Meatloaf is such an American classic that you would think there would be a settled, go-to recipe. Not so.
"People just don't understand meatloaf. They really think it's throwing a lot of garbage together," said James Villas, who offers seven recipes for meatloaf in his cookbook "From the Ground Up." "You have to take it seriously. There's a whole philosophy behind meatloaf."
There are many divides in the meatloaf debate: freeform or loaf pan? Beef, pork, veal or poultry? In what combination? Coarse ground or finely ground? Ketchup glaze or not? Gravy or no gravy? Bacon or no bacon? (Well, nobody really debates that last one.)
The most amazing thing about meatloaf may be that it's so forgiving. No matter what choices you make on the meatloaf decision tree, you can end up with an excellent result. My go-to recipe came from Cooking Light magazine: It's a sun-dried tomato and turkey meatloaf (served with a red currant and red wine sauce) that bakes in a loaf pan. It's not particularly crusty, but the taste is excellent, and the recipe makes one for now and another for later.
Over the past few years, meatloaf has made its way out of the diner, where it has long been a staple. There are excellent restaurant versions.
While their meatloaf methods differ, our experts agreed on a few key points.
First, use panko bread crumbs. These Japanese bread crumbs are fluffier and coarser than the sandy version typically used, which can produce a mushy meatloaf.
"Don't substitute Progresso for panko," says chef Jay Pierce of Cary's Lucky 32. "It's not as densely packed."
Second, make your meatloaf a day ahead. It tastes better, and it's easier to slice, which leads to the third tip: For a nice crust, grill or sauté slices of meatloaf.
Here is some more advice from our experts:
Sun-dried Tomato Turkey Meatloaf
Makes 2 meatloaves, 5 servings each.
1/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes (not oil-packed)
3 slices bread
1 medium onion
4 cloves garlic
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup thinly sliced basil
1/4 cup chopped parsley
2 1/2 pounds ground turkey
1/2 cup red currant jelly
1/4 cup dry red wine
1 teaspoon all-purpose flour
PLACE sun-dried tomatoes in a bowl. Cover with boiling water. Let sit for 5 to 8 minutes.
HEAT oven to 400°. Coat two metal loaf pans with cooking spray.
PLACE bread in food processor and mince until fine. Place bread crumbs in a large bowl and set aside.
MINCE onion and garlic in food processor and add to bread crumbs. Drain tomatoes and slice. Then add tomatoes, cheese, basil, parsley, turkey and eggs to the bread crumb mixture. Mix together using hands.
DIVIDE meatloaf mixture and place in pans. Smooth out the top. To freeze, wrap with plastic wrap, removing as much air as possible and then wrap with heavy-duty foil and freeze. Or bake at 400° for 55 minutes or until the internal temperature is 160°.
COMBINE red currant jelly, wine and flour in small saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook for 5 minutes until jelly melts. Serve with the meatloaf.
Lucky 32's Meat Loaf
Makes 8 servings.
4 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup chopped yellow onion
1/2 cup finely chopped celery with stems and leaves
2 teaspoons minced fresh garlic
1/2 cup diced green bell pepper
1/4 cup chopped green onion
1/2 cup half-and-half
1/2 pound ground pork
1 1/2 pounds ground chuck
1 teaspoon Tabasco
1 tablespoon Worcestershire
1 teaspoon ground mustard
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
1 1/2 teaspoons salt or to taste
3/4 teaspoon black pepper or to taste
1 cup panko bread crumbs
12 slices bacon
HEAT oven to 350°.
MELT butter in skillet over medium-high heat and sauté onions until golden. Add celery, garlic and bell pepper and sauté until tender. Spread vegetables out on a cookie sheet to cool and allow some moisture to evaporate.