, either mashed potaotes or baked and something green, peas, beans, salad etc.

    1. Handle the mix gently, and don't press it down in the pan.

      2 Replies
      1. re: KRS

        Tell me more about putting it into the ban. Do you mean, spoon it in, smooth it out *gently*? Or maybe spoon it in very lightly, then tap the pan a few times on the countertop to settle it (and remove big air pockets?) before baking?

        I assume that if I don't pack it down a little bit, it'll have some big air pockets.

        1. re: Howard_2

          I found that it is important to not over handle the meat- mix gently & as little as possible. Also, I now shape mine into a flattened loaf shape & place it in the center of a 9x13 pan, rather than in a meatloaf pan. Made it last night- again, supermoist! (but mine does have some breadcrumbs)

          Also, for turkey meatloaf you must use the 93/7 for it to not be dry.

      2. The purpose of the bread or oatmeal or other fillers is not just to hold moisture, but to make to make the whole thing lighter, instead of the brick o protein. I'm mostly familiar with this in terms of meatballs, where soaked (and squeezed) bread is key to lightness.
        The fat content of the meat has a lot to do with the moistness.
        The advice to not over-work is important. Just like not compacting burgers, you have to have a light touch in shaping it. But not so far as to spoon it into a pan and not touch it...

        If you dump it out of the mixing bowl and pat it into shape, you won't have air pockets.
        Air pockets??

        1 Reply
        1. re: pitu

          I agree strongly with the fat content being important. I make Ina Garten's meatloaf regularly and I've had bad luck with heavy texture when I buy ground turkey that is too lean.

        2. I was just thinking of making meatloaf... its been a while. My favorite uses oatmeal, plus I always use some raw onion to help add moisture. I handle gently (mix using my hands), and make a big oval patty and cook in a pan larger than the loaf (i.e. I don't use a bread pan).

          1. One trick I've used is to us finely minced raw mushrooms in place of breadcrumbs to lighten the loaf. Adds a nice flavor and keeps the loaf moist. Have also heard of people adding shredded vegetables like zucchini, carrots, etc. but I like the mushrooms contribute a flavor that I want present.