Meatloaf gets a bad rap sometimes, but it’s not the meatloaf’s fault. Not at all. A well-constructed meatloaf is a wonderful thing – flavorful, economical, and filling. The fault lies with the millions of meatloaf makers out there who have no idea what they are doing. If you find yourself wondering why your family and friends turn all shades of green while trying to force down chunks of your meatloaf, then you fall into this category. If your guests squirt globs of ketchup on top of your meatloaf larger than the portion itself, it’s not because they love ketchup. It’s because they’re trying to cover up the taste of your terrible meatloaf.
I intend no disrespect, because no sane person would intentionally serve a terrible meatloaf, but we must confront harsh truths in order to correct this problem. Sadly, there’s a lot of terrible meatloaf out there. It’s an epidemic-level problem at meat-‘n-three diners and church potlucks. We all know it, even if we don’t want to admit it. Whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, we can all agree that the era of terrible meatloaf must come to an end. Why this isn’t a campaign issue I will never know. It’s never too late to change, and I am here to help.
So, what is the problem? Unfortunately, many cooks approach the meatloaf-making process as if they are forging a brick in a kiln. All you have to do is compress the meat mixture until it’s as dense as, well, a brick, cook it to death until it’s just as hard, and voila – meatloaf! Not so fast. You have not created a meatloaf. Rather, you have created an impenetrable lump of awfulness that is structurally suitable for commercial construction. The zombies on The Walking Dead wouldn’t touch it. We can do better.
Luckily, I come from a long line of excellent meatloaf makers, so I know whereof I speak. I know how to make meatloaf that is not terrible, and in this essay I humbly convey my knowledge to you. You’re welcome. If you find yourself drifting in the doldrums of meatloaf terribleness, then consider this essay a welcome wind to your sails to set you on course for the land of meatloaf awesomeness. Also, you’re welcome for the creative meatloaf metaphor you just read. You won’t get that in most meatloaf essays.
The ingredient list is short and the process is uncomplicated.
1 pound lean ground beef. 90% lean beef is very important unless you want your meatloaf swimming in melted fat at the end of the cooking process. I certainly don’t.
½ cup chopped white onion. I have said this in previous essays, but don’t use a sweet onion here. They have no flavor at the end of a long cooking process.
½ cup chopped green bell pepper. Professional chefs scoff at the notion of using green bell peppers because they say red and yellow ones are sweeter and have an overall better flavor. They may be right, but a true Southern meatloaf uses a green one, and we are stubborn.
1 egg, beaten. Always use a good egg. I prefer Egg-Land’s Best Cage Free.
1 cup boxed (or canned) diced tomatoes. I’ll say it again: Pomi brand.
½ cup Old-Fashioned Quaker Oats. Some people use breadcrumbs or torn pieces of white bread, but I have found that oats work best as the binder/filler.
1/3 cup Heinz ketchup. Not Hunts. This is a personal preference, but it is a strong one.
2 TBSP Domino dark brown sugar.
1 TBSP Inglehoffer Original Stone Ground Mustard.
1. Heat oven to 375°.
2. Mix all ingredients in a bowl by hand until just mixed. The mixture should be very loose. Do not compress the mixture or mix too much, or you will create the aforementioned highly undesirable but all-too-common meatloaf brick.
3. Put meatloaf mixture in a sprayed glass 9×13 pan and shape into a loaf. Make the top of the loaf flat.
4. Mix topping ingredients together and spoon on top. If you made the top of the loaf flat, as I said, then the topping won’t run off during the cooking process.
5. Bake for 1 hour.
6. Take out of oven and eat. Congratulations. You have just created a meatloaf that is not terrible.I like meatloaf served with boiled potatoes, green beans, and perhaps a side salad. And, as all Southerners will attest, nothing goes better with meatloaf than a pan of hot cornbread (see previous article “Pass the Cornbread” for instructions). Enjoy.