A few weeks ago, I had lunch with my mom, my aunt and a family friend at a popular Tuscumbia (Ala.) area diner called Mama Jeans. I’d never been there before. Mama Jean’s specializes in meat-and-threes and similar “down-home” cooking. The Thursday special is chicken and dressing. I’m not crazy about chicken and dressing except on Thanksgiving and other winter holidays so I decided to try the meatloaf because I hadn’t had meatloaf in several years. It was pretty good. The following week, I decided to make my own.
Here’s my take on basic meatloaf:
Step One: Start with one pound of good ground round. I prefer grassfed beef, which is leaner, so I used one pound of White Oak Pastures grassfed ground beef. Grassfed beef is lower fat than grain-fed beef so ground beef is lean enough.
Step Two: Finely-chop a small onion and bell pepper. I threw in some finely-chopped green cayenne pepper, as well, because I have so much. And a piece of leftover yellow bell pepper that I found in the fridge–didn’t want that to go to waste. I like my meatloaf to taste like more than beef.
Step Three: Mix the meat with the chopped onions and peppers. Again, because I like my meatloaf to have a lot of flavor, I threw in some chopped basil, oregano and thyme that I picked from the pots sitting in my back yard. If you’re using fresh herbs you can use more without over-spicing things. If you’re using dried herbs, stick with 1/2-to 1 teaspoon (or less) of each herb, depending on how you feel about spices. If you prefer bland, leave out the herbs. As I’ve pointed out in my other cooking posts, I’m not big on lots of added salt. For my taste, the ketchup, Worcestershire sauce and bread crumbs added in the next step contain enough salt that I don’t need to anything extra.
Step Four: Add one egg (raw, beaten), some ketchup or tomato paste (about 1/2 cup should be enough), about 1 tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce (I don’t measure, just splash some in there) and about 1/2 to 2/3 cup of bread crumbs. Stir these ingredients into the beef mixture until everything is well-blended. You want the mixture to be moist but not runny. The egg and bread crumbs will work together to bind the loaf while it cooks.
I make my own croutons from leftover baguettes and freeze any that I don’t use in a salad. When I need bread crumbs I grab some of the croutons and crumble them. If you need to make your own “bread crumbs” you can simply toast some bread and crush. Or, in a pinch, you can crumble up saltine crackers. I never do the saltine cracker thing because I prefer to use whole grain bread. Saltines have minimal food value and add extra sodium that you need to take into account before adding any salt as seasoning.
Step Five: Place the meat mixture into a loaf pan. My pan measures about 8″x 2-3/4″. Larger is fine but this size pan is perfect for a one-pound meatloaf. Bake at 375° Fahrenheit for about one hour. See important note below about cooking time and internal temperature and adding a glaze-topping about halfway through.
Step Six: After about 30 minutes, I like to remove the meatloaf from the oven, add a glaze of mixture of tomato sauce (ketchup works), Worcestershire sauce, mustard and honey. The “glaze” is nothing more than these four ingredients stirred together in a bowl and poured on top of the meatloaf. After I add the glaze, I return it to the oven to finish cooking. The meatloaf is out of the oven for about 30 seconds while I pour the glaze on top. Some people put a glaze on the meatloaf at the beginning. In my experience, the glaze is more likely to look (and taste) burned if it cooks for the entire time the meat is cooking. The glaze itself doesn’t need to cook but is added to provide additional flavor to the meatloaf.
The meatloaf will be done when a meat thermometer hits 160°. It’s important to make sure that ground beef reaches a temperature of at least 160°. I rarely use a meat thermometer for cooking beef because I’m using grassfed bed produced by local farmers and processed at reputable, local butcher shops. I’m much more cautious if I’m using industrial-produced meat, which is more likely to be contaminated with e-coli or other bacteria that are killed by properly cooking the beef. And I would be more cautious and use a meat thermometer if I were cooking ground beef for children or guests.
You’ll probably have lots of juice in the cooking pan. Be sure to drain this off before serving. I allow the juice to cool and then mix it with my dog’s kibble.