The history of the American staple – meatloaf – offers more than a trip down culinary lane. It provides a glimpse into how advances in technology have shaped the way we eat and prepare food today. Your grandmother’s hand-cranked grinder, the kind that attached to the edge of a table, was key to meatloaf becoming an everyday dish. Cooks relied on it, particularly in the early half of the 20th century, until butcher shops installed refrigeration units that were able to safely store more perishable chopped meat.
Early meatloaf recipes called for veal, which was less expensive than beef at the time. The meat in one widely published version was first cooked then chopped, blended with other ingredients, molded, then cooked again into a loaf. Recipe history indicates that meatloaf as we know it today – blended with bread or cracker crumbs, egg and seasonings, then baked in a rectangular pan – gradually became popular between 1900 and the 1920s.
Among the most popular early recipes were several created by the Quaker Oats Company using their product as a binder in place of breadcrumbs. Binder is an essential meatloaf ingredient because it creates an even, smooth texture. In addition to whole-wheat breadcrumbs, oats or even cooked rice, it can include a generous amount of finely shredded or chopped cooked vegetables like spinach, carrots or onion. Nutritionally smart, the vegetables help keep a meatloaf moist.
How Meatloaf is Made Round the World
The Austrian meatloaf version is called Faschierter Braten. Most of the time it is wrapped in ham before baking it. Often it is served with mashed potatoes (when warm) or with a sauce (when cold).
Danish meatloaf is called forloren hare, mock hare or farsbrød (ground-meat bread) and is usually made from a mixture of ground pork and beef with strips of bacon or cubed bacon on top. It is served with boiled or mashed potatoes and brown sauce sweetened with red currant jelly.
Finnish meatloaf is called lihamureke. It is completely based on the basic meatball recipe. The only spices used are salt and pepper. It is not customary to stuff lihamureke with anything. The usual side dish is mashed potatoes, and lihamureke is usually served with brown sauce.
In Germany, meatloaf is referred to as Hackbraten, Faschierter Braten or Falscher Hase ‘mock hare’. In some regions it often has boiled eggs inside.
In Greece, meatloaf is referred to as rolo (Ρολό) and it is usually filled with hard boiled eggs, although several other variations exist.
Stefania meatloaf or Stefania slices are a type of Hungarian long meatloaf baked in a loaf pan, with 3 hard boiled eggs in the middle, making decorative white and yellow rings in the middle of the slices.
In Italy, meatloaf is called polpettone and can be filled with eggs or ham and cheese.
In Jewish cuisine, meatloaf is called Klops (Hebrew: קלופס) and can be served cold or hot. It is sometimes filled with whole boiled eggs. The source of the word might be German, Klops, meaning meatball.
Rolat is a similar dish to the Arab and South-Asian, kofta. Ground beef is rolled and cooked until brown. It can be cooked with vegetables and various sauces.
The meatloaf dish called Embotidot is made of well seasoned ground pork, minced carrots, sausages, and whole boiled eggs. The meat is molded into a roll with the sausages and hard boiled eggs set in the middle. It is then wrapped in aluminum foil (historically, banana leaves) and steamed for an hour. The cooked Embotido may be stored inthe freezer. It is usually served fried and sliced for breakfast.
In Romanian cuisine, there is a meatloaf dish called drob, similar to other minced meat dishes in the region like the Bulgarian Rulo Stefani or the Hungarian Stefánia meatloaf, the major difference being that it is always made with lamb organs (or a mixture of lamb organs and pork or veal) and the hard boiled eggs in the centre of the drob are optional.
Rulo Stefani (Bulgarian: Руло Стефани).The Bulgarian rulo Stefani meatloaf is similar to the Hungarian Stefánia meatloaf, with hard-boiled eggs in the middle.
In the Czech Republic, meatloaf is referred to as sekaná ‘chopped’. It is optional to put hard boiled eggs, gherkins, or wienerwurst inside.
Greater Middle East
Kafta or kofta is a similar dish which the mixture can be made into hamburgers and kebabs. It usually has parsley in it.
In 2007, meatloaf was voted the seventh-favorite dish in the United States according to Good Housekeeping.
During the Great Depression, cooking meatloaf was a way to stretch the food budget for families, using an inexpensive type of meat and other ingredients, such as leftovers, spices and cereal grains to stretch the meat.
Meatloaf is typically eaten with some kind of sauce or relish. Many recipes call for pasta sauce or tomato sauce to be poured over the loaf to form a crust during baking. The tomato-based sauce may be replaced with simple brown gravy or onion gravy, but the meatloaf is prepared in a similar manner. Barbecue sauce, tomato ketchup, or a mixture of both tomato ketchup and mustard may also be used. American meatloaf may be garnished with ketchup. Another variety of meatloaf is prepared by frosting it with mashed potatoes, drizzling it with a small amount of butter, and browning in the oven.
Meatloaf is normally served warm as part of the main course, but can also be found sliced as a cold cut. Meatloaf can also be considered a typical comfort food and is served in many diners and restaurants today.
The Vietnamese meatloaf version is called “giò”. It’s boiled rather than baked or smoke.
Some Nontraditional Recipes
A popular recipe for meatloaf that utilizes a package of dried onion soup mix has been around for many years. I used this ingredient for a long time in my meatloaves until I became aware of how much salt was in each serving – 610 mg. While this mix adds great flavor to meatloaf, it also contains many ingredients you do not want to eat if you are cooking healthy. I suggest you read the nutrition label on this package the next time you go shopping.
So I created my own dried onion soup mix, minus all the salt and preservatives, that I keep in the pantry for just such uses. Here is my recipe, in case you would like to make it. A recipe follows that shows how to include this ingredient.
Homemade Dried Onion Soup Mix
You can double and triple this recipe.
- 8 teaspoons dried onion flakes
- 1 1/2 teaspoons dried parsley
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 1/2 teaspoon celery seed
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
Mix all the ingredients in a jar with a tight fitting lid.
Healthy Turkey Meatloaf
In mixing bowl combine:
- 1/3 cup egg substitute
- 1/2 cup ( 6 oz. can) tomato paste
- 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon prepared horseradish
- 3/4 cups oats
- 5 tablespoons of the substitute soup mix
- 1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon Mrs. Dash Steak Grilling Blend
Mix in 2 lbs. ground lean turkey breast. Form into a loaf and place in the middle of a roasting pan.
Mix together the remaining tomato paste, 1 tsp. horseradish, 1 tsp. water and 1/2 tsp agave. Spread over the top of the loaf.
I put a selection of cubed vegetables around the loaf, such as butternut squash, sweet potato or fingerling potatoes, onion and carrots.
Bake in a 375 preheated oven for 1 1/2 hours.
Dinner all in one pan! A 1 inch slice has about 250 calories. If I don’t roast it with vegetables, I sometimes add 1 cup of either shredded zucchini or carrot to the meatloaf mix.
The Best Meat Loaf
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 cup plain dried bread crumbs
- 1/3 cup finely chopped celery
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 1 1/2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 generous tablespoons instant low sodium beef broth powder
- 2 or 3 dashes of hot sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon poultry seasoning
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 2 lbs. grass fed ground beef or bison
Combine eggs, bread crumbs, celery, onion, Worcestershire sauce, tomato paste, broth powder and seasonings in bowl and mix well.
Add ground beef and mix well. Shape into loaf. Place into 9 X 13 inch baking dish.
Bake at 350 degrees F. for 1 hour.
Crock Pot Meatloaf
Cook Time: 8 hours
Total Time: 8 hours, 25 minutes
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/3 cup milk
- 1/4 cup horseradish
- 3 tablespoons chili sauce
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
- 1 teaspoon dried marjoram leaves
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
- 1 cup soft fresh whole wheat breadcrumbs
- 2-1/2 lbs. ground turkey
In medium pan, cook onion and garlic in olive oil until tender. Place in large bowl with all ingredients except turkey and mix well.
Add turkey and mix gently just until combined.
Tear off 2- 30″ pieces of heavy duty aluminum foil and fold to make two 2″x 30″ strips. Lay strips in bottom of crockpot in an X pattern, letting the edges hang over the crockpot. Form turkey mixture into a loaf that will fit into the crockpot. Place on top of the foil strips.
Cover crockpot and cook on low for 7-8 hours, until meat thermometer registers 170 degrees. Drain off fat as needed during cooking time using a turkey baster. Use foil strips to lift meatloaf out of crockpot when it reaches 160 degrees F on a meat thermometer. Cover and let stand 20 minutes before slicing.
Vegetarian Lentil Loaf
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 cup chopped onion
- 2 teaspoons chopped garlic
- 1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
- 1/4 cup chopped celery
- 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
- 2 cups firm-cooked lentils
- 1 cup cooked brown rice
- 1/4 cup chopped dried cranberries
- 1/4 cup whole wheat breadcrumbs
- 1 teaspoon chopped basil
- 1/2 teaspoon chopped thyme
- 1/2 teaspoon chopped oregano
- 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 2 tablespoons whole wheat flour
- 2 tablespoons milk
- Salt & freshly ground pepper to taste
- 1/4 cup ketchup
Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 9×5-inch loaf pan. In a large sauté pan over medium high heat add the oil; when hot, add the onion and garlic and cook for about 10 minutes or until the onions are translucent. Add the bell pepper and celery; cook, covered, for another 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.
In a large bowl combine the sautéed vegetables with the walnuts, lentils, rice, cranberries, breadcrumbs, basil, thyme, oregano, eggs, flour and milk. Season with salt and pepper, mix well and then spoon into the loaf pan. Brush ketchup on the top of the loaf.
Bake until firm, about 45 minutes.
Italian Meatloaf Roll with Spinach Filling
- 1 1/2 lbs. extra lean ground beef or ground turkey breast
- 3/4 cup Italian style bread crumbs
- 1 egg
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/5 teaspoon pepper
- 1 cup Marinara sauce
- 1/2 tablespoon mozzarella cheese
- 1 package frozen 10 oz spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
- 1 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese
- 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
Heat oven at 375 degrees F.
In a bowl combine beef, crumbs. egg, salt and pepper.
Flatten into a 1/2 inch rectangle shape.
In a bowl combine, mozzarella cheese, Italian seasoning, salt, garlic powder and spinach.
Cut a piece of foil or wax paper into a 12×8 inch rectangle.
On foil, pat mixture to12x8-inch rectangle. Spread with filling leaving a 1 inch border. Starting at short end, roll up tightly, using foil to start roll and tucking in filling; seal ends. Place seam side down in ungreased 12×8-inch (2 quart) glass baking dish.
Cook for 1 hour. Spread marinara sauce and cheese over top. Bake 15 minutes longer or until thermometer inserted in meat loaf reads 160°F. Let stand 5 to 10 minutes before serving.
Tuscan Meatloaf with Mushroom Sauce
- 2 oz dried porcini mushrooms
- 1 lb lean ground pork
- 1 tablespoon milk
- One 2-in square of Italian bread, crust removed
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped yellow onion
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons chopped prosciutto
- 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/4 teaspoon minced garlic
- 1 lightly beaten egg
- 1/2 cup unflavored bread crumbs
- 4 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/3 cup dry white wine
1. Soak the mushrooms in two cups of lukewarm water for half an hour or more.
2. In a bowl, break up the pork with a fork. In a small bowl, combine the milk and bread, and mash until creamy. Add the milk and bread to the meat, along with the onion, salt, pepper, prosciutto, cheese, and garlic. Mix thoroughly by hand. Mix in the lightly beaten egg. Shape meat into a firm, round ball; then roll this into a loaf about two and a half inches thick. Tap with your palm to drive out any air bubbles. Roll the loaf in the bread crumbs until evenly coated.
3. Drain the mushrooms (reserving the soaking water) and rinse them several times in clean, cold water. Chop the mushrooms roughly and set aside. Strain the soaking water through a fine sieve lined with paper towels. Whisk in the tomato paste and set aside.
4. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or heavy casserole pan just big enough for the meat. Brown the meat on all sides in the pan over medium heat. Drain off the fat. Add the wine. Increase heat to medium high. Boil wine briskly until reduced one half, turning meat carefully once or twice. Turn heat to medium low and add chopped mushrooms. Add the tomato paste mushroom water to the meat and mushrooms. Cover and cook at a simmer for 30 minutes, turning the meat once or twice.
5. Carefully remove meat to a cutting board. Allow it to cool slightly and settle. Cut into slanted slices about 3/8 of an inch thick. If the sauce seems thin, concentrate it by boiling rapidly for a few minutes. Pour a little sauce on a warm serving platter, arrange the meat slices, then cover the remainder of the sauce.
- Rodger’s BBQ Meatloaf (cantstayoutofthekitchen.com)
- Leftover Meatloaf, Rice, & Veggies Medley (sports-glutton.com)
- Meatloaf Meatballs (also known as Meatloaf Muffins) (culdesaccool.com)
- One of America’s Favorites – Meatloaf (beatcancer2010.wordpress.com)
- Meatloaf Variations (citymama.com)
“The Ultimate Meatloaf cookbook offers recipes from around the globe, from the All-American Meatloaf to Hawaiian Style to the more exotic Greek, Mexican, Indian and Asian twists. While traditional recipes suit the ever-popular protein diet, this cookbook provides vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, low-salt, and low carb alternatives. Bestselling cookbook author John Chatham provides the authoritative guide on the All American favorites that feature 100 meatloaf recipes from a breakfast to hearty, healthy meals for every appetite and diet plan.”
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August 31, 2012 at 4:37 am
What an interesting post! I love meatloaf and there are so many variations to try you could never tire of it!
August 31, 2012 at 5:57 am
You are so right. Thanks for reading and commenting.
August 31, 2012 at 3:54 pm
I never realized how many variations there are on the lowly meatloaf. I’m going to try some of them. Meatloaf freezes really well so it would be fun to do a meatloaf making saturday or something. Thanks for the research and the great blog.
August 31, 2012 at 4:51 pm
How exciting. Let me know how your research turns out.
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