Is there a secret to great meat loaf?

Is the secret to a good meat loaf in the meat? The filler? The similarity to the type your mom made? See more pictures of comfort foods.
Is the secret to a good meat loaf in the meat? The filler? The similarity to the type your mom made? See more pictures of comfort foods.

Wrap it in bacon, cover it in glaze or smother it in ketchup -- what's your secret to a great meat loaf? The answer, as it turns out, depends on the cook. Or maybe on how your mother made it. Meat loaf is a comfort food, and what one person thinks is great another won't. Blame it on your childhood. Whatever your mom made for you then is probably what you're trying to replicate today. We've collected popular tricks to baking a great meat loaf, and this list doesn't include fancy sauces or ingredients.



Word around the kitchen is that the only secret you need for a great meat loaf is the meat you use, usually a combination of ground beef and ground pork. Ground chuck is the beef of choice, as it has more fat and flavor to offer. Some cooks even add a little ground sausage to their ground beef and pork mixture to spice things up. Others will tell you that the trio of ground beef, pork and veal is the ultimate meat combination. And those looking for something a little healthier have been known to swap the beef for ground turkey.


Filler is what's used to bring all your ground meat and vegetables together. Everything you add to your meat loaf should have a finely chopped texture. Everything should be as small as possible -- carrots, celery, onions, garlic -- no one should get a mouthful of any one ingredient when noshing on your meat loaf. Use a minimal amount of bread crumbs (or cracker crumbs) and egg to bind everything together.


Many cooks will say you can't go wrong with ketchup or a ketchup-based sauce on your meat loaf. Others will argue that a brown sugar glaze is key to meat loaf perfection. The secret here is the sugar. A sugary glaze will caramelize on the top of the loaf as it bakes and give the meat a sweet and tangy flavor.


Bacon is a popular ingredient these days, paired with everything from scallops to vodka. Wrap it around your meat loaf (tuck the ends under the loaf) to add flavor and crispiness -- and also get the added bonus that the bacon will baste the meat as it bakes. Some cooks crisp the bacon with a quick trip under the broiler while others remove it before serving.

You can use the right combo of meats, the perfect filler and glaze but still end up with so-so meat loaf. What gives? It could be your technique. Work the mixture with your hands until the ingredients are combined and stop. Bake the loaf free form on a baking sheet, or try baking it a perforated loaf pan -- the perforations will keep it from stewing, which is hardly a recipe for great meat loaf. Serve with mashed potatoes and enjoy!


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Cooks Illustrated
  • "Alton Brown: Good Eats Meat loaf Recipe." Food Network.
  • Hopkins, Nancy Wall and Scott Peacock. "Meat loaf a hearty classic." The Arizona Republic. 2009.
  • "Meatloaf Recipe." Moms Who Think.
  • Vinciguerra, Thomas. "Great Meatloaf? And the winner is…" New York Times. 1996.