Meat Loaf, 7 Ways

Learn all you need to master―and trim down―this treasured American classic.

Classic Meat Loaf

Classic Meat Loaf

Becky Luigart-Stayner

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Meat loaf holds an honored spot in the pantheon of all-American foods, right up there with hot dogs, burgers, and apple pie. It was popular during World War II, when ground beef was among the most affordable and available meats; President Truman claimed meat loaf with tomato sauce was his favorite meal. And the 1950s saw the creation of "gourmet" meat loaves with a middle layer of hard-cooked eggs or "frosted" with a topping of mashed potatoes (as a sort of American version of British shepherd's pie). Today, meat loaf remains a family favorite.

All you need to prepare a meat loaf is ground meat (be it beef, pork, turkey, or lamb), a few seasonings, perhaps a vegetable or two, and some kind of binder (usually breadcrumbs and/or eggs) to hold it all together. That equation leaves lots of room for invention, including lower-fat versions.

Slimming down this suppertime standby is just a matter of technique. Doing so not only improves flavor but also does a lot to boost meat loaf's nutritional profile. Lean beef offers generous amounts of several different nutrients, including high-quality protein, zinc, vitamin B12, selenium, and phosphorous, and goodly sums of iron, riboflavin, and niacin. Veal and turkey, while not as high in iron, are also good sources of B vitamins and lean protein.

Choose the Meat
Meat is the main ingredient, and the one that most influences texture and flavor. Fatty cuts like regular ground chuck or ground beef (may be called "85 percent lean," but it's a hefty 15 percent fat by weight) are out because nearly all that fat will end up in the final product. Breadcrumbs, crackers, or whatever is used to bind the loaf will absorb the extra fat cooked out of the meat. While that makes for a moist texture, it isn't nutritionally sound. We found that 92 percent lean and 96 percent extralean ground beef work fine, especially when combined with a smaller amount of ground pork, which adds a bit of moisture. Ultralean ground turkey breast can also be used for a leaner meat loaf, but it makes for a dry final product. So we combined ground turkey breast with ground turkey or ground pork and added a little extra liquid to the mix.


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