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Meatloaf is a classic – nay, ubiquitous – comfort dish and requires little intro, yet without hesitation I offer this recipe to you as simply the best classic meatloaf you can possibly make.
I don't claim it to be “the best” because I think it should win awards or accolades or county fair ribbons, but rather because it simply satisfies – every single time. It's rich, bold, and smoky, and exactly what unfussy meatloaf should be.
How Meatloaf Nourishes
Pastured meats – like the beef and pork in this meatloaf – boast a nutritional profile rich in omega-3 fats, vitamin E, beta-carotene, and CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), a fatty acid known to promote weight loss and prevent chronic disease. And depending on how much sun the animal has been exposed to, the meat may be a source of Vitamin D, as well, which is certainly most welcome during dark winter days!
However, while I certainly encourage you to source pastured meats whenever possible, even if you use conventional meats, you're still taking in quality protein that's high in B-vitamins and minerals, such as zinc and selenium.
Let's take a quick side-trip though…
As many of you know, I am a huge proponent of eating meat in balance. That not only means eating appropriate portions of meat, but also eating muscle meats in balance with the other types of proteins we get from animals, namely organ meats and collagen.
Typically we in the Western world eat solely muscle meats – all those gorgeous roasts and steaks and tenderloins and ground beef – to the exclusion of offal and collagen.
However, consider this:
In addition to what I listed above, muscle meats contain high levels of the amino acids cysteine, tryptophan, and methionine, which contribute to cell growth and repair, cellular communication, antioxidant action, and detoxification.
However, these same lovely, beneficial amino acids are also known to be inflammatory over time, which is why red meat has gotten a bad rap in mainstream health reports over the last decades.
By contrast, however, gelatin and organ meats (and egg yolks, interestingly enough) contain elevated levels of the complementary amino acids glycine, choline, and proline, three anti-inflammatory amino acids which complement the amino acid profile of muscle meats and form a complete protein. By balancing these amino acid profiles and eating varied meat proteins in balance allows each amino acid to perform its particular function with minimal inhibition.
Eating dark leafy greens and other colorful vegetables, such as red cabbage, carrots, and bell peppers, are the final “topping on the cake,” so to speak, in ensuring our bodies get all they need from our food, as they not only provide a wallop of B-vitamins and minerals themselves, but complement the animal proteins to make sure all those healthy fats and nutritional building blocks are able to do their jobs.
However, I digress. This post isn't about offal or how to eat more organ meats or the importance of eating leafy greens. This post is about this delectably satisfying meatloaf, which you are more than welcome to make WITHOUT organ meat (and to be honest, I prefer to serve organ meats by themselves, such as in my kids' favorite liver recipe, rather than IN the meatloaf itself).
Plus, I've loaded it with eggs, which act both as a binder and a complimentary protein. See? Liver not required. 🙂
One last quip, however. If you do add offal, here are two smart tips:
Tip #1: If you add liver to this meatloaf, you can reduce the “liver-y” flavor by placing the livers in a small container the night before and covering with a mix of cool water and the juice of one lemon. Lift each liver to make sure the lemon water is in contact with each surface, then let sit for 8-12 hours until you're ready to make the meatloaf. Drain the water and chop very finely.
Tip #2: If you'd like to add organ meat but liver is out of the question, lean toward other “meatier” organs, such as heart. Mince the heart as finely as possible and use no more than 20% heart in the meat mixture.
Want to know more about this delightful tangent? 🙂 Here are a few links you might appreciate:
- The #1 Reason We All Need to Eat More Gelatin
- 35+ Simple Ways to Eat More Gelatin
- Amazing Egg Yolks & How to Eat More Raw Egg Yolks
- Are You Eating Too Many Muscle Meats?
- Why Eating the Odd Bits Improves Your Health
- Beyond Good & Evil
Meatloaf: Comfort Food & Easy Meals
But enough about nutrition! (Sorry about the tangent….) This meatloaf recipe is all about feel-good comfort food.
Easy meal-planning is a bonus too. I usually make a double or triple batch and place the extras in the freezer for super-easy meals (especially right before a baby is about to be born). Just pull out of the freezer and bake, preferably thawing it first, but in a pinch, it can go straight from freezer to oven. And freezing them as mini-meatloaves makes it even easier!
- 2 medium onions, finely diced
- 2 teaspoons sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 2 teaspoons liquid smoke (optional)
- 1/4 cup bubbly water, seltzer, milk, or cream
- 3/4 cup ketchup OR barbecue sauce
- 1/2 cup fresh or dried parsley, minced (plus more for garnish, if you’d like)
- 6 eggs
- 2 cups rolled oats OR bread crumbs (preferably sourdough)
- 3 pounds lean ground beef OR 2 pounds ground beef + 1 pound ground pork
- Preheat oven to 375°F.
- Generously butter a 9" x 5" loaf pan, a 13" x 9" baking pan, or line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.
- Place all ingredients except for meat in a large bowl and using your (very clean) hands, mix everything well. Add the meat and mix only until everything becomes homogeneous - do not overmix.
- Place the meatloaf mixture in your prepared pan or shape into a rectangle on the baking sheet. If you use the baking sheet, cover the meat with foil or parchment and place a pan of hot water in the oven to keep the top from cracking.
- Place in the oven and bake until firm and no longer pink, 60-75 minutes. The internal temperature should read 160°F.
- Let sit for 10 minutes, then serve.
To freeze for later use
- Generously butter a 9" x 5" loaf pan or a 13" x 9" baking pan.
- Press the meat mixture into the prepared pan, then cover with plastic wrap and aluminum foil.
- Place in the freezer and store for up the 3 months.
- To bake after freezing, remove the meatloaf from the freezer 24-48 hours before baking and thaw in the refrigerator.
- Preheat oven to 375°F, then bake until firm and no longer pink, 60-90 minutes. The internal temperature should read 160°F.
- Let sit for 10 minutes, then serve.
To freeze as mini-meatloaves
- Divide the mixture evenly among buttered muffin tins and gently press the mixture into each hole. Place the muffin tins in a freezer-safe zippered plastic bag and freeze for up to three months. (Makes 24.)
- To bake after freezing, thaw in the refrigerator for 24 hours, set on the counter for 20-30 minutes before baking, then bake for 20-23 minutes, longer if the muffins are especially cold. Be sure the muffin centers are very hot and no longer pink before serving.
- (If you can’t afford to have muffin tins out of commission just sitting in the freezer, freeze the muffins in the tin, then loosen with a table knife and place frozen muffin “pucks” in a freezer bag. When you’re ready to bake, thaw on a baking sheet for 24 hours in the refrigerator, set on the counter for 20-30 minutes before baking, then bake as directed.)
To serve in a school lunch
- Bake the meatloaf as mini-meatloaves before freezing, then cool completely in the refrigerator. Pack in a lunch with an ice-pack. Freeze extras in an airtight container up to 3 months.