No complicated techniques here; just some easy to follow advice to make you a meatloaf master.
Fat is Your Friend
No matter which meats you decide to use, the right ratio of lean meat to fat is a critical factor in determining the texture and moisture of your meatloaf. An 80% meat to 20% fat ratio is the generally accepted formula. Some cooks use 30% fat, but there is a fine line between juicy and greasy. This is the reason most cooks choose ground chuck, since it has this ideal fat to meat proportion.
Vegetables are Your Other Friend
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By adding finely diced or pureed aromatic vegetables to your mixture, you are adding additional moisture into the meatloaf. Not only does this make your final product juicier, but it also adds lots of extra flavor.
How Much Filler is Killer?
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As you may have read in our "All About Meatloaf"
article, breadcrumbs were originally added to the meat out of necessity to stretch it. Some recipes from the 1930's actually called for a 50% ratio of breadcrumbs! Todays meatloaves contain much lower percentages, usually between of 15 and 25%.
Use a Digital Thermometer to Determine Doneness
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Cooking times for meatloaf just don't work. How does that cookbook know exactly how thick you shaped your loaf, or if your oven is properly calibrated? A thermometer takes away all those variables. Cook your meatloaf to an internal temperature of 155 to 160 degrees F., and you will be rewarded with a moist loaf every time.
Slow and Low is the Way to Go
Photo © Flickr user AMagill
Some recipes have you cooking your meatloaf at temperatures as high as 425 degrees F. I agree with noted food authority Alton Brown that the ideal oven temperature for a moist meatloaf is 325 degrees F. Too hot ovens will reduce the cooking time, but tend to dry out the meat.
Do Not Over Mix!This is a very common mistake that can really make for meatloaf with a tough, dry texture. Self control is the key; once the ingredients are mixed in, STOP! Remember, the meatloaf is going to be mixed more as it's shaped before baking.