How to make the best, easiest, classic meatloaf recipe with all the top tips and secrets. It’s tender and juicy in the middle and smothered with a tangy tomato sauce – perfect for roast dinners and special occasions!
Meatloaf is a classic American dinner that’s quick and easy to prepare, hearty, and wonderfully satisfying. Unfortunately, thanks to one too many mediocre recipes (no one likes a dry, gritty, or flavorless dish!), it’s a bit of a “you either love it or hate it” dish. However, when you follow the correct (fuss-free) technique, you’ll discover a homemade meatloaf you’ll want to return to time and time again.
With just a few top tips and tricks, you can produce a dependable, perfectly spiced meatloaf slathered in a ketchup-based glaze that’s tender, juicy, and packed with flavor every single time – like a delicious shareable meatball. What’s not to love? Pair it with creamy mashed potatoes and roasted veggies for a hearty midweek dinner or to serve at large gatherings and the holidays.
Best of all, this oven meatloaf recipe is meal-prep friendly, freezes well, and the leftovers taste just as delicious on day two and can be reheated or repurposed in dozens of ways. So keep reading for all my top tips and method for the best meatloaf recipe and how to make a glaze for meatloaf that’s perfect every time.
This easy meatloaf recipe relies on simple, easy-to-find ingredients and pantry staples. Nothing complicated here.
The Classic Meatloaf
- Beef: Use lean ground beef between 85-90% lean as the best meat for meatloaf that’s not overly fatty or dry. You could substitute up to 50% of the beef with ground sausage or pork for a different flavor and slightly enhanced texture. Lean meat like ground chicken/ground turkey needs other higher-fat meats (like ground pork) too.
- Aromatics: You’ll need onion (yellow or white) and garlic.
- Tomato paste: I use homemade tomato paste. Alternatively, you could use ketchup.
- Large eggs: To act as a binder and hold the ingredients together.
- Milk: Milk soaks the breadcrumbs and makes for a super moist loaf. Low-sodium beef or vegetable stock may work instead.
- Breadcrumbs: I often use panko breadcrumbs, though regular breadcrumbs work, too. These provide the recipe with a lighter, smoother mouthfeel and double up as a binder. Crushed crackers, cornflakes, or rolled oats would also work.
- Parsley: Use fresh parsley.
- Seasonings: This simple recipe combines Italian seasoning, sweet paprika, salt, and black pepper.
For The Sauce/Glaze
While some recipes just rely on ketchup or tomato soup for the best meatloaf glaze, I highly recommend adding just a few more ingredients for a sticky, sweet, tangy, rich glaze.
- Ketchup: You can use store-bought or homemade ketchup. Use reduced sugar/salt versions if preferred. For a less processed sauce for meatloaf, combine tomato paste with 1-2 tablespoons of water to thin it to the correct consistency, plus a splash of soy sauce.
- Brown sugar: This provides a wonderful caramel-y flavor to the sauce. A sugar-free brown sugar substitute should also work if preferred. Maple syrup or honey may work as a natural sweetener substitute.
- Vinegar: I prefer white wine vinegar, but regular white vinegar will work, too.
- Seasonings: To add tons of flavor, I use a simple combination of pantry-friendly chili powder (or cayenne pepper – adjust the amount to taste), garlic powder, onion powder, and salt and pepper.
Alternatively, you could use BBQ sauce or teriyaki sauce.
How to Make Meatloaf
First, preheat the oven to 375°F/190ºC and line a loaf pan (9×5 inches) with parchment paper. Leave some overhang to make it easier to remove.
Then finely chop the onion, roughly chop the parsley, and grate or mince the garlic.
In a large bowl, mix all the meatloaf ingredients until combined. Be careful not to over-mix, though.
Transfer it to the loaf pan, being careful not to press it down/work it too much, and then bake it in the oven for 40 minutes.
The Meatloaf Glaze
While the loaf is baking, combine all the sauce ingredients in a small bowl and whisk well (taste and adjust any ingredient to your liking).
Then, either brush or pour the sauce over the meatloaf and return it to the oven for 15-20 minutes, or until the internal temp of the meatloaf reads 160ºF/71ºC.
Finally, allow the loaf to rest for at least 10 minutes (tented with foil) before removing it from the pan and slicing it to serve.
I also like to drizzle it with the baking juices from the pan when serving by pouring them into a small pitcher and bringing it to the table.
How to Tell When Meatloaf Is Done?
For food safety reasons, it’s best to use an instant-read thermometer. It’s safe to eat once it reaches an internal temperature of 160ºF/71ºC.
If it goes beyond that, you risk dry meat. Therefore, I recommend removing it from the oven at 155ºF/68ºC. During the 10 minutes of resting, the residual heat will bring the internal temperature up to 160ºF/71ºC.
If you don’t have a meat thermometer, insert a fork into the center of the loaf. It should enter the meat easily.
Secrets to Moist Meatloaf
- The meat matters: If you choose beef that is too lean, the lack of fat will produce a dry (and grainy) meatloaf. 80-85% lean is the sweet spot, though I’ve used 90% before with no issues, thanks to other ingredients in the dish.
- Use milk: This will soak the breadcrumbs and add tons of moisture.
- Use enough breadcrumbs: Reducing the amount called for in the recipe is not a good idea, as they help keep the juices from draining out the meat.
- Don’t overwork the meat: Otherwise, you may end up with a dense, drier meatloaf. Likewise, don’t compress/pack the meat mixture too much when adding it to the loaf pan for the same reasons.
- Use the right temperature: I’ve experimented with several, and 375ºF/190ºC is the perfect temperature to cook the meat without accidentally burning/drying out the outside while still producing a caramelized crust.
- Use a digital thermometer: This is the most accurate way to check it has cooked through without risking overcooking it. The meatloaf temp should reach but not exceed 160ºF/71ºC.
- Leave the loaf to rest: Like most cooked meat, leaving it to rest for at least 10 minutes after cooking will allow the juice to settle and distribute, so they don’t seep out when slicing the loaf.
What to Serve with Meatloaf?
This classic meatloaf with tomato glaze is a great addition to Sunday roasts, Thanksgiving, and Christmas tables instead of or alongside roast chicken/turkey and all your favorite sides like:
- Creamy mashed potatoes or potato gratin,
- Green bean casserole,
- Creamed spinach,
- Roasted broccoli and cauliflower,
- Honey-glazed carrots,
- Brown gravy,
You can also use leftovers within sandwiches and wraps, crumbled in pasta/spaghetti sauce, with a breakfast hash, in tacos, chili, shepherd’s pie, stuffed peppers, a grilled cheese, etc. The list goes on and on.
Can You Freeze Meatloaf?
Leftovers will store in the refrigerator for 1-2 days. After that, it’s best to freeze it.
There are two ways of freezing meatloaf. Either as leftovers or freezing before baking, as a simple make-ahead meal you can pull out to bake when ready.
Mix the ingredients, and either form a free-hand loaf over plastic wrap or transfer it to a foil or plastic-wrap lined loaf tin. Wrap it securely, transfer it to a freezer-safe bag (like a Ziplock), and freeze for up to 6 months.
Leave it to thaw overnight in the fridge before baking for the best results OR bake from frozen for 1 ½-2 hours. Use a thermometer to check for doneness.
I prefer to freeze the unbaked one since it can become a little dry when freezing the cooked meat. However, it will work. You can freeze the whole loaf or slice it first and wrap the slices individually or place parchment paper between the slices to avoid sticking. Wrap with plastic wrap, then place in a freezer bag for 3-4 months.
Thaw in the fridge overnight before reheating.
Milk (or stock) is important for soaking the bread crumbs and helping the load to stay deliciously moist.
It’s best to cook it for 40 minutes at 375°F/190ºC, then add the glaze and bake for a further 15-20 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 155-160ºF/68-71ºC.
The eggs and soaked breadcrumbs in this recipe work as binding agents to hold it together. Also, make sure not to overcook it, and allow it to rest for 10 minutes before slicing.
For the best results, first, bring it to room temperature.
My preferred method is to use an oven, sprinkling each slice (or the entire loaf) with some vegetable or beef broth (1-2 tablespoon should be enough, too much will make the slices soggy). Then cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake it in the oven at 300ºF/150ºC until heated through (10-15 minutes for slices, up to 30 minutes for a whole loaf).
Alternatively, you can microwave individual slices by covering them with a damp paper towel and heating it for 1-2 minutes in 30-second intervals until hot. Steaming slices for 3-5 minutes also works well for super moist slices.
More Delicious Dinner Recipes
- Stuffed Bell Peppers Recipe
- Easy Chicken Piccata Recipe
- Honey Glazed Salmon Recipe
- Quick and Easy Hamburger Casserole
- The Perfect Air Fryer Steak
If you try this classic meatloaf, let me know how it goes in the comments below. I’d appreciate a recipe card rating and would love to see your recipe recreations – tag me on Instagram @Alphafoodie!
Meatloaf with the Best Sticky Glaze
- 2 lbs ground beef 85% or 90% lean; optionally use up to half the amount of sausage or pork.
- 2 eggs large
- 1/2 cup milk or beef/vegetable stock
- 3/4 cup Panko breadcrumbs or regular breadcrumbs, crushed crackers, or rolled oats
- 1 onion medium-sized
- 3 cloves garlic
- 2 tablespoon tomato paste or ketchup
- 3 tablespoon fresh parsley finely chopped
- 1/2 tablespoon salt or to taste
- 1/2 tablespoon Italian seasoning
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
For the Sauce
- 1 cup ketchup
- 2.5 tablespoon brown sugar or maple syrup/honey
- 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar or white vinegar
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/2 teaspoon chili powder optional or cayenne pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- Loaf pan 9×5 in/23×13 cm
- Preheat the oven to 375°F/190ºC and line a loaf pan (9×5 inches) with parchment paper. Leave some overhang to make it easier to remove.
- Finely chop the onion, roughly chop the parsley, and grate or mince the garlic.
- In a large bowl, mix all the meatloaf ingredients until combined. Be careful not to over-mix, though.
- Transfer it to the loaf pan, being careful not to press it down/work it too much, and then bake it in the oven for 40 minutes.
- While the loaf is baking, combine all the sauce ingredients in a small bowl and whisk well (taste and adjust any ingredient to your liking).
- After the initial 40 minutes of baking, remove the pan from the oven. Then either brush or pour the sauce over the meatloaf and return it to the oven for 15-20 minutes, or until the internal temp reads 160ºF/71ºC.
- Remove from the oven and allow the loaf to rest for at least 10 minutes (tented with foil) before removing it from the pan and slicing it to serve.I also like to drizzle it with the baking juices from the pan when serving by pouring them into a small pitcher and bringing it to the table.
- To season perfectly: Pan-fry just a tiny amount (a heaped teaspoon) of the seasoned meat mixture to taste it so you can adjust your seasonings accordingly.
- Avoid compressing the meat: Otherwise, the texture can become overly dense. This applies to mixing the meat and loading it into the loaf pan.
- If you don’t have a loaf pan, create a free-formed loaf shape on a large parchment-lined baking sheet. Plus, doing it this way maximizes surface area to become caramelized and crispy. Baking time may vary based on thickness/shape.
- Change the shape: The meat mixture also makes burger patties or meatballs. You could also make individual-serve meatloaf in mini loaf pans or muffin tin.
- Leave it to rest: Like most meat, this time allows the moisture to disperse evenly and be retained in the loaf. Slice it too early, and the moisture will seep right out.
- Adjust the sauce consistency: Baking it will thicken the sauce into a glaze. However, feel free to save some to serve over the loaf after baking as a sauce.
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