From America's Test Kitchen Season 1: Sunday Dinner
Not all meat loaves resemble Mom’s. Some recipes go the canned soup route and, frankly, taste like it. Others become gussied up with ingredients that have no place in this humble family dish—canned pineapple, sun-dried tomatoes, and the like. Our goal was not to develop the ultimate meat loaf but to bring it back to its classic roots—a tender, well-seasoned loaf smothered with tangy sweet glaze.
We started, of course, with the meat. We determined that supermarkets haven’t been selling “meat loaf mix” for no reason—a mixture of ground beef chuck, ground pork, and ground veal produced the best balance of flavors and textures. A starch turned out to be a necessity for binding the meat and giving it that classic meat loaf texture; cracker crumbs, quick-cooking oatmeal, and fresh bread crumbs all worked well. To prevent the filler from drying out the meat loaf, we knew we needed to add some moisture. After trying a host of options, we determined that whole milk and plain yogurt are equally acceptable. Finally, we realized that the pan in which the meat loaf baked made a big difference. A standard loaf pan traps the fat and stews the meat, and the juice bubbles up and destroys the glaze. Baking the meat loaf free-form in a shallow baking pan gave the loaf a good crust, preserved our sweet-tart glaze, and helped the bacon topping crisp nicely.
Serves 6 to 8
If you like, you can omit the bacon topping from the loaf. In this case, brush on half the glaze before baking and the other half during the last fifteen minutes of baking. If available at your supermarket in the meat case or by special order, you can use 2 pounds meatloaf mix in place of the ground beef, pork, and veal.