For years, every time my mother made meatloaf, I would stand by her side and write down every step she took to prepare it; I was obsessed. Her meatloaf was so good it didn’t matter how much she made, it always disappeared. The problem for me was she made it differently every time; she just threw things in that seemed good at the moment. In the end, I averaged out her ingredients and amounts and eventually came up with something I liked. I learned that short of overcooking and using meat which is too lean, it’s hard to ruin meatloaf, and maybe that’s why most people have such fond memories of their mother’s recipe. Another tip that made my mother’s meatloaf delicious was her special ingredient: brown sugar; not too much, just two tablespoons. When you are raising seven children, you know what it takes to get kids to eat dinner.After experiencing some meatloaf success in my own home, I started making meatloaf for friends who needed a little TLC. I figured if it was my mother’s favorite comfort food, maybe it would be the same for others. Later, I started tripling the recipe to serve to the homeless men who were served by volunteers at our church’s one night a week winter housing program called Room in the Inn. The first time I prepared meatloaf for the men, many of them said, “this taste just like my momma’s.” That will make you sign up to cook more meatloaf! The twelve men would finish off nine pounds of meat in just one evening.
A few years later, when I started cooking some of the Tuesday night dinners for The Nashville Food Project, I reworked the recipe to feed 50, then 100, and now sometimes 150 people per night. You can find the reworked meatloaf recipe and many others that our volunteer TNFP chefs use, by clicking the Cook for a Crowd button on the TNFP homepage. Take a look at their Mission Statement while you are on their homepage: “Bringing people together to grow, cook and share nourishing food, with the goals of cultivating community and alleviating hunger in our city.”
Yield: 8 -12 servings (figure 1/4 pound per serving)
Approximately 2- 2.5 pounds ground meat (each package is 1.3 pounds)
2 cups plain breadcrumbs, (to make your own, see below)
3 eggs (1 egg/pound of meat)
3/4 cup milk or water
1 envelope onion soup mix
3/4 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons mustard (try a mixture of Dijon, honey mustard, or spicy brown)
2 tablespoons brown sugar
“Meatloaf Mix’ is a pre-packaged mixture of beef, veal, and pork. I use this same meatloaf mixture when I make meatballs. For the moistest meatloaf, you’ll want to be sure to use meat that is at least 15% fat, any leaner than that will cause the loaf to be dry. Sometimes, at The Nashville Food Project, we use a mixture of beef and venison, the venison is donated by hunters through a fabulous program called Hunters for the Hungry.
Mise en Place:
How to Make Your Own Plain Bread Crumbs:
Cut a stack of five slices of crusty bread (soft sandwich bread will work) into small cubes to yield 2 cups of bread cubes.
Or, practice making your own bread crumbs using leftover crusty bread that is beginning to go stale.
Break bread into chunks and put into a food processor.
Pulse the bread in the food processor until it looks like this:
Label and store in a bag in the freezer.
Making the Meatloaf:
Preheat oven to 350º.
Mix together eggs, milk, soup mix, ketchup, mustard, and brown sugar. I do this with a mixer, but you could do it in a large mixing bowl with a whisk, just as well. The eggs act as a binder and I always use one egg per pound of meat. For the 2.7 pounds of meatloaf mix, I use 3 eggs.
Mix on medium-slow speed for about 30 seconds.
Add meat and bread crumbs and mix slowly for about 15 seconds. Again, you do not need to use a mixer, but I do so because I don’t like to get my hands all greasy from the meat.
The less you handle the meat the more tender your meatloaf will be. It should look like this when done:
Place mixture in a 9″ by 13″ pan and top lightly with ketchup, if desired.
Bake at 350º for 50-60 minutes. I use a meat thermometer to check for doneness. I’ve had a lot more success getting perfectly cooked and moist meatloaf since I started using a thermometer. The USDA recommends that all ground beef, lamb, pork and veal mixtures be cooked to 160º and ground turkey and chicken mixtures, to 165º. For meatloaf, you could take the meat out of the oven when the meat thermometer says 155º.
As soon as I take the meatloaf out of the oven, I pour off the fat from the top. I don’t get rid of all the drippings because some of that is juice and I want it to be reabsorbed into the meatloaf as the meat rests.
Heat Transfer 101:
I took the meatloaf out of the oven at 6:36 and the internal temperature was 168º.
At 6:41, the internal temperature was 176º
This eight-degree heat increase happened because of the rules of heat transfer. The temperature on the surface of the meat was the same as the inside of the oven when I first removed the meatloaf from the oven — they were both 350º. The room air temperature was 70º. When I took the meatloaf out of the oven, the heat on the surface of the meat had to go somewhere in order for the meat temperature to equilibrate with the room temperature. Some of that heat went into the room and some went into the center of the meatloaf that was only 168º when the meatloaf first came out of the oven but rose to 176º within five minutes.
Cooking for a Crowd at The Nashville Food Project:
When we make meatloaf at The Nashville Food Project, we figure 25 servings per each “hotel” pan. So, for 100 servings we’ll portion out 24 pounds of meat and 24 cups of bread crumbs between the four hotel pans.
Next, in a separate, very large stainless steel mixing bowl, we’ll mix together the eggs and milk, and add the soup mix, brown sugar, ketchup, and mustard. Next we’ll use a 4 cup liquid measure to portion out the ketchup/egg “goop” between the four pans of meat and bread crumbs. Wearing gloves, we then mix together the meat, breadcrumbs, and goop. We bake the meatloaf for approximately one hour at 350º on convection roast. We use a meat thermometer to test for doneness. We take it out at 155º knowing it will heat up to at least 160º as it rests on the counter.
This meal consists of (clockwise): meatloaf, string beans and potatoes, bread pudding with peaches for dessert, tomato basil salad, and sautéed cabbage. The gorgeous eggs in the above photo were part of a weekly egg donation to TNFP by Sgt Twana Chick, who at the time of this photo, was the West Precinct Community Affairs Coordinator for the Metro Police Department. Sgt Chick is an example of one of the many fine citizens and businesses in Nashville who help feed the hungry with their marvelous food donations.
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