Judy’s Mom’s Meatloaf


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
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 meat mixture to 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 bread crumbs using leftover crusty bread that is beginning to go stale. First, break the bread into chunks and put in a food processor. Next, pulse the bread in the food processor until it looks like this:

DSC_0859 DSC_0861 DSC_0867

Making the Meatloaf:
Preheat oven to 350º.
Mix 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 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: 

meatloaf tnfp

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.
meatloaf tnfp
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.


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.

More comfort food:
Old-Fashioned Mashed Potatoes
Yummy Shepherd’s Pie
Chicken Cacciatore, Pollo alla Cacciatora, or Hunter’s Chicken
50 Ways to Make a Frittata
Fresh Marinara Sauce with Pasta and Mozzarella


Follow my photos of vegetables growing, backyard chickens hanging out, and dinner preparations on Instagram at JudysChickens.

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© 2014-2017 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent

25 thoughts on “Judy’s Mom’s Meatloaf

  1. 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.

    1. 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.

  2. You are fabulous to share this, Judy! I’ve been making my MIL’s recipe for years. She used Saltines instead of bread crumbs.

    1. 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!

  3. This is beautifully told. I love the way you combine culinary and scientific knowledge with nostalgia and social awareness. Another winner!

    1. 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!

  4. 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

    1. 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

  5. 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 🙂

    1. 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.

  6. 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.

    1. 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

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