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Meatloaf-Free-Form Or Loaf Pan?

I made turkey meatloaf last night, and it was great! I had been making meatloaf free-form style and can't remember the last time I used my Pyrex loaf pan. But, I decided to use it last nigh to make stuffing it with cheese and spinach easier (I didn't feel like spreading and rolling it-messy!).
I took measures to ensure it stayed moist by adding half and half, ketchup and onions. Boy, did it stay moist! It got me thinking about whether making meatloaf free-form style allows not just the grease to flow away, but the juices and even flavor.
I'm sticking with the pan for a bit to test out my theory.

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  1. I like free form meatloaf -- more brown, tasty crust! If you use enough breadcrumbs, your meatloaf will stay juicy and flavorful as the breadcrumbs will absorb the juices/fat.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Norm Man

      +1 cause of the brown crusties :)

      1. re: Norm Man

        Another vote for free-form meatloaf and the tasty crust that forms.
        I use toasted oatmeal in my meatloaf.

      2. I don't like the loaf pan because it makes for gray meat loaf. I use a free form so I can paint my ketchup/worchester mixture on the loaf. It makes a brown, tasty exterior. Some people advocate adding brown sugar to the ketchup and worchester. I usually don't. I do add some chili powder to it.

        I have seen people use a BBQ sauce the same way.

        I use a panade (white bread crumbs soaked in milk), which keeps the meatloaf both moist and tender.

        1. If you don't want to use a breadcrumb mixture, minced mushrooms (use a food processor!) makes incredibly moist meatloaf. I use a free form recipe from epicurious that has a mixture of onions, carrots and mushrooms, and it stays moist even for reheated leftovers.

          4 Replies
          1. re: TorontoJo

            I add sauteed onions and red bell peppers. I learned it from Alton Brown.

            On the recommendation of a friend, I added box grated potato to the loaf and that was very moist.

            I don't usually though. My meat loaf is never dry and is very popular in my household.

            1. re: Hank Hanover

              I put some ketchup into my mix, and blended it with onions and red and green bell peppers. And a clove of garlic too.
              Amazing flavor and moisture.

              1. re: monavano

                I used to put ketchup in mine but with the left over milk from the panade, some worchestershire and the egg, I found myself having to control how much liquid I used. I do add some spices and what not. I usually have garlic too. Have you found that you have to at least sweat your onions and peppers? I do or they won't get soft.

                I use a temperature probe set on about 160 - 165.

                1. re: Hank Hanover

                  Sounds like you are not dicing the onion and pepper finely enough. I don't precook the vegetables in mine with the exception of the cabbage (unless using coleslaw). They are plenty soft by the time the meatloaf, patties, or meatballs are done.

                  But sweating the vegetables WOULD decrease the liquid in the mix so would be useful if someone has problems with it being too loose/wet.

          2. One of my kitchen boxes didn't make it through a move, so for the last eight years, it's been free form. At first it was simply that my loaf pan was MIA, but I continued to use this method not only for all of the reasons listed above, but also to ensure that I can add whatever I want to it without worrying if I'm going to run out of room in my pan. (Um, we really like meatloaf.) My meatloaves tend to be so substantial that I actually made two smaller ones last time, to better control the cooking time. I do baste it a fair amount. I've never made a dry meatloaf.

            But now I am curious. Maybe next time the temperature drops below sweltering, I'll do a side by side.

            1. I like the loaf pan as my family has always liked the country gravy I make for the meatloaf and mashed potatoes. Never did like the ketchup versions. Just a personal preference.