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~ I Love My Mom's Old-Fashioned All-Beef Meatloaf ~

IMG_7652The fabulous '50's may be gone forever, but they are certainly not forgotten.  Remember the stainless steel diner in your hometown that served up a thick slice of mouthwatering meatloaf smothered in a smooth, rich pan gravy alongside a big scoop of fluffy mashed potatoes? Remember meatloaf day in your school cafeteria with stewed tomatoes and macaroni and cheese?  Remember the Swanson frozen meatloaf dinner slathered with a thick brown gravy and French fries?  I remember them all, but, mostly, I remember my mom's "special" meatloaf.

Meatloaf-frozen-dinner-kid"Meatloaf."  Say the word aloud in the company of family or friends, even in the company of culinary professionals, and you'll find that almost everyone wants to share a fond memory, tell an interesting story, or, recite a favorite recipe or three.  Once a Depression era meal to help home cooks stretch precious protein to feed more people, everyone will nod in agreement that, nowadays, meatloaf can be whatever you want it to be: an economical family-style meal or a culinary masterpiece fit for a king.

The industrial revolution placed meatloaf squarely on America's foodie road map -- the invention of the hand-crank (and later the electric/automated), meat grinder was historic. 

IMG_7545According to The Oxford Companion to Food:  Meatloaf is a dish whose visibility is considerably higher in real life than in cookery books.  This situation might be changed if it had a fancy French name (pâté chad de viand hachée, préalablement marinée dans du vin de pays et des aromatiques).  In the USA, the term was recorded in print in 1899, in Britain, 1939.  The use of the word 'loaf' is appropriate as most recipes include a portion of a loaf of bread, usually in the from of soft, fresh breadcrumbs.  Also, meatloaf is shaped like a loaf of bread, typically baked in a loaf pan, and sliced like a loaf of bread.  It is a worthy dish that embodies the word peasant (rustic), but can also exhibit refinement associated with bourgeois (upper middle-class) cookery.  Meatloaf does not extend into the realm of haute cuisine (artful or imaginative cuisine).

6a0120a8551282970b0162ff840af2970dA bit about grinding meat:  While the thankless task of mincing meat has been going on since ancient times, Karl Drais, a German aristocrat, is credited with inventing the cast-iron, hand-crank meat grinder in 1785.  This portable, countertop appliance made it possible for frugal home cooks to take advantage of its economic, time-saving benefits:  

1) Ground meat feeds more people.  2) Grinding meat makes tough, lesser expensive cuts of meat more palatable and easier to digest.  3)  Combining and grinding small pieces of various types of meat together makes a meal of otherwise useless leftovers.

^^^ Nowadays, grinding your own meat is even easier than this.  Trim it of unnecessary fat, cut it into 1"-1 1/2" chunks and pulse it in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade.

IMG_7589By the 1950's meatloaf was in America to stay, and, recipes were in print everywhere.

IMG_7592A bit about meatloaf in America: American meatloaf originated in the form of scrapple, a grainy-textured mash of ground pork scraps and trimmings mixed with moistened cornmeal prior to baking in a loaf shape.  Scrapple has been served by German-speaking Americans in Pennsylvania (the PA Deutsch) since Colonial times. From this somewhat unappetizing, born-out-of-necessity beginning, savvy home cooks adopted the concept of combining ground meat(s) with milk-moistened bread, egg, onion, salt and pepper, thus, evolving meatloaf D73faa54f8f38aed16c7afe476067a1binto its current  state:  homey, great-tasting, old-fashioned comfort food. Because cows were butchered before Winter, as feeding them was difficult and expensive, the first modern recipes for meatloaf contained just beef.

SwansonmeatloafdinnerA bit about my family's "special" meatloaf: My grandmother and mother used saltine cracker crumbs in place of fresh or dried breadcrumbs in a whole host of recipes.  Truth told: Saltines, when moistened in milk until soft, are:  more flavorful than breadcrumbs, and, they maintain a bit of texture too. Their pantries were never without a box and neither is mine.  There's more:  

Both my mother and grandmother used beef exclusively, never a combination of beef, pork and veal.  My grandmother, who owned a mom and pop grocery store during the Depression era, did not like the gelatinous texture that comes from adding mild-flavored veal and did not approve of mixing pork and beef together -- no bacon strips were ever draped over a meatloaf in any of my family's kitchens.  Neither of them ever glazed their meatloaf with anything either.  That said:

IMG_5278On nights when mom was serving meatloaf with mashed potatoes, mom would mix the precious-few beefy meat drippings with some seasoned flour and a can of beef broth to whip up some brown gravy to drizzle over the top.  On nights when mom was serving meatloaf with macaroni and cheese, she would mix the precious-few beefy meat drippings with some seasoned flour and a can of stewed tomatoes to drizzle over the top.  We called it: Mom's stewed-tomato gravy.

Make your family happy, make meatloaf tonight: 

IMG_7477For 2, 1 3/4-pound meat loaves:

3  pounds lean or extra-lean ground beef (85/15 or 90/10)

2  extra-large eggs, lightly beaten

4  ounces saltine crackers (1 sleeve of crackers from a 1-pound box), crumbled by hand into small bits and pieces, not processed to crumbs.

1  cup milk

3  tablespoons salted butter

1 1/2  cups small diced yellow or sweet onion

1 1/2  cups small diced celery

3/4  cup minced, fresh parsley leaves, or 1/2 cup dried parsley leaves

2  .13-ounce packets G. Washington's Rich Brown Seasoning and Broth Mix (Note:  This WWII-era dehydrated spice mixture was created by Paul J. Campbell in 1937 to replace instant broth/bouillon.  It was a well-known family secret of my grandmother's and I keep it on-hand so I can duplicate her recipes without fail.  It's available at many local grocery stores and on-line.)

1 1/2  teaspoons salt

1 1/2  teaspoons coarsely-ground black pepper

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing loaf pans 

IMG_7478 IMG_7483 IMG_7488 IMG_7490~Step 1.  Place the ground beef in a large bowl.  Using a fork, lightly beat the eggs and add them to the meat.  Using your hands (it's the most efficient way), thoroughly combine the two.

IMG_7491 IMG_7497 IMG_7500 IMG_7501 IMG_7511~Step 2.  Using your fingertips, crush the crackers into small bits and pieces, letting them fall into a medium mixing bowl as you work. Add the milk and stir to combine. Set aside about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, to allow the crackers to absorb all of the milk.  The mixture will be thick and pasty.  Add the cracker mixture to the beef/egg mixture, and once again, using your hands, thoroughly combine.

IMG_7507 IMG_7512 IMG_7519 IMG_7520 IMG_7523 IMG_7528~Step 3.  In a 10" skillet melt butter over low heat. Add the diced onion and celery along with the G.Washington's Seasoning, salt and pepper. Adjust heat to medium- medium-high and sauté until both onion and celery are nicely softened, 4-5 minutes.  Stir in the parsley, remove from heat and allow to cool for 30 full minutes.  Add the cool but still-a-little warm vegetable mixture to the meat.  Using your hands, thoroughly combine.

IMG_7542~ Step 4.  Spray 2, 1 1/2-quart loaf pans* with no-stick cooking spray. Divide the meat mixture in half, form each half into a loaf shape and place one in each pan.  If you have a kitchen scale, now is the time to use it.  There will be 3 1/2 pounds meatloaf mixture. *Note:  My grandmother and mother always baked meatloaf in clear glass dishes and so do I.  The advantage is being able to see exactly how fast and how well the loaves are browning.

IMG_7561~ Step 5.  Bake meatloaves on center rack of preheated 350° oven for 1 hour, 15 minutes, or until an instant-read thermometer placed in the the thickest part of the center reaches 168°-170º.  Loaves will be bubbling and juices will be running clear.  Remove from oven and place, in pans, on a wire rack to cool about 15 minutes.  Use a spatula to remove loaves from pans.  Slice and serve hot, or, warm or cool to room temperature and refrigerate.

IMG_7570 IMG_7574 IMG_7579 IMG_7586~Step 6.  It is worth mention that ground beef loses moisture as it cooks, so, there will be some very flavorful drippings in the bottom of each loaf pan -- not a lot of them, but enough to run through a fat/lean separator, place in a saucepan and add 1, 18-ounce jar beef gravy to.

Humble & Homey, Old-Fashioned, Great-Tasting, Comfort-Food:

IMG_7597I Love My Mom's Old-Fashioned All-Beef Meatloaf:  Recipe yields, 2, 1 3/4-pound meatloaves.

Special Equipment List:  fork; 1-cup measuring container; cutting board; chef's knife; 10" nonstick skillet; nonstick spoon or spatula; 2, 8 1/2" x 4 1/2" x 2 1/2", 1 1/2-quart loaf pans, preferably glass; kitchen scale; instant-read meat thermometer; wire cooling rack; fat/lean separator

IMG_7515 IMG_7515Cook's Note: For just about any time you want to have stuffing with your roasted meat or poultry, my mom has a unique recipe, which, is made using saltine crackers in place of bread cubes. ~ I Just Love My Mom's Cracker Stuffing Casserole ~ can be found in Categories 4, 12, 18 or 19.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)


Good morning Gayana -- nice to hear from you. The loaf pans I use are standard-size (8 1/2" x 4 1/2" x 2 1/2", 1 1/2-quart). I prefer clear glass because I can keep an eye on the meatloaf as it bakes, but, metal pans work just fine too. The only pans I do not recommend are the disposable aluminum type. As for the gravy, it is difficult to get enough drippings from meatloaf to make more than a small amount of gravy from scratch -- hardly worth the effort. What I do is separate the the grease from the actual beef drippings (I use a fat/lean separator for that) and add the drippings to a large jar of (Heinz) store-bought beef gravy. In restaurant kitchens, meatloaf is almost always served with gravy because in a restaurant kitchen, they usually have an abundance of beef drippings and beef stock (from making other beef-based dishes) to make gravy in large quantities. Enjoy your meatloaf! ~ Melanie

Hi Melanie, your recipe sounds amazing! I've never made a meatloaf before because all of the recipes sound like fast food version always with unhealthy ketchup. Your recipe sounds authentic and original! I cant wait to cook it :)
I have two questions thou:
1) you mentioned adding beef drippings to beef gravy. Do you have a recipe of beef gravy I could use for this meatloaf?
2) what size pans would you recommend?

Thanks again. I hope to hear from you soon :)

Thank-you John -- I'm certain your mom will be more than pleased!

What a fantastic post, this all beef meat loaf recipe is out of this world. I can't wait to dig deep and start following the steps in the recipe to make my mom the most delicious all beef meat loaf.
Thanks for sharing

Jen -- I always freeze it after baking it. Once it comes out of the oven and cools to room temp, I wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator overnight. The next day, I slice it (it's easier to slice cold), individually wrap the slices in plastic wrap, put them in a food storage bag and place them, in the bag, in the freezer. Thank-you for the nice comment -- you made my day! ~ Melanie

Hi Melanie,

My husband is a big fan of meatloaf, but I've never found a recipe I liked very much...until now!! Texture is as important to me as flavor, and in addition to tasting great, your recipe was just right - not brick-like and not falling apart.

I halved your recipe and only made one loaf for the inaugural run. In the future I'd like to make two and freeze one - would you recommend freezing before or after cooking it?

Thanks so much!

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Teresa -- Thanks for your glowing report! I have a WHVL "shoot" on Thursday, which will air on Mother's Day. Because of how well received this post was, I think I'll make a couple loaves on-air. Can you feel the love? ~ Mel

Hi Mel! I forgot to report in about how much we loved your mom's meatloaf! There was talk of freezing one, but then the 2 of us ate them both over several days, with not a crumb left! :D

Teresa -- I am so glad I "caved to my craving" and made it. I had a meatloaf sandwich today for lunch -- for the second day in a row. SO damned good. You and Mike: enjoy your trip back in time!!! ~ Mel.

Hey Mel, Mike and I are gonna love your Mom's meatloaf too! It will make great leftovers after working outside for the next several days. It's raining today, so it's a perfect day for catching up on your blog. I love the nostalgia. :)

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