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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.

            1. What are trying to accomplish by getting rid of the bread crumbs? Do you have a special dietary requirement?

              Pitu is right on the money.

              6 Replies
              1. re: Mawrter

                I'm going to be going on a very-reduced carb diet in a few weeks, so I plan to make a meat loaf (among other things).

                1. re: Howard_2

                  Well, it looks like you're getting a lot of other great suggestions. Especially Queen B's.

                  Don't know how this jives with your carb restrictions, but I've also had good luck with adding wheat germ and/or ground flax seed in lieu of bread crumbs. Fiberlicious!

                  1. re: Mawrter

                    Wow thanks Mawrter, never considered flax seed! Do you put the equivalent amount of flax seed in place of the bread crumbs or do you use less flax seed compared to the bread crumbs?

                    1. re: Rick

                      Honestly? I never measured it! I think your idea of using the same amount as you would of bread crumbs would be a good place to start. Or slightly less; see how it feels, and add more if necessary.

                      And IMO the flax seed addition is actually *good*. I don't consider it purgatory food. :-)

                      Just thinking more about Queen B's idea with the cooked spinach - I wonder if adding rehydrated raisins, pine nuts, and maybe a trace of vinegar would be good? Or is that just really weird?

                      1. re: Mawrter

                        Do you mean with the spinach? Or in a different meatloaf? I'm not a raisin person myself, but the pine nuts sound good.

                        I'm sitting here wondering how chunks of feta in meatloaf would be...hm...feta, meat, some middle eastern spices...

                        1. re: QueenB

                          Yeah, I meant with the spinach. I love spinach or other leafy greens with pine nuts and raisins, like: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...

                          Of course, whether or not that would be good in (instead of next to) meatloaf is a whole nother story!

                          Feta, meat, Middle Eatsern spices... that's starting to sound like it should be much smaller and on a stick! :-)

              2. To me, bread isn't really a filler it is a key component to soft meatloaf. But since you are abstaining, I would say make sure you use plenty of eggs. This may sound like much, but maybe four to a pound of meat.

                For fillers, sauteed mushrooms, onions, and carrots with a little garlic, pureed after sauteeing, are good. Fresh herbs will add a nice flavor also. In another post, I mentioned porcini powder as another source to give meatloaf a little extra flavor.

                1. Ok, carbs are out, but you can make the meatloaf tender and mellow by mixing ground pork or lamb, with the ground beef. About 1/3 pork, 2/3 beef will work, plus flavourings from the above suggestions.
                  When you assemble and bake it, keep the temp. low, 300F or less, and test for doneness with a probe. No more than 160F in the center, as it will rise when resting.

                  1. I am on lowcarb & I add crushed pork rinds to my meatloaf. I will try minced mushrooms instead.

                    Also, I do not bake my meatloaf in a loaf pan, we like the "crust" on the outside of the meatloaf so I bake it on a foil covered pizza pan. Paula Deen has a great hint for cooking a meatloaf- place 2 pieces of bread under the meatloaf, the bread soaks up all the fat. This is great for me as I like to use either regular ground beef or ground chuck for the flavor.

                    1. What about adding cooked drained spinach, mushrooms and/or hard boiled eggs?
                      Also, a healthy dose of freshly grated romano or parmesan cheese in place of the breadcrumbs helps lighten and hold it together while giving flavor.
                      Use some milk and water to help lighten your mixture as well.

                      Don't overmix.

                      I prefer to free-form my meatloaf on a sheet pan and then bake.

                      1. Here is our family favorite meatloaf. I've made it for twenty years. Hope you like it, too. I think a key ingredient is fresh sage.

                        TRADITIONAL MEATLOAF

                        1 1/2 lb ground beef
                        1/2 cup uncooked rolled oats
                        2 eggs, beaten
                        1/2 cup catsup
                        1 medium onion, finely chopped
                        1 1/2 tsp Worcestershire Sauce
                        1 tsp salt
                        fresh sage leaves, chopped

                        Mix all ingredients together with your hands to blend well. Bake in loaf pan at 350 degrees for one hour.

                        Great for meatloaf sandwiches the next day.

                        Serves 5-6.

                        1. Give this one a try. It doesn't meet the requirements you're going for, but it's really good.

                          http://www.eatsforone.com/?p=370 (Paul Prudhomme's Cajun Meatloaf)

                          1. My secrets to amazing meatloaf are sautéed carrots, celery and onions, some barbecue sauce, mushrooms, bacon over the top (add a little extra fat), and finally, the major secret, about 1/3 cup of cottage cheese to the loaf. The cottage cheese keeps it super moist, and gives it a lighter texture, in my opinion.

                            1. Is there some particular reason you don't want to use breadcrumb or similar items? Also, what is "tomato stuff" -- isn't ketchup in that category, or is that you don't like the taste

                              I do know you can make a meatloaf with a light brown gravy as a liquid -- and I do really like that flavor. Maybe that is more appealing to your taste.

                              Also, I do prefer lean meats, but then I add at least three eggs, ketchup (or gravy), sauteed onion and celery, and breadcrumb. However, I use a mixture of lean beef, veal and lean pork, and I have had to grind it myself since moving here. I think the three meat mixture is a much more flavorful and moist meatloaf.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: RGC1982

                                I believe the OP said that he needed to be on a very low-carb diet.