Great meat loaf is moist and dense, tender yet firm. It satisfies with a rich flavor that's meaty and lasting; it's well-seasoned yet not overwhelming.
On the following slides, Scott Peacock teaches you the basics; start there, then adapt as you please.
You know how wonderful mushroom gravy is with beef; putting mushrooms inside the meat rather than on top makes the combination even better. For best results, use a spoon to gently scrape gills from Portobello mushroom caps. If you leave them in they will turn the vegetables a dark, unappetizing color.
"Sautéing the onions, mushrooms, and celery in a bit of butter softens them and develops their flavor," says Scott. "Chop all vegetables into pieces that are about 1/4 inch in size."
"Rubbing the garlic into a fine paste helps transfer its flavor throughout the loaf," says Scott. "Finely chop the cloves first, add a pinch of kosher salt, then use the side of the knife to mash and pull the garlic pieces into a paste."
"Grating the carrots ensures they soften during cooking and don't provide too much texture or crunch," says Scott. "The technique also distributes their sweetness throughout the meat loaf."
"Bread crumbs or cubes lightens the loaf's texture," says Scott. "Hand-cut pieces of white bread and soak them with half-and-half. This adds richness and helps evenly mix the bread and meat together."
Bacon adds richness and depth to the flavor of the meatloaf and a mild smokiness. Chopped very fine, the bacon "melts" into the ground beef and pork as the meatloaf cooks.
Eggs beaten into the bread crumbs help to bind and lighten the meat loaf without adding too much filling.
Thyme adds dimension and liveliness to the flavor of the meat.
"Using your hands to mix the meats is the most effective and efficient method," says Scott. "Fingers aerate as they blend, rather than mash, making a lighter loaf." Be sure to use ground chuck and a bit of pork. The chuck has more fat and flavor and marries well with ground pork for rounded, satisfying flavor.
"Moistening hands with cold water makes shaping the meat loaf easier, and it minimizes the amount of meat that sticks to your hands. Baking the meat loaf in a dish that is larger than the loaf improves browning and lets the excess fat escape," says Scott. "A shallow indentation along the edges keeps the delicious glaze on top."
Brown sugar and apple cider vinegar intensify the flavor of the ketchup-based glaze that tops Scott's meat loaf recipe.
"A ketchup-based sauce is delicious," says Scott. "It caramelizes and intensifies during baking, and meat loaf wouldn't be meat loaf without a sweet, tangy finish."
Scott Peacock, Better Homes and Gardens' American Classics expert, is executive chef at Watershed Restaurant in Decatur, Georgia, and was named Best Chef in the Southeast by the James Beard Foundation in 2007.