For years, every time my mother made meatloaf, her favorite comfort food, I would stand by her side and write down each step she took to make it.
The problem for this recipe writer was she made it differently every time. Like for many experienced home cooks, Mom would grab various amounts of ketchup, mustard, eggs, and meat from the fridge, random amounts of stale bread from the bread bowl, a package of Lipton Onion Soup Mix and a heaping tablespoon of brown sugar from the cupboard. She would mix the ingredients together, add liquid until it felt right, and bake it for an hour in the oven. It consistently came out moist and delicious.
She used a package of soup mix for her seasoning because she needed a reliable way to know the salt and spice amounts were correct without taste-testing it beforehand. The brown sugar balanced out the spiciness from the mustards.
Many years later, when I started cooking dinner at The Nashville Food Project, I reworked the recipe to feed 50 people. That number grew to 100, and then to 150. You can find the scaled-up recipe by clicking on this link: Cook for a Crowd.
When we make meatloaf at The Nashville Food Project, we figure 25 servings per hotel pan. For 100 servings we portion out 24 pounds of meat and 24 cups of breadcrumbs between four pans and then add the rest of the ingredients.
A few words about ingredients…
“Meatloaf Mix” is a pre-packaged mixture of beef, veal, and pork. I use it to make meatballs, too. For the moistest meatloaf, be sure to use meat that has 15% fat, any leaner will cause meatloaf to be dry. The meatloaf mix I use comes from Doris’s Italian Meat and Bakery in Florida.
I use a range of 2-3 pounds of meat without changing the other amounts of ingredients in this recipe. I always use 1 egg per pound of meat, so if the package of meat weighs over 2.5 pounds, I would go up to 3 large eggs.
To make bread cubes or crumbs
Cut a stack of five slices of bread into small cubes to yield 2 cups of bread. Or, make breadcrumbs by pulsing stale bread in the food processor. Freeze extras to use later.
Yield: 8 servings (¼ pound per serving)
2-3 pounds ground sirloin. If you can find it, use a Meatloaf Mix,
2 cups cubed bread (from about 5-6 slices)
2 large eggs (or 1 egg per pound of meat)
¾ cup milk or water
1 envelope onion soup mix
¾ cup ketchup
2 tablespoons mustard (try Dijon or spicy brown)
2 tablespoons brown sugar
Preheat oven to 350º.
Mix eggs, milk, soup mix, ketchup, mustard, and brown sugar in a large mixing bowl.
Add meat and bread crumbs and mix slowly for about 15 seconds. I use a mixer because I don’t like to get my hands greasy from the cold meat.
The less you handle meat, the more tender your meatloaf will be. It should look like this when it is sufficiently mixed.
If using 2 pounds of meat, cook in a large loaf pan or an 8-inch square pan. If using 3 pounds, place in a larger pan. Top lightly with ketchup. [I skip this step now.] Bake at 350º for 50-60 minutes.
The USDA recommends all ground beef, lamb, pork, and veal mixtures be cooked to 160º, and ground turkey or chicken to 165º. For meatloaf, you can take the meat out of the oven when the meat thermometer says 155º and rely on carryover heat to finish cooking it.
Heat Transfer, aka “carryover heat”, aka “allow meat to rest” — what do all these terms mean?
While meat is cooking in an oven, the meat’s surface temperature is hotter than its interior temperature. When the meatloaf comes out of the oven, a meat thermometer showed an interior meat temperature of 168º. We can assume the meat’s surface temperature was the same as the oven’s, which was 350º. The room temperature was 70º. According to the laws of heat transfer, when meat is taken out of an oven, its surface heat (350º) has to go somewhere to equilibrate with the temperature of the atmosphere (70º). Some of that heat will go into the room, and the rest will transfer into the interior of the meat, causing its internal temperature to rise slightly. In this case, the temperature rose from 168º to 176º in five minutes. That was an eight-degree difference. Not too noticeable in meatloaf, but the difference between medium and rare in a resting steak.
Yummy, traditional SIDES!!
If you are going to make a meatloaf, you are going to need some sides. These are kid-friendly.
Kids’ Favorite Sautéed Carrots
Roasted and Mashed Cauliflower
Blanched String Beans with Vinaigrette
Roasted Rosemary Sweet Potatoes
More comfort food:
Yummy Shepherd’s Pie
Sheet Pan Supper: Chicken, Artichoke, and Lemon
Sheet Pan Supper: Italian Sausage, Peppers, Onions, and Potatoes
50 Ways to Make a Frittata
Fresh Marinara Sauce with Pasta and Mozzarella
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29 thoughts on “Judy’s Mom’s Meatloaf”
Sounds somewhat like the meatloaf I make but I don’t use the brown sugar. I will from now on. It sounds wonderful that way. I remember how my grandmother Vullo would save all the old bread in a brown paper bag and my Aunt Jean and I would use a grinder she had (not electic in those days) and grind it all. Doesn’t cooking somehow bring back our childhood memories.
I agree, Paula. We are probably pretty similar about cooking in the kitchen- never alone because there are the memories of so many wonderful cooks in our family that hang out there with us! At the Food Project, we get lots of bread donated and use it make crumbs, croutons and lots of bread pudding for dessert. Now that you’ve written about the grinder, I’m remembering seeing one in my grandmother’s kitchen, too. Thanks for writing! PS Although I bought the cauliflower, I didn’t get around to making your amazing fried cauliflower recipe. Maybe for New Year’s.
You are fabulous to share this, Judy! I’ve been making my MIL’s recipe for years. She used Saltines instead of bread crumbs.
Thanks! You’re so sweet Jenn-i-fer!! I’ve never tried meatloaf with saltines. Do you like it? Some people make it with oats, too, and I’ve never tried that either. Just goes to prove their are a million ways to make a good meatloaf. Thanks for writing!
This is beautifully told. I love the way you combine culinary and scientific knowledge with nostalgia and social awareness. Another winner!
Aww, you are so good to write that. Hadn’t looked at the post that way. I figure whatever I try to understand better, others might be curious about, too. Thankfully, my husband still remembers all the concepts he learned in physics and can help explain things like thermal dynamics to me. Thanks, friend!
I know what a great cook your mom was so looks like I’ll be trying this receipe. The brown sugar had me convinced! xoNancy
Thanks, Nancy. I’ve actually put the meatloaf into two loaf pans — one to freeze for later (uncooked) and one to cook for dinner. You know all about Mom’s good cooking, that is for sure! xoxo
Greetings – I am visiting by way of the Mason-Dixon duo, and after skimming a few food posts I thought of the basketball-sized cabbage I bought a couple of days ago…aha! Searched your blog for “cabbage” and landed on your Mom’s meatloaf (not literally). By the time I realized the cabbage was not going to appear IN a meatloaf, I was so interested in the meatloaf story it didn’t matter anymore. Love your community projects, your approach to food in general and (at the moment) meatloaf in particular. And I’ve already learned something! That internal temperature thing was a revelation. I tend to err on the side of over-caution. I also tend to overcook meat in the oven and never knew why til now. Thanks! This has been a GREAT first visit to a blog. I’ll add you to my feedly reader today 🙂
I’m so flattered. Thank you. It was a revelation for me, as well. Thankfully, my physics major husband is always around to explain things like this for me. BTW, Ann Shayne cooks with me at the Food Project! We have lots of fun in the kitchen. As you know from reading MDK, she is a laugh a minute.
This is one of THE BEST meat loaf recipes ever. There were a few ingredients that I did not have on hand so I made some substitutes. First, I did not have an onion soup mix packet, so I googled making my own and used the allrecipes.com recipe (2 1/2 minced onion, 1 tsp onion powder, 1/8 tsp salt, 1/8 tsp pepper and it also calls for 4 crushed beef bouillon cubes…except I didn’t have beef bouillon, so I left that out. On the meat, I mixed organic, lean ground beef and bison – I got those from Costco. And I did not have milk, so I used 1/2 cup of heavy cream with 1/4 water added. And YAY I did not overcook it, which means it was really, really moist and savory. Thank you Judy for sharing this recipe. I made enough to freeze.
Beth, I’m so glad you and your family enjoyed this! This is one of those recipes you can divide into two loaf pans and put one uncooked loaf in the freezer to enjoy later. Thanks for mentioning that. Special thanks for looking up an alternative for the prepackaged onion soup mix, too! That will come in handy at The Nashville Food Project where we make this recipe frequently. Thanks for making so many of the recipes on the blog. It always makes me feel good when you tell me about what you make. Judy