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Saltines as binder for delicious, back to basics meatloaf

I have tried all the complicated meatloaf versions - Paul Prudhomme's Cajun Meatloaf, Killer Meatloaf, Take No Prisoners Meatloaf, Pretty Good Meatloaf, Cooks Illustrated Meatloaf, and so forth. What all these meatloaves have in common is a long ingredient list which includes lots of different flavors and spicing, and most use breadcrumbs for the binder.

I wanted just the basics this time. No muss, no fuss, just a good, simple loaf like Mom used to make (or would have if there was room in the budget for veal). Last night I made the most delicious meatloaf I've had in years.

Using a pound each of ground beef and ground veal, I added about 3/4 of a sleeve of crushed saltine crackers, two beaten eggs, a can of Campbell's condensed tomato soup, one chopped onion, and salt and pepper. That's it. Combined well with my hands, then packed into a loaf pan to bake for an hour and a half (until internal temp reached just past 160 on my analog thermometer).

As an aside, it took me only a half hour from start to meatloaf in the oven to make this, including cleanup. Yaay! Sometimes simpler is better. I was really surprised how good and tasty my basic loaf was, despite the humble list of ingredients.

I've never used Saltine crackers or tomato soup before in meatloaf, and one (or maybe both) made this the fluffiest and most moist meatloaf ever. I'd guess the Saltines are responsible, but won't know unless I try it without the soup. Maybe try saltines as the binder in meatballs? Don't much like the texture that results from breadcrumbs, so why not?

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  1. I use Ritz, because I always have them on hand. Also a bit of oatmeal. When I started doing that, my meatloaf was finally to my liking.

    4 Replies
    1. re: coll

      Ritz crackers might add an interesting flavor, maybe I'll try those next time. I have used oatmeal as binder in the past, and found I don't care for the texture it yields in meatloaf.

      1. re: janniecooks

        I only use 1/4 cup of each, I like my meatloaf to taste like MEAT ;-)

      2. re: coll

        i love ritz crackers and just mentioned them over on the eggplant thread -- as an ingredient in eggplant-cheddar cheese casserole.

        1. re: alkapal

          They have a very buttery flavor. And always on hand for hubby, for crackers and cheese before dinner. That is the only cracker he will eat, so we are always overstocked. If we run out, it's like the end of the world!

      3. I like your creativity! It sort of fits my culinary philosophy which stated is "cook like a peasant, dine like royalty." I belong to the "What if...?" school of cooking specializing in "cuisine impromptu."

        1. Cook's Country had a meatloaf recipe that used what I think was a sleeve of Saltines to 2 lbs of meat. I don't recall the flavor profile that it had. I made it once. I too have returned to making simple meatloaf after a few goes with Prudhomme etc..

          1 Reply
          1. re: King of Northern Blvd

            CI also has a crab cake recipe that uses saltines and I like it.

            For meatloaf, I use whatever I have in the house, crackers, bread crumbs, bread, etc. Making meatloaf is a leftovers type meal for me so I wouldn't shop for special ingredients.

          2. The saltine crackers are the perfect substitute for dried bread crumbs. Both are essentially dried bread. The plus of using saltine crackers is they're seasoned with salt, which will add to the flavour of your dish.

            k.
            karyosmond.com

            6 Replies
            1. re: KaryOsmond

              Yeah, I dont really think its was the saltines as they are pretty interchangeable. It was probably the soup.

              Though I did find that the type of bread crumbs you use drastically changes the texture. Tried one meatloaf made with milk-soaked dried bread crumbs and one with milk-soaked fresh bread crumbs. And the ones using dried bread crumbs were noticeably rubbery. I make sure to use fresh bread crumbs because of this.

              In my meatloaf, I use equal parts freshly ground beef and sweet italian sausage (1lb each), a cup of freshly grated pecorino, 2 cups milk soaked bread crumbs and two eggs. Mix that all up, flatten into a rectangle over a mixture of flour and leftover breadcrumbs and fill with a layer of blanched veggies, a layer of cured meats like mortadella or prosciutto, and finally sliced sheep's milk cheese like cascio di roma. Roll it up. Place over a broiler pan filled with a cup of red wine or water, along with rosemary. Drizzled liberally with olive oil. Cook to 160-165 degrees internal. And reduce the pan drippings. Love this meatloaf and it looks beautiful when sliced. The meatloaf mixture is simple but the stuffing kicks it up a notch. And the great part is you can change it up. Sometimes I even add hard boiled eggs in it.

              1. re: GOJIRA

                Your complicated meatloaf is exactly what I wished to avoid, and exactly what mine is not. Go ahead and enjoy yours and I'll continue to enjoy my simple version!

                1. re: janniecooks

                  The actual meatloaf part is the simple. I was just suggesting that stuffing meatloaf makes it even better. Its a great way to hide veggies and tastes great. The meatloaf is only mixture of italian sausage, ground beef, eggs, grated pecorino romano, milk, and FRESH bread crumbs (dried may have been your problem). Nothing complicated about it. It actually seems I have the same number of ingredients as yours. Other than salt and pepper, yours has 6 ingredients, and mine has 6 ingredients.

                  I only make the pan sauce as some of us do not like tomato sauce or ketchup on our meatloaf put that is entirely optional. Some of my family actually prefers to have their meatloaf with ketchup.

                  1. re: GOJIRA

                    My grandmother always stuffed her meatloaf with two or three whole hard boiled eggs, it was a family favorite. My husband put a stop to that first time I made it for him, unfortunately ;-)

                    1. re: coll

                      For our Y2k meal (seems a lifetime ago), I made meatloaf w/ ground beef and Jimmie Dean sausages, and then stuffed w/ hard boiled eggs, topped w/ gravy. It was breakfast in dinner, in case the world didn't make the transition to the new century. ;-)

            2. Love it! I believe meatloaf is not a recipe kind of dish - you throw it together and adjust based on what you have on hand. I have used leftover crackers, like oyster crackers you always throw out after chili, goldfish crackers (small kids so these are everywhere in our house), panko crumbs, and old bread. The only filler I really don't like is rice. The we top with ketchup or tomato sauce or marinara or whatever is around. I like the variety!