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July 25, 2007 / Tony

Meatloaf Analysis and Recipes

Meatloaf has been on my mind lately.  This is a classic American dish that is ripe for experimentation.  But I wanted to see if there were any rules to making meatloaf.  So I perused the Internet and a few of my cookbooks for meatloaf recipes.  I found these recipes:  meatloaf-recipes.pdf.  Please click on the link to see the ingredient list.  [Note, only ingredients are listed here, I chose not to get into the details of mixing and baking for this post.]  I then categorized the ingredients into these groups:  Meat, Bread, Vegetables, Egg, Salt, Pepper, Liquid, and Extras.  It was then just a little bit of math to get the ratio of ingredients to each other.  More specifically, using the meat content as my base, I found the ratio of all of the other ingredients (except the extras) to the beef.  For example, if there was 1 pound of meat in a recipe as well as 4 ounces of onion, then the ratio of onion to meat would be 4 ounces per pound or 25%.  To take another example, if there were 2 pounds of meat in a recipe as well as 3 ounces of bread crumbs, then the ratio of bread crumbs to meat would be 3.5 ounces bread crumbs per pound or 22%.  Please note, the percentages I am using are not intended to equal 100% when summed.  It is simply a way to succinctly relate the amount of an ingredient to the amount of meat in the recipe.  Each percentage, then, is independent of the others.   A full analysis of the recipe ingredients is here:  analysis-of-meatloaf-recipe-ingredients.pdf.  This is what I found for each ingredient.

Meat:  Of course, ground beef was present in all of the recipes.  When specified, the recipes asked for ground chuck or sirloin.  Two of the recipes asked for ground veal while one required ground sausage and one required ground pork.  It is my thinking that the addition of meats other than beef would produce a more complex flavor in the meatloaf 

Bread:  This is a rather varied group within these recipes.  The recipes asked for ground croutons, fresh, bread crumbs, bread crumbs, soft bread crumbs, cooked oatmeal, quick-cooking oats (raw), and torn sandwich bread.  Each of these ingredients would add a unique flavor.  The amount of bread in the recipes ranged from 1.5 oz of bread crumbs per pound or 9% to 7.5 oz per pound or 47%.  The average amount of bread in the recipe was 18% or about 2.9 ounces per pound. 

Vegetables:  Vegetables included onions, carrots, garlic, red pepper, mushrooms, and parsley.  By weight, the amount of vegetables in the recipes ranged from 0% to 40% with an average of 20%.

Egg:  The recipes varied in the amount of egg in the recipe.  The amount ranged from 2/5 of an egg to 2 eggs per pound.  The average amount of egg was 12% which is roughly one egg per pound. 

Salt:  The salt content in the recipes ranged from 1/3 tsp. per pound to approximately 2 T per pound.  The average amount of salt was about 1 ¼ tsp. per pound.  Some recipes had other ingredients that contributed a significant amount of sodium, like soy sauce.

Pepper:  The amount of pepper ranged from no added pepper to ½ tsp. per pound.  The average was 1/4 tsp. per pound.

Liquid:  The added liquids to the recipes included milk, ketchup, steak sauce, soy sauce, chili sauce, tomato paste, and Worcestershire sauce.  The amount of liquid ranged from no added liquid to 12 ounces of liquid per pound.  The average amount of liquid was 23% or about 4 ounces of liquid per pound.

Extras:  The additional flavor ingredients were wide and varied.  They included cayenne, chili powder, thyme, horseradish, Dijon mustard, Parmesan cheese, rosemary, lemon zest, steak sauce, soy sauce, chili sauce, garlic salt, season salt, dry mustard, and Worcestershire sauce.  What a diversity!

From this data, we can construct an “average” American meatloaf.  For this recipe, I will use the most general and “blandest” ingredients. 

Average American Meatloaf

2 lbs ground chuck

6 ounces unseasoned, dry bread crumbs

½ cup finely chopped yellow onion

2 eggs

2 ½ tsp. salt

½ tsp. pepper

8 ounces ketchup

Extra ketchup for topping

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Mix all ingredients in a large bowl.  Do this thoroughly but not too vigorously.  Place into a greased 9-inch loaf pan and then remove the mix from the pan onto a parchment paper lined half sheet pan or cookie sheet. (Alternatively, you can bake in the loaf pan or shape the loaf free-form.)  Bake until the internal temperature reaches approximately 125 degrees.  Take the meatloaf out of the oven and top with ketchup.  Continue to bake until the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees.  Take out of the oven, loosely tent with aluminum foil and let rest for 10 minutes.  Serve.  

Of course, now that we know what the average amounts of ingredients in meatloaf are, we can substitute as we wish while being confident that our meatloaf will retain classic meatloaf characteristics.  For example, I can quite easily write this recipe now:

BBQ Meatloaf

1 pound ground sirloin

1 pound ground pork

6 ounces fresh bread crumbs

1/4 cup finely chopped yellow onion

1/4 cup finely diced red pepper

1 garlic clove, minced

2 eggs

1 tsp. salt

½ tsp. pepper

6 ounces barbeque sauce (by weight)

2 ounces Worcestershire sauce

1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

1/2 tsp. dry mustard

1 tsp. chili powder

Extra barbeque sauce for topping

Proceed as detailed in Average American Meatloaf. 

Of course, rules can be broken.  If you want more vegetables, go ahead and put more in.  But you might want to use less liquid if you do.  If there’s a flavor you want to put into the meatloaf, go ahead.  Just try to make it consistent with the other flavors. 

The idea of this post was to come up with a general baseline for meatloaf so people could jump off and make up their own.  This is just like any other cooking technique.  Once you learn the basic technique, you can use your knowledge to make new and exciting things.  So go out and create already. 

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4 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. Paul / Jul 25 2007 3:45 pm

    Hi – be sure and check out Ina Garten’s recipe for turkey meatloaf that is extremely good. I used to shy away from turkey-anything until I made this… you can find anywhere on the net… google it or go to http://www.foodnetwork.com
    All the Best! = Paul

  2. Harold Solomon / Apr 26 2008 10:07 am

    I followed recipe to the letter and meat loaf came out perfect, however the second time around it came out like

    dog food and would not hold shape as a loaf.
    What am I doing wrong????

    • laurajeanfarrar / May 5 2013 9:06 am

      You probably forgot the eggs, which is the “glue” of the formed meatloaf…

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