Few dishes capture the nostalgia and coziness of a home-cooked meal quite like meatloaf. With its humble ingredients and straightforward method, meatloaf is the ultimate comfort food. Yet, to make the perfect meatloaf that’s not too mushy yet not too hard, you have to cook it at the right temperature for the right amount of time.
For a 2lbs meatloaf made using a 50/50 blend of pork and beef, cook it at 400° Fahrenheit for 45 to 50 minutes. If you use an all-beef recipe, you can cook it for slightly less time but avoid cooking for less than 30 minutes. Additionally, if you’re making a smaller meatloaf (≤1lbs) be sure not to overcook the loaf to avoid making it dry and crumbly.
A well-made meatloaf should be firm yet juicy and tasty yet well-balanced. If you’ve never made meatloaf before, continue reading to learn everything you’ll need to know to make a professional quality meal that your family can enjoy from the comfort of home.
Why Cook Meatloaf at 400°F?
There’s a lot of debate about the temperature at which meatloaf should be baked. However, we believe that the ideal temperature to cook meatloaf is 400°F. This temperature will cook the meatloaf evenly throughout so that it’s not overcooked on the outside and undercooked in the middle. Additionally, cooking meatloaf at 400°F will give it a nice crispy exterior without drying out the interior of the meatloaf.
Best of all, by choosing to bake your meatloaf at 400°F, you’ll shave around 15 minutes off the cooking time, freeing you up to spend more time with your family at the dinner table. However, it’s not the be-all and end-all if you choose to cook your meatloaf at a lower temperature. We’ll go into more detail about other cooking temperatures in the next section.
Covering Meatloaf with Aluminum Foil vs. Cooking it Uncovered
Many people assume that cooking under aluminum foil helps to speed up the process, but although it’s partially true, it produces different results. By covering a baking tin with foil, you’ll effectively trap heat and moisture within, which can cook the food faster, but it also creates a small pocket of steam. So, rather than baking the loaf, foil will cause it to steam like a large dumpling.
This is fine if you prefer a softer meatloaf without a crusty exterior but, if you prefer a well-done outside with a soft inside, you’re better off leaving the baking tin uncovered. If you do choose to bake your meatloaf with an aluminum covering, check the internal temperature after 40 minutes and use a cake tester to determine whether you’re happy with the inner consistency.
Cooking Meatloaf at 350° and 375°F
If you have time to spare and prefer a meatloaf that’s baked through yet lacks a crispy exterior, cook your meatloaf at a lower temperature. Cooking meatloaf at 350°F will create a meatloaf that’s cooked all the way through but still has some give on the outside. This is a suitable cooking temperature if you’re feeding young children or elderly family members who prefer softer food.
If you want a meatloaf with a crispy exterior but don’t want to sacrifice any juiciness, cook the meatloaf at 375°F. This cooking temperature will give you a meatloaf that’s crispy on the outside while remaining juicy and moist in the middle.
To cook a 2lbs meatloaf at 350°F, bake for approximately 60 minutes. If you’re cooking at 375°F, bake the meatloaf for 50 to 55 minutes. As always, we recommend checking the internal temperature of the meatloaf before removing it from the oven. The internal temperature of the meatloaf should be 160°F.
Beef, Pork, or a Mixture of Both?
Many home cooks make the mistake of baking a dry and crumbly meatloaf that leaves their family members feeling disappointed and unfulfilled. While the perfect meatloaf is a matter of personal preference, we think that the best meatloaf is made with a 50/50 blend of beef and pork. This perfect ratio will give you a meatloaf that’s flavorful and juicy without being too greasy.
If you’re looking for a leaner meatloaf, you can use all beef. Keep in mind that an all-beef meatloaf will have a different flavor and texture than one made with pork. Additionally, an all-beef meatloaf will cook slightly faster than one made with pork so be sure to check the internal temperature frequently. Also, you can increase the moisture content in an all-beef meatloaf by adding:
- Finely chopped or pureed vegetables for added nutrients and flavor
- Extra breadcrumbs to hold and retain some of the fat content
- An extra egg for good old-fashioned moisture and binding
Finally, letting the meatloaf sit for 10 to 15 minutes before removing it from the baking tin will allow some of the juices to settle back into the meat, guaranteeing that you get a moist and delicate final product.
Adding Milk or Water to a Meatloaf
Another way to ensure a moist and flavorful meatloaf is to add milk when mixing the ingredients together. This will add moisture to the meatloaf and help to bind the ingredients together. We recommend adding no more than ¼ cup of milk for every pound of meat.
Additionally, you can also soak breadcrumbs in milk for about 5 minutes before adding them to the meat mixture. This will help to add even more moisture to the meatloaf and ensure a tender final product.
If you are lactose intolerant or have an allergy to dairy products, you can also substitute water for milk, but it will not create as rich of a final product. Nevertheless, a bit of added water will help to make your meatloaf moister. The trick is to add water by the spoonful until the meat, egg, and bread mixture no longer sticks to the side of the mixing bowl.
Additional Substitutes for Other Allergies
If you can’t have eggs or are allergic to them, you can use a chia egg as a replacement. Mix 1 tablespoon of chia seeds with 3 tablespoons of water to make a chia egg. Let the mixture sit for about 5 minutes until it forms a gel-like consistency. This gel can then be added to the meat mixture in place of an egg.
If you don’t have easy access to chia seeds, aquafaba can also act as a good substitute but we recommend cutting back on the amount of water or milk you add to the mixture. Aquafaba has a higher water content than chia egg, so it can create a gummier meatloaf if you use too much.
For anyone with celiac disease, you can also substitute almond flour for breadcrumbs at a ratio of one-to-one. This is also a good alternative for anyone following the keto diet, as almond flour is a low-carbohydrate flour made from minimally processed nuts.
Can You Cook Meatloaf in an Air Fryer?
The short answer is, yes, you can cook meatloaf in an air fryer. The long answer is that it depends on how you like your meatloaf. Air fryers are known for their ability to create crispy and well-done food without all the added fat and grease that comes from deep frying. So, if you’re looking for a meatloaf with a crispy exterior, you can cook it in an air fryer.
To cook meatloaf in an air fryer, start by spraying the basket with cooking spray. Then, form the meatloaf mixture into a loaf and place it in the basket. Cook the meatloaf at 400°F for 25 to 30 minutes, flipping it over halfway through. As always, we recommend checking the internal temperature of the meatloaf before removing it from the air fryer. The internal temperature should be 160°F.
Be warned, though, that if you prefer a tender and juicy meatloaf, we recommend cooking it in the oven. The air fryer will cause the exterior of the meatloaf to cook faster than the middle, potentially drying out the final dish. Additionally, the air fryer will not add any moisture to the meatloaf so, if you’re looking for a moist meatloaf, we recommend cooking it in the oven.
My Personal Tips for Making an Amazing Meatloaf
Before we get into the details of a recipe, we wanted to take a minute to introduce a handful of useful tips that will help you make the perfect meatloaf. Check them out below and use them as you see fit:
- Avoid Overmixing: Mix all of your ingredients together until combined but do so gently. Overmixing the meat and filler can make your meatloaf tough.
- The Flavor is Up to You: Don’t forget to season your meatloaf! Add salt, pepper, garlic powder, and any other herbs or spices you like. You can also add a barbeque sauce if you want but reduce the amount of added water or milk to account for additional moisture in the mix.
- Bacon Adds Flavor and Locks in Moisture: For extra flavor, try shaping your meatloaf into a loaf and then top it with bacon before baking. The fat from the bacon will add moisture and help lock in any steam that may escape from the loaf.
- Don’t Forget a Sauce: Most people serve meatloaf with gravy or sauce and, while not necessary, it is a great way to finish the dish.
Some Frequently Asked Questions
Cooked meatloaf can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to four days. To reheat it, preheat the oven to 350°F and place the meatloaf on a lightly greased baking sheet for 10 to 15 minutes or until heated through. If freezing meatloaf, store it for up to four months. When you’re ready to eat it, thaw the meatloaf and then reheat it.
Although it’s common to add ketchup to the top of a meatloaf, it’s not necessary. However, if you like ketchup on your meatloaf, feel free to add it. Just remember that ketchup is high in sugar so, if you’re trying to watch your sugar intake, you may want to opt for sugar-free ketchup or another type of sauce.
You can make meatloaf the night before and then cook it the next day. Simply shape the meat into a loaf, wrap it in plastic wrap, and store it in the refrigerator. When you’re ready to cook it, preheat the oven to 400°F, unwrap the meatloaf, and place it in a greased loaf pan. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes or until the internal temperature of the meatloaf reaches 160°F.
A Fool-Proof Recipe for Standard Homemade Meatloaf
How Long to Cook Meatloaf at 400 F
To make the perfect meatloaf that's not too mushy yet not too hard, you have to cook it at the right temperature for the right amount of time.
- 1lbs lean ground beef
- 1lbs ground pork
- 1 yellow onion, diced
- 1 green bell pepper, diced
- 4 cloves of garlic, minced
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup breadcrumbs
- ½ cup ketchup
- 1 tablespoon mustard
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- ¼ cup of milk, to be added as needed
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- Preheat the oven to 400°F and spray a medium-sized loaf tin with cooking spray.
- Add both the pork and beef to a large mixing bowl and gently mix in the finely diced vegetables until evenly combined.
- Continue to mix in the breadcrumbs, dry seasonings, and wet ingredients until the mixture is smooth and no longer clings to the side of the bowl.
- Shape the mixture into a loaf and place it in the prepared baking tin. If you prefer a soft outer texture, cover the tin with aluminum foil.
- Bake for 45 to 50 minutes or until the internal temperature of the meatloaf reaches 160°F.
- Remove from the oven and let rest for 10 to 15 minutes before slicing and serving.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 6 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving:Calories: 542Total Fat: 28gSaturated Fat: 10gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 14gCholesterol: 201mgSodium: 876mgCarbohydrates: 24gFiber: 2gSugar: 8gProtein: 47g
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