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 make it. The problem for this recipe writer was she made it differently every time. Like for many experienced home cooks, Mom would look in the refrigerator and grab ingredients that were available and seemed good at the moment. It never seemed to matter what she chose, her meatloaf always disappeared by the end of dinner. In the end, to write up a recipe, I averaged out the amounts of ingredients she used and came up with something I liked. I learned that short of overcooking the meat or using meat that is too lean, it is hard to ruin meatloaf. I think Mom’s version worked because she balanced the spiciness of the mustards she chose with the sweetness of the small amount of brown sugar she added.

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 ultimately to 150 people. You can find that reworked meatloaf recipe by clicking the Cook for a Crowd button on TNFP’s homepage.

Yield: 8 servings (figure ¼ pound per serving)

2 pounds ground sirloin. If you can find it, use Meatloaf Mix, a combination of beef, pork, and veal
2 cups plain breadcrumbs or cubes
2 large eggs (plan on 1 egg/pound of meat)
¾ cup milk or water
1 envelope onion soup mix
¾ cup ketchup
2 tablespoons mustard (try Dijon, honey mustard, or spicy brown)
2 tablespoons brown sugar

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 is at least 15% fat, any leaner will cause the meatloaf to become dry when cooked. In the photo below, the meatloaf mix I used came from Doris’s Italian Meat and BakeryYes, relatives from Florida bring me frozen packages of this meat mix when they come to visit. I hoard it.

How to Make Plain Breadcrumbs:
Cut a stack of five slices of bread into small cubes to yield 2 cups of bread cubes. Or, make breadcrumbs by pulsing stale crusty bread in a food processor. Freeze until ready to use.
DSC_0859 DSC_0861 DSC_0867

Making the Meatloaf:
Preheat oven to 350º.
Mix eggs, milk, soup mix, ketchup, mustard, and brown sugar.

Add meat and bread crumbs and mix slowly for about 15 seconds. You do not need to use a mixer. I do because I don’t like to get my hands greasy from the meat.

The less you handle meat, the more tender your meatloaf will be. It should look like this when done:

Place mixture in a 9″ by 13″ pan. Top lightly with ketchup, if desired. Bake at 350º for 50-60 minutes.

The USDA recommends that all ground beef, lamb, pork and veal mixtures be cooked to 160º, and that ground turkey and chicken mixtures cook to 165º. For meatloaf, you can take the meat out when the meat thermometer says 155º and rely on carryover heat to finish the cooking.

Heat Transfer, aka Carryover Cooking, aka Resting, Explained
When meat is cooking in an oven, its outside surface temperature is hotter than its interior temperature by a big difference. When I took this meatloaf out of the oven, its internal temperature was 168º. We can assume its surface temperature was the same as the oven temperature, thus 350º. The room temperature was 70º. According to the laws of heat transfer, when meat is taken out of the oven, its surface heat has to go somewhere to equilibrate with the temperature of the atmosphere. Some of the heat will go into the room, and the rest will transfer into the meatloaf causing its internal temperature to rise. In this case, the temperature rose from 168º to 176º in only five minutes! That was an eight-degree difference. Not too noticeable in meatloaf, but the difference between medium and rare in a steak.
meatloaf meatloaf

Here is the meatloaf served with Roasted Rosemary Sweet Potatoes and Blanched String Beans with Vinaigrette for dinner.

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 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.
meatloaf tnfp

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 and Pinterest at JudysChickens.

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© 2014-2018 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent

29 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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