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How can I fix this meatloaf?

 
gardener
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Hi All,
Question 1: How can I fix the fact that the meatloaf is pasty?
Question 2: How can I get a bit of a crust on the outside/bottom?

Details:
I am trying to match my soon-to-be-ex-wife's meatloaf recipe for myself and my kids. She won't give me the recipe.

I've been able to match the flavor fairly closely from experimenting and remembering how she made it, but I'm stuck on two areas. First is the texture. While it wasn't like a straight hamburger for texture, it did have some texture. Mine is pasty and mushy. Second is that her meatloaf had a good crust on the bottom and a bit on the top. I can't seem to get that crusty outside. I've included the recipe below. Any good cooks have any ideas?

Recipe:
2lb of 80/20 ground beef
1 cup of panko breadcrumbs
half of a grated small or medium onion (the one's I've used were maybe 2.5 inches across)
2 eggs
some black pepper

that is all thrown into a bowl and mixed with my hands.

Then I take some ketchup with a dash of apple cider vinegar and brush that on top before cooking as a glaze.

I make actual loaf shapes and put them on a sheet pan. They are about the size of my hand making a "C" shape. So I would estimate maybe 2.5" high and 4-5" wide and however long for however much I mixed up.

**Edit - I forgot to mention I cook it at 350F for however long it needs to get to 165... probably 30-40 minutes.
 
master gardener
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I am not a GREAT cook, but I know a few good ones.

For the texture, make sure you are not overworking the meat when you mix/form. Overworking the mixture can give it issue with the texture in my experience.

To get a crust, I tend to hit my meatloaf with the broiler near the last 5-10 minutes and just by eye.

I'm sure there is a better way, I'll be curious to see what people suggest!
 
Matt McSpadden
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Thanks Timothy. I do tend to mix by squeezing the mixture through my fingers. Perhaps I need more of a rotating and pulling apart sort of technique for mixing.

Also, what temp do you cook it at?
 
pollinator
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I never really understood "overmixing" but yeah, squeezing the stuff through your fingers sounds wrong to me. I fold in from the sides (so, not "pulling apart" exactly, it's really "bringing and folding"), squish down like I'm kneading dough, then rotate 90 degrees and repeat until everything looks evenly mixed. I've never counted but I'll bet I go through 2-3 full rotations, maybe as many as 5, probably not more than that.

I would personally only use 1 egg for 2 pounds of meat.

I will say, your recipe seems pretty bland. Have you tried mixing in salt, paprika, garlic, MOAR black pepper, a pinch of sage, other herbs? Woosterchestershersterchire sauce? I'll even mix in a big squirt of ketchup or barbecue sauce. And add in a lil bacon fat if you've got it. A finely diced bell pepper or slightly underripe tomato is pretty clutch too.

Your glaze sounds fine.

As for the crust, I use animal fat to line the baking dish. I like the idea of hitting it with the broiler but that would only get the top.

Another great trick with meat loaf is to not eat it the first day, but the second day cut thin slices (easy when it's cold) and pan saute them.
 
Matt McSpadden
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Hi Ned,
Based on your description, I am mixing way too much.

I tend to like my food fairly bland :), but I may add some thyme or garlic for an additional layer of flavor. I have seen lots of those same thing you suggested in online recipes. I did add bacon fat one time, but I didn't this last time because I worried that was what was making it mushy.

And I absolutely LOVE taking leftover meatloaf, slicing thin, and cooking it with bacon grease in a skillet. Then either eating it straight up or putting in on some bread with cheese.
 
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My wife always uses oats, instead of breadcrumbs, and they help keep it from being mushy, I would also suggest more spices and salt, we mix in prepared yellow mustard with the ketchup, and Worcestershire sauce, all mixed in.
 
master steward
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To add some spiciness look at the spices that Alton Brown uses in his meatloaf:

https://permies.com/t/152554/Dinner-Meatloaf

I agree about too much mixing and too much egg.
 
Matt McSpadden
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Hi All,
Thank you for your suggestions. I just made another batch yesterday. I used 1 egg per 2lb, as well as more of a "pull apart and turn upside down" style of mixing. The texture was SOOOOO much better. Thanks.

Unfortunately I misread the hamburger. I thought I was buying 3.99lb for $3.59 per pound.... I was actually buying 3.59lb for $3.99 per pound. So some of my amounts were off. Here is what I tried except I was about a half pound short on hamburger. (I was still out of parsley and thyme, or I might have tried those).

2 cup panko bread crumbs
2 egg
1/2 to 1/3 of an onion
2 tsp of black pepper
2 tsp of course salt
1 tsp garlic powder
3.59lb hamburger

gently mixed together, formed into loaves, and covered the top with a ketchup/apple cider vinegar glaze. I cooked it at 375F until the meatloaf got to around 170ish. Way better texture, a bit too much pepper... and I still couldn't get a good crust. I may try cooking at 400F next.
 
Timothy Norton
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I love a good meatloaf redemption story. One step closer to perfecting it!
 
Anne Miller
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I have been cooking meatloaf for many years and have never had a crusty top so I asked Mr. Google who knows everything:

Take the meatloaf out of the oven and add a layer of Parmesan cheese to the top of the meatloaf, entirely covering the ketchup. Turn the oven to broil on high and cook for an additional five minutes. The addition of the Parmesan cheese to the ketchup hardens the top of meatloaf, creating a crispy crust.



Under tips it mentions an alternative method:

Rather than broil as in step 5, turn the oven up to 500 degrees and bake uncovered for an additional five minutes. This makes a tasty meatloaf crust.



https://www.ehow.com/how_8145643_harden-top-meatloaf.html
 
Matt McSpadden
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I might try up at 500. I tried broiling the last 10 minutes or so on 400... I forgot to mention that. Still didn't get a crust.
 
Timothy Norton
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I'll have to try and pry the secrets from my mother in law. I believe that she adds a ketchupy barbaque saucy sauce on top of the meatloaf. I think the sugars might help create a crust. I'll mention it the next time I see her and get her thoughts.
 
pollinator
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It seems like you are getting close. I have found that adding onion soup mix is one thing that really makes meatloaf taste "right" for us.
I've done the loaves and burgers with all sorts of fresh and homemade ingredients and there is still something about the onion soup mix. I know part of it is simply familiarity, it was used by so many people from the 50's onward that it is often grannies "secret" recipe. I think it helps with the texture a bit too. We keep some of the crunchy fried onions on hand too and they add to the top crust when sprinkled on.
 
rocket scientist
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Howdy Matt… its difficult to guess at how your soon-to-be-ex achieved a crust on the meatloaf but you need to exercise care with trying higher heat in the oven so you don’t dry out the loaf.

There is a totally different approach that will yield a reliable crust every time but involves a bit more hands-on with the cook and involves using a hot grill for the final sear. Actually, the full cook as we do it uses a 2 zone grilling method, also called the reverse sear which is the best way to cook almost any grilled meats. The first part of the cook is done on the indirect side of a grill or in a smoker that (for meatloaf) is running at about 300-325 degrees and requires you to keep a temperature probe in the meet so you know when the internal temp reaches 150 degrees. Then move it to the direct hot grill and carefully roll it every so often until the temp raises to 160. It will have a beautiful and flavorful crust. We use a charcoal smoker and apply some smoke flavor, usually apple wood, during the low and slow part of the cook. But almost any grill, charcoal or gas, can be set up for 2 zone cooking. As with cooking all meats perfectly and reliably, it is critical to know your temperatures at all times.

A few other things that we do is grind our meat from chuck that is roughly 80/20. The fresh grind will always be superior for burgers or loafs. Depending on our mood we may make the meat mix 50/50 with pork or venison. Then we always dice up about ½ lb of bacon into the mix. As you already know, be gentle on how much you work the mix. We shape the loaf into a log and then wrap it in plastic wrap and back into the fridge for at least a few hours. This helps the loaf to keep its shape and the flavors to marry. Speaking of flavors, don’t be afraid to put whatever you like in… fresh onion & bell pepper, we add diced sun dried tomatoes, a teaspoon of hot sauce, dijon mustard, and all of the usual suspects of dried spices.

Footnote... I did not invent this method or recipe. For all things grilled meat-wise my go to is www.AmazingRibs.com. Tons of knowledge to be gained from this site if you enjoy grilling and smoking.
 
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Three words - Cast Iron and Fat

The way restaurants get a sear on their steaks is to slightly undercook the meat, maybe 10* lower than desired at the finish, then transfer meat onto a very hot preheated cast iron pan with a good layer of high smoke point fat, like bacon grease, and stick that in the broiler oven to finish. You may need one pan per loaf to keep from bringing down the temp of the pan too much.

Alternatively if you don't want to transfer, put a cast iron pan in the oven to preheat while you're mixing and add a Tablespoon or two of fat before plopping on your loaf and cooking to slightly under. Then pull it, readjust your oven to the higher temp (I generally do 425*), and put it all back in to get the final crust.

Just keep an eye on it; you want a crispy layer of fried meat, not burned. Cast iron is great at holding heat so don't leave your meat on it too much longer than it takes to cook or you may dry out the meat.

It may not be the way she does it, but it's how I make my gyro meat and that works for us. Good luck!
 
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I have been digging the Spicy Meat Loaf recipe on pg 356 of the Nourishing Traditions cookbook. This thing is beast: tender, crusty on the outside and very substantial. I spread an entire can of tomato paste on top instead of the recommended 4 Tbsp because it's nice not to have to store a few T's of t. paste somewhere. Pour a cup of water in the baking pan before baking for 1.5 hours!  Leftovers are slices fried in butter and served with fried eggs on top in the morning, or made into cold meat loaf sandwiches with tomatoes, lettuce, tons of mayo on homemade bread, if possible. Seriously to die for! We are trying to eat more traditional diets with lots of meat (head to tail), full fat dairy, fish, eggs,  cooked veggies, unadulterated grains/flours and all forms of potatoes.....and happily dessert is often on the table, too! Desserts made with milk, eggs, butter and often fruits. Evidently sugar is not toxic when cooked up in a buttery dessert at home, no twinkies allowed. I do not miss a twinkie when I am enjoying old fashioned yellow cake with chocolate icing.....loaded with butter, milk and sour cream. These grand people knew what they were doing! No snacking between meals or you'll spoil your dinner, remember that?  Honestly, I do not mind waiting.
.

Damn good eating like my grandparents and great-grandparents +++++ enjoyed. Anyone else focused on real food and not cutting out stuff like grains, sugar....etc?.
 
Matt McSpadden
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Hi Tammy,
Care to share the recipe?

I have settled on a meatloaf recipe that I and the kids enjoy, but its definitely still missing the crust. In an effort to cut down on the amount of sugar, I do not add ketchup to the mixture, only as a topping. I suspect that extra sugar might have something to do with the crust.
 
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The only thing I do different with my meatloaf is to crush saltine crackers into the hamburger, instead of the panko.
 
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So many different ways of making meatloaf. Wow!
If I could add my 2 cents... here it goes;
#1. I use a baking pan like this (see photo).
#2. Ground beef (1 or 2 lb.) mixed by hand with such ingredients as:
small handfuls of:
dehydrated onions (or freshly diced), dehydrated mixed bell/shepherd (or fresh) peppers, dehydrated powdered tomato skins, or dehydrated diced tomatoes (variety differ from yellow, red, cherry,  big or small. Who cares! LOL),  dehydrated powdered or fresh celery, dehydrated broccoli or fresh, dehydrated zucchini powder or fresh, dehydrated garlic powder or 3 cloves fresh but using zesting tool, dehydrated ( finger crushed) or fresh green  parsley tops. 1 whole egg, some bread crumbs (I dislike Panco-too salty, and make my own from left over breads/buns), about 1 Tbs dehydrated (finger crushed) or fresh lovage. 1 tsp each of salt & pepper.
Mixing all very well, then thrown into a bowl hard, few times to eliminate air. Almost resembling  pate like consistency.
Pack all this into a baking pan, smoothing the very top with little plain water and spatula (this way I eliminate any cracks or unevenness. The water will evaporate anyway, so it doesn't matter)
I bake it in the middle of electric oven at 350F for 50 minutes. Then I take it out of the oven, and spread the top (using spoon/spatula/brush) with prepared mixture (or glaze) of :
1/4 cup ketchup
2 Tbs brown sugar
1 Tbs red wine vinegar
squirt of Dijon mustard (optional)

Place it back in the oven at 350 F for additional 10 minutes.
If the oven burns the meat before applying the glaze, brush the glaze anyway, and place aluminum foil over the pan (don't need to tuck it tightly. Just at the ends of the baking pan).
Optional:
use/omit  vegetables/powders whichever you like (my "ugly half is picky but too bad. I mix all kinds of stuff he, or son and a dog don't even know but eat it anyway LOL)

On a different note about "fixing ready made and baked meatloaf", I would say this:
break it into chunks. Separately make gravy. When gravy is ready , add  meatloaf chunks . Keep it warm. Serve with mashed potatoes or make quick Shepperd's pie casserole.
Have fun. Be brave.  LOL



 
Ela La Salle
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meatloaf pan drains the excess fat, makes nice crust
meatloaf-2-piece-baking-pan.jpg
[Thumbnail for meatloaf-2-piece-baking-pan.jpg]
 
pollinator
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I've never had mushy meatloaf (except once in my early cooking days when I pulverized some thick oats practically into a powder instead of just processing them lightly!) and I mix mine by hand and don't worry about overmixing it.  I also use oats instead of bread crumbs, like my Mom did, although i have on occasion substituted breadcrumbs when out of oats.  i prefer the texture with quick-cooking oats.    

Instead of fresh onion, I use the dried minced onion bits.  I use full fat ground beef most of the time.  I grease a glass loaf pan (butter, olive oil, avocado oil spray, or bacon fat,) and put NOTHING on top of the loaf.  The ketchup gets mixed in to the ground beef before cooking just like the egg, oats, parsley, onion bits, salt and pepper, and garlic powder.  Sometimes a little nama shoyu (or soy or worcestershire sauce) and/or a few drops of liquid smoke.  The top gets nicely crusty although the bottom does not.  It is not mushy though.   It's moist yet firmish, and allows the flavor of the beef to be the star, enhanced by the seasonings' flavors rather than overpowered by too many spices.  

Now I feel like going and making one!  What a yummy thread this is!
 
Matt McSpadden
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I figured I would post my latest recipe and some pictures... but I kinda messed it up.

2 cups panko breadcrumbs
1/2 to 1/3 of a fresh onion grated (depends on the size of the onion)
2 tsp black pepper
2 tsp course salt
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp dried parsley
1 tsp dried thyme
2 eggs
4lb ground beef

mix all the dry ingredients together
mix in the onions and eggs
mix in the beef
shape into loafs
cover in ketchup/apple cider vinegar mixture
cook at 350 for about 28 minutes (until 165F)

Issue 1 - I forgot to add the eggs until the end, so the texture was a tad different.
Issue 2 - I got some grass fed beef this time from a natural grocery store, but it did not label the fat content, and I don't think it was 80/20 like I like
Issue 3 - I was almost out of ketchup, so the slathering on of the topping was more like a sprinkling.
20240416_052800.jpg
dry ingredients plus onions
dry ingredients plus onions
20240416_053004.jpg
dry ingredients mixed
dry ingredients mixed
20240416_054016.jpg
add ground beef
add ground beef
20240416_062138.jpg
cooked
cooked
 
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