The Meatloaf Rivalry

"I bet your meatloaf will be different from mine," my mother pronounced over the phone last night.

"Why do you say THAT?" I asked, a little indignant, wondering how linguistics expert Deborah Tannen would comment on the exchange, which suddenly felt fraught with a competitive edge. Earlier this year, Tannen published her latest work, "You're Wearing That? Understanding Mothers and Daughters in Conversation," a book that I devoured in a just a few days.

Given my line of work, it's a rare occurrence that my mother and I would be preparing the same dish for supper, but yesterday's dreary weather felt like a meatloaf Sunday. (Besides, the beloved co-habitant was hankering for comfort food.)

"So, how do you make yours?" she barked. Was that a challenge I was hearing? This coming from the same woman who used to make meatloaf cement when I was growing up. I think she cooked the thing for two hours.

"Well, I don't do much," I replied, almost feeling defensive. "Salt, pepper and olive oil."

"That's it?" she asked. Was she mocking me?

"Well," I argued, "Salt is most important. For every pound of meat, you need a teaspoon of salt." Pause.

"Well," I added, " I DO buy my meat from a local farmer." There. She won't be able to top that.

"So does Jim," she countered. (Jim is Mom's significant other). "He gets it from Amish country."

Touche, mamacita. "Well, how do you make yours?" I volleyed.

"I add salsa to mine," she stated proudly. "And breadcrumbs. It's very good."

Well, la-di-dah.

"Why don't you use filler?" she asked, returning the volley. More like a backhanded serve.

"You don't need it," I replied, now feeling very small and unsure about meatloaf and perhaps everything else in the universe.

"How does it stick together?" Now this was an offensive tactic.

"Well," I replied, "There's enough fat in the ground beef to hold it together. The only time I ever use binder is when I'm making a turkey loaf." Oh, brother. I was actually defending my meatloaf method before my own mother!

"Enjoy your dinner," she said. Was that a snicker I heard in her voice?

We hung up, and I went straight to the kitchen.

Maybe it is time for a change, I thought.

I added finely minced onion (which in hindsight would have been nice grated), a few finely chopped cloves of garlic, a small handful of chopped fresh parsley and a teaspoon or so of Dijon-style mustard. Salt and pepper followed, and then with my hands, I mixed the meat.

But as with hamburgers, I try to handle the meat as little as possible. Ground beef does not like to be fondled.

In response to my mother's concern about keeping the loaf together without filler, I employ the simple trick of placing the loaf (in roasting pan) into the fridge for at least 15 minutes. A short chilly reprieve in the fridge helps to retain its shape.

Before going into the oven, the meatloaf gets a light brushing of olive oil.

Knowing my mother, that meatloaf (even with its salsa update) , probably would stay in the oven for at least an hour, until done all the way through.

In contrast, my version was ready after 35 minutes or so, when the internal temperature reached about 145 degrees (medium doneness). There was a hint of pink in the center.

I let it rest for a few minutes and then sliced my loaf (without it crumbling, I might add), serving it with rice and stir-fried tatsoi. Flavor and a tender bite were front and center.

Much as I didn't want to admit, my little chat with Mom was a force for change . . . for the better.

Do you have a favorite way of making meatloaf? Or maybe you've got a similar kitchen rivalry tale to share. Do so in the comments area below!

Not Mom's Meatloaf

1 pound ground beef (preferably pasture-raised, free of antibiotics)
1 teaspoon coarse salt
½ medium onion, finely minced or grated
2-3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 teaspoons Dijon-style mustard
small handful fresh parsley, finely chopped
black pepper to taste
Olive oil

Place meat in a large mixing bowl and add remainder of ingredients, except for olive oil.

With clean, dry hands, mix until ingredients are well combined. Do not knead meat.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Place onto a roasting pan and shape into a free-form loaf. Place roasting pan in refrigerator and chill for at least 15 minutes.

Remove from refrigerator and with a pastry or silicone, brush top of meatloaf with olive oil

Place pan in oven and bake about 35 minutes, or until instant-read thermometer reads 145 degrees (medium). Remove from oven and allow to rest for 5-10 minutes.

Slice and eat immediately.

By Kim ODonnel |  November 13, 2006; 10:39 AM ET Dinner Tonight , Kitchen Musings
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

It is BEYOND me why anyone makes hamburger inedible by adding onion to it!

Posted by: Kevin | November 13, 2006 12:24 PM

My favorite meatloaf recipe includes most of the ingredients you listed, but I use 1/3 sweet sausage to 2/3 hamburger meat. I also chop up some fresh basil leaves, and brush with tomato sauce rather than olive oil. My friends and family love the variation, and it's very easy!

Posted by: Anonymous | November 13, 2006 12:43 PM

i usually use equal portions of ground beef, pork, and veal, adding plenty of salt and pepper, minced onion, a couple squirts of Worcestershire, some cornmeal, an egg, and minced marjoram. For fun i'll put a third of the mixture in, then a split red bell, then another third, then two celery stalks, then the last third--it's a happy face!

Though my method has enough flavor play to keep it interesting (marj + veal = winner), it's still the only dish i eat with ketchup. Makes me think of Ma.

Posted by: ape dersen | November 13, 2006 1:09 PM

I made meat loaf on saturday night. I used a cup of broken crackers, 1 onion and 6 slices of bacon chopped in food processor added to 1 1/2 lb of ground beef. 2 tbsp ketchup, 2 tbsp horseradish, 1/2 c milk, 1 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper, bake at 350 for 1 1/2 hours.

Posted by: jen | November 13, 2006 1:23 PM

I add 1/2 cup drained yogurt. Let the yogurt drain for an hour (use a cheesecloth lined strainer) and beat the thickened yogurt with one egg. Beside the salt & pepper I add a teaspoon of dried thyme. I also use 1/2 cup dried breadcrumbs but now I'm wondering should I just leave them out? 2 lbs ground beef plus 1 lb ground pork or even better 1/2 lb pork and 1/2 lb veal.

Posted by: Nutmeg | November 13, 2006 1:37 PM

I forgot to say that it makes a great sandwich. Actually most meatloaves make great sandwiches, even my mother's made from the recipe on the back of the Quaker Oats box.

Posted by: nutmeg | November 13, 2006 1:39 PM

How do you get it to be done in 35 minutes? Is that just because you only let it go to 145 degrees? I thought that ground beef required 160 degrees.

Posted by: Ryan | November 13, 2006 1:46 PM

Ryan: The doneness is a matter of personal taste. I like my meatloaf to be on the medium side, with a little pink, so that's why I didn't cook it to 160 degrees. Getting it to that point would take an hour's time. So, yes, cooking it to about 145 should take 35, 40 minutes, depending on your oven. And that's for one pound of meat.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | November 13, 2006 1:52 PM

I second the sweet Italian sausage with the ground beef....makes a very flavorful meatloaf...I also use lots of parsley mixed in!

Posted by: Catskill Woman | November 13, 2006 1:53 PM

Meatloaf definitely benefits from a combination of meats. Some people go for 1/3 each veal, pork, and beef, but I've found that anywhere from 1/3 to 1/2 pork with the rest beef produces a very similar result without the trouble of using veal. The pork gives you a somewhat milder flavor and adds much in the way of moisture and texture.

To me, a meatloaf must have some "filler" otherwise it's really just a giant baked hamburger. Fresh (not dried) breadcrumbs (stick a few broken up slices of bread in the food processor) bound with 1 egg do it for me. A couple bay leaves on top of the loaf also add a nice subtle flavor.

Free-form is definitely better than baking in a loaf pan as you get more crust and the meat doesn't stew in its own fat.

Posted by: K | November 13, 2006 1:54 PM

Everyone is forgetting the Parmesan cheese. Without the Parmesan Cheese, a meatloaf is just cooked hamburger. The same is true for meatballs -- you must add the Parmesan cheese.

Posted by: zona | November 13, 2006 1:59 PM

I live in a household where I am the only one who eats it. I can't convince my husband that it's just a giant hamburger. I usually get my meatloaf fix outside the home. However, sometimes you just have to do it yourself. I use just ground beef, single slice of white bread that I crumble then soak with a little milk or red wine, one egg, chopped or diced onion and a generous dollop of ketchup. I bake it for about an hour covering it with ketchup for the last 15 min. Okay, mostly I make meatloaf for the delicious sandwiches it will make the next day.

Posted by: Lisaluvs2cook | November 13, 2006 2:26 PM

For those wanting to replicate your meatloaf, you left out the dijon mustard from your recipe. I also use dijon mustard in my meatloaf, and it definitely merits inclusion!

Posted by: Laurie | November 13, 2006 2:46 PM

For years I heard rapturous sonnets about my mother-in-law's meatloaf. Mine just could not compare. WHen I finally met the sainted woman (who lived on the opposite coast) I asked her for her recipe. She laughed and said she'd make it for dinner. Turned out it was the classic Campbell's soup recipe (except she left out the onion and used *burnt* toast instead of breadcrumbs), and she baked it in the same bowl she mixed it in... My sister-in-law makes it the exact same way, burnt toast included. Frankly, it's AWFUL, but occasionally I'll make Doris' Bowl-O-Meat for the hubbaroonie, just because I feel like being nice. I don't east it, though.

Posted by: Julia | November 13, 2006 2:49 PM

Laurie, thanks for the sharp eye re: Dijon mustard! I will make that change pronto. Cheers.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | November 13, 2006 2:53 PM

My sister makes a great meat loaf with really high quality meat. She lays it out like for a jelly roll, and then puts mozzarella and basil leaves in the center, and then rolls it up like a jelly roll. It may have bacon or pancetta on the outside too, I can't remember. But when I made it for a special event, it split apart so there was a deep crevice kind of like the grand canyon down the middle of it. So I think I will stick with a basic recipe and talk my sister into making it for us when I have a craving for her version.

Posted by: Karen | November 13, 2006 2:59 PM

I make my mother's meatloaf about once a month. It has the same basic ingredients (ground beef, egg, bread crumbs, what's-this-here sauce, etc) but also has two (I think) significant differences. The first is the inclusion of 1/2 cup (per 1 1/2 lbs of meat) of applesauce, which adds to the moistness. The other, MAJOR difference is cooking time. The recipe calls for 2 1/2 to 3 hours....but at 250 degrees. Low and's the moistest meatloaf I've ever had. Even two days later after beeing nuked it's still moister than anyone's I've had fresh. One other thing I learned by trial and error...make sure to use 80% lean, don't try to be healthy with the 92% lean, it won't work. You need the fat content for structure and moistness.

Man, now I'm hungry :)

Posted by: Ron in Reston | November 13, 2006 3:32 PM

My favorite meatload recipe includes: dry onion soup mix, parmesan cheese, chicago steak seasoning, one slice of bread soaked in milk, brown sugar, bread crumbs, 1 egg, chopped yellow onion with a mix of barbeque sauce and brown sugar on top with several pieces of bacon across the top of a free formed loaf.

Posted by: Lexi | November 13, 2006 3:35 PM

I use about 1 pound of 80% ground beef and half a pound of hot breakfast sausage (any brand will do), add about 3/4 cup of breadcrumbs, one egg, 1/4 cup ketchup, 4 Tbp worcestershire, garlic powder, onion powder, parsley, salt and pepper. Bake at 350 for about an hour. I have a special meatlof pan that has an insert with holes on the bottom. The insert doesn't touch the bottom of the pan which lets the grease drip down. Can substitute ground turkey, but I add 1/4 cup olive oil to the mix if I do that. .

Posted by: JT | November 13, 2006 4:01 PM

I love meat loaf

I use lean ground beef Italian bread crumbs, an egg, oregano, salt and pepper and a little bit of ketchup on top. It's really good, but I think that I will have to try out some of the other ideas on the blog.

Hey, what about the meat loaf with brown gravy? Anyone got a recipe for that

Posted by: Irish girl | November 13, 2006 4:33 PM

We use Mrs. Dash's seasonings in our meatloaf ... along with dijon, egg, bread crumbs and a little tomato sauce. I like press the meat into a rectangle and put mozzarella cheese in the middle and roll it up jelly-roll like.

Posted by: peapod | November 13, 2006 4:41 PM

My family went vegan a couple of years ago. We've always loved meatloaf, however, so I have felt compelled to experiiment with soy substitutes. Last week I made a vegan meatloaf that was just as good as the regular version--served with mashed potatoes and green peas, comfort food for health-conscious!

I've never used a recipe, but here's a list of ingredients: 2 pounds of "Gimme Lean" ground-beef style meat substitute, bread crumbs (italian usually, even though there's a little parmesan cheese in it--we're not facists!), a small can of tomato sauce (or home-made if you have it on hand), egg replacer (Ener-g-egg), a little soy milk, onion sauteed until translucent, several cloves of minced garlic, some chopped sundried tomatoes (softened in warm water). Once it's mixed and in the loaf pan, put more tomato sauce or ketchup on top of the loaf.

Because the meat substitute tends to dry out if cooked very long, I make sure I add more moisture than I would for regular meatloaf--not too soggy, but definitely moist. If it's too soggy, add more breadcrumbs. (You can also use rolled oats as a filler, if you want.)

Bake in the oven (or microwave) for about 15 minutes. The meat substitute doesn't have to be cooked at all, but heating through makes it taste better! Use more or less the same recipe for meatballs, but omit the sauce and sundried tomatoes.

No fat, all good stuff--meatloaf without the meat!

Posted by: Cindy in Phoenix | November 13, 2006 4:54 PM

After reading some of these recipes, I understand why meatloaf has such a lousy reputation. One or two, though, sound edible. And yes, good meatloaf makes great sandwiches.

Posted by: larry | November 13, 2006 8:18 PM

I make my meatloaf with half and half ground beef and ground turkey. I add skim milk, egg, jalopenos, onion and maybe 1/4C of instant potatoes. Makes it nice and fluffy. Best gift I ever received is the meatloaf pan (a loaf pan with a "holey" insert for the grease to drain). I second the sandwich part - on toast with mayo and cheese.

Posted by: KB Silver Spring | November 13, 2006 8:46 PM

I fiddled with a meat loaf recipe to make it somehthing my husband would eat (he hated his mother's meat loaf). It's definitely a winter dish that we eat a couple of times a year, but with lots of leftovers for delicious sandwiches. My not-so-secret ingredient is red pepper jelly. I use it in place of bbq sauce or ketchup. Try it sometime, and see if they ask for more.

Posted by: KMcB | November 13, 2006 9:05 PM

to the vegan family--the parmesan is probably not even vegetarian. Most parm is made with rennet, which comes from cows' stomachs, so you might not just be violating the vegan thing there. You might as well make the meatloaf with meat.

Posted by: A veggie | November 14, 2006 12:15 PM

To: a veggie

Duly noted on the rennet--stearic acid is another animal-derived ingredient found in such seemingly innocuous things as wintergreen lifesavers. Bleah.

I'll make my own italian bread crumbs with fake parmesan from now on.

Posted by: Cindy in Phoenix | November 14, 2006 12:39 PM

I make meatloaf with 1.5 lbs of extra lean ground beef, 1 cup grated zuchini, 1/2 cup grated carrot, 2 egg whites, 1 cup large flake oats, digon mustard, thyme. mould into a loaf shape and bake on a cookies sheet for 1 hr. After the 1st 45 minutes pour a cup of salsa over for the last 15 minutes. This recipe is healthy and my kds love it.

Posted by: CO chicago | November 14, 2006 12:48 PM

It works well to form the meat into a cake shape and bake on sheet -- the grease comes off, and the resulting loaf is tasty and good for you. And you get a nice crust on three sides, especially if you paint it with a ketsup mixture while baking.

Posted by: Rita | November 14, 2006 12:58 PM

Frankly I don't see how bread crumbs, cracker meal, or oatmeal actually act as a binder. The egg is the binder and it's essential for meatloaf and meatballs, IMO, to hold the loaf together. The bread crumbs were added to stretch the amount of meat in times when food was not as plentiful as today. I add grated parmesan and bread crumbs (I make my own out of whatever bread I have on hand but canned also work) that have been soaked in milk and squeezed out. This adds additional moisture, tenderness, and flavor. If I'm trying to impress mom I would saute some combo of diced onions, peppers, celery, carrots, and/or fennel, etc. in olive oil until soft. Then I would add my favorite fresh herbs (parsley, thyme, oregano) mix with the meat lightly, form into a loaf and cook on a sheet lined with parchment paper. I've topped mine with everything from bacon to tomato relish, but my recent favorite is just some additional bread crumbs and grated parmesan which form nice crispy crust on top.

Posted by: Sean McLeod | November 14, 2006 1:24 PM

For those perplexed about the oatmeal, breadcrumbs, etc., these are not binders, they are stretchers: Meatloaf is popular in part not only because of the taste, but because of the economy. My mother used lots of chopped onion and 1/3 sage sausage meat; and when I had my first pate', its flavor did remind me of the meatloaf, though I was wise enough not to mention this to the hostess. And everyone is right, of course---like roast turkey and beef, the resultant sandwiches from the left-overs are even more anticipated than the original dish!

Posted by: Price Grisham | November 14, 2006 2:47 PM

Without doubt, the best recipe for a hamburger meatloaf is one that comes from the back of a Heinz 57 sauce bottle. Next best meatloaf is a PaDutch Ham Loaf. The leftovers make great sandwiches!

Posted by: martha_hb | November 14, 2006 3:36 PM

HAHA That's so funny, I too made meatloaf this weekend. Sounds like it was just that kind of weather. I any case, the recipe you came up with is almost exactly like one I've been loving for years. A couple of differences:

- Saute the chopped onion for about 5 mins with cloves of garlic before adding to the raw meat.
- I also add 2 tsp of Worcestershire sauce for a little oomph.
- Glaze it with ketchup and a sprinkling of brown sugar. Gotta love the ketchup on top, it's my favorite part!

Posted by: JMT | November 14, 2006 4:42 PM

I've had a boyfriend who was raised a gourmet and as a result, turns up his nose at meatloaf in general. Anyone have any high-class/upper crust/super-awesome ingredients for meatloaf that might convince him otherwise? His mom made a kind of meatloaf thing this past New Years and he ate it... had sausage rolled in the middle with red peppers... quite good but he would never say anything otherwise in reference to his mother's cooking!

Posted by: college kid | November 14, 2006 5:28 PM

I object to the concept that a "gourmet" would not like mealoaf. what does your boyfriend think a terrine is? He is not a gourmet, he is a snob.

Posted by: Phila. chef in "gourmet" restaurant | November 15, 2006 10:15 AM

I guess I've been using my Grandmother's recipe for too long! I use a 1/3 lb. of ground sirloin, 1/3 lb. ground veal, 1/3 lb. ground pork. I add one beaten egg, a couple of dashes of Worchestire, and a can of squished stewed tomatoes. Bake for 50 minutes in a 350 degree oven. Ketchup on the top!

Posted by: Terri Dorr | November 15, 2006 4:52 PM

Last week we went with friends to the Bluewater Grill in Milsboro DE and had the meatloaf -- ah, heaven! I was even content enough to join my wife at the ballet!

Posted by: Tom - Bethany Beach | November 15, 2006 5:04 PM

Made meatloaf last night to use up leftover stuffing from Thanksgiving. I use Giada's recipe, which has you form the loaf in a pan by laying half the meat mixture, putting leftover stuffing down the middle and topping with the remaining meat. I also had some leftover smoked mozzarella to stuff with and I must say it was sublime! I was so looking forward to having some for lunch today, but then the co-workers wanted to go out and I didn't want to be anti-social just so I could eat my meatloaf, which I'll have tomorrow for sure!

Posted by: Sean | November 30, 2006 2:59 PM

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