Whether basic or dressed up, glazed or plain, cooked in the oven or in the slow cooker, there are many kinds of meatloaf. We've learned through our countless recipe tests at America's Test Kitchen that these four universal principles can improve any meatloaf.
1. Skip the Meatloaf Mix: Not every store carries meatloaf mix, a combination of ground chuck, pork, and veal. Plus, the mix is inconsistent from store to store, and different ratios of meat and different fat percentages can affect how a recipe works. We prefer to buy ground beef and pork separately, and omit the harder-to-find veal altogether.
2. Precook Aromatics and Vegetables: No matter how long meatloaf bakes, aromatics and vegetables that are added raw will always taste raw. Sautéing the onion, garlic, and any other vegetables before incorporating them into the raw meat mixture improves their taste and texture.
3. Use a Panade: Panade, a mixture of bread or cracker crumbs and liquid, helps keep meatloaves (and meatballs) moist. As meat cooks, the proteins shrink, wringing out moisture. The panade interrupts the meat's protein network, discouraging it from linking into a tough matrix and squeezing out liquid. Also, the starches in the panade form a gel, which traps moisture and fat inside the meat. The pieces of chopped mushrooms also work this way.
4. Lose the Loaf Pan: Meatloaves made in loaf pans stew in their own juices, making their bottoms greasy and mushy. Avoid that by baking meatloaf on a baking sheet or, as we do here, in a skillet. Our method allows the excess moisture to evaporate, keeping the meatloaf from stewing or steaming. Also, when baked in a skillet or on a baking sheet, the meatloaf can form flavorful, browned crust on the sides.
Source: Cook's Country
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Why This Recipe Works: Stuffing an ordinary meatloaf with ham and cheese turns it into something special, provided you can keep the meat and cheese in place. To do this, we first spread half of the meat mixture into a 10 by 6-inch rectangle and layered ham and cheese in the center of the rectangle. Leaving a 1-inch border on all sides helped keep the cheese from leaking out. We then capped the ham and cheese with the remaining meat and pinched the top and bottom edges together to ensure a tight seal.
SERVES 6 TO 8
1 cup ketchup
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon hot sauce
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped fine
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound ground pork
1 pound 90 percent lean ground beef
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons dry mustard
Salt and pepper
4 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, shredded (1 cup)
1 tablespoon cornstarch
3 ounces thinly sliced deli ham
1. FOR THE GLAZE: Whisk ketchup, sugar, vinegar, and hot sauce together in small saucepan until combined; reserve 1/4 cup. Bring remaining glaze to simmer over medium heat and cook until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes; set aside.
2. FOR THE MEATLOAF: Adjust oven racks to upper (about 6 inches away from broiler element) and middle positions and heat broiler. Line rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and coat lightly with vegetable oil spray. Process saltines in food processor until finely ground, about 30 seconds; transfer to large bowl.
3. Heat oil in 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add onion and cook until browned, 6 to 8 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Transfer to bowl with saltines and let cool to room temperature, about 15 minutes. Add pork, beef, eggs, Worcestershire, mustard, 1 teaspoon salt, and ¾ teaspoon pepper to saltine mixture and knead gently to combine.
4. Combine cheese and cornstarch in medium bowl. Spread half of meat mixture on prepared baking sheet in 10 by 6-inch rectangle. Layer half of ham on meat, leaving 1-inch border on all sides. Sprinkle half of cheese mixture over ham. Repeat with remaining ham and remaining cheese mixture. Form remaining meatloaf mixture into 9 by 5-inch rectangle and place on top of prepared meatloaf bottom, leaving border exposed. Fold bottom edge of meatloaf up over top layer and pinch edges together tightly to seal.
5. Broil meatloaf on upper rack until spotty brown, 6 to 8 minutes. Brush 2 tablespoons uncooked glaze evenly over top and sides of meatloaf and continue to broil until glaze begins to brown, about 1 minute. Move meatloaf to middle rack and brush with remaining 2 tablespoons uncooked glaze. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake until meatloaf registers 160 degrees, 30 to 35 minutes. Transfer to carving board, tent with foil, and let rest for 30 minutes. Warm reserved glaze. Slice meatloaf and serve, passing warm glaze at table.