If you want to make meatloaf, you've got your choice of thousands recipes with an infinite number of variations, and chances are they all purport to be the "best" one. Recently, I stumbled on one recipe that even put that proud boast right in the title: "Best Meatloaf Ever."
It was the digital equivalent of someone throwing down the gauntlet. "Oh, really?" I thought to myself while checking out the photo of a bacon-lashed loaf. "That's a pretty bold statement." But that wasn't even what got me the most interested.
The loaf didn't look particularly special (I did give the author a pass, though; we all know meatloaf isn't photogenic). Still, I was intrigued by his confidence, his generous use of pork (both ground and sausage, plus a pound of fatty ground beef) — and the fact that he got pretty much all of his ingredients at Trader Joe's.
Could the "best meatloaf ever" really be made of bargain ingredients from good ol' TJ's? I decided to take his recipe for a whirl.
My Thoughts on This Trader Joe's Meatloaf
First: It wasn't really a recipe, but more of a slightly flawed narrative of how he made it. Eggs were listed twice, the ketchup, mustard, barbecue sauce, and Worcestershire were simply splashed in, and there was no salt and pepper. He also adds corn. I could feel doubt creeping in. But, hey, he says it's the best. Maybe corn is the secret ingredient I've never considered?
See the recipe: Best Meatloaf Ever at The Coast News
It took just a few minutes to mix up, but far longer to bake than the recipe indicated. And thank goodness I had the foresight to place a baking sheet on the bottom rack of my oven to catch drips, because this thing overflowed with copious amounts of grease. The result was, unsurprisingly, very porky. It really tasted like a pork loaf, not a meat loaf. And it lacked any nuances or flavors other than bacon and ground pork. And those incongruous bits of corn nibblets.
But maybe that's just what he likes in a meatloaf. Maybe pork loaf is his ideal. And that's exactly why there are so many versions out there: Meatloaf preferences are a very, very personal thing.
I prefer a meatloaf with a more complex savory profile, one with a good amount of finely chopped sautéed vegetables to take it out of burger territory, and not as much pork covering up the beef flavor. But I still love the idea of his fast-to-prep, cheap-to-make meatloaf, so I made a few adjustments and came up with my own version.
Try Kitchn's recipe: How To Make Meatloaf from Scratch
My Own Trader Joe's Meatloaf
The game-changer was the container of mirepoix I found in the produce section at Trader Joe's. The mix of chopped onions, carrots, and celery is a little too chunky to use as-is, so I dumped the whole thing in the food processor with four cloves of garlic, and pulsed a few times until they were finely chopped. TJ's also has shiitake mushrooms for cheap, and they're great for adding umami to dishes, so I pulsed two packages of those (stems removed) and sautéed them with the other vegetables. Because everything is so finely chopped, it just took a few minutes to soften them and cook off their moisture.
To the vegetables I added a pound of ground beef (I used 90 percent lean) and a pound of Italian sausages with the casings removed. With all the vegetables I was adding, I didn't need more meat. I also added 2 eggs, 1 cup panko, 1/2 cup milk, 1/4 cup ketchup, and 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce (the only thing in the loaf TJ's doesn't carry). I also like to use the company's weirdly good Onion Salt, which has dehydrated scallions and garlic in addition to yellow onions and salt. It really bumps up the flavor.
If you like to top your meatloaf with bacon by all means do it, but I prefer a thick slather of ketchup or, better yet, ketchup mixed with harissa. The TJ's version is good and spicy.
In 15 minutes I had a flavor-packed, veggie-laden meatloaf prepped and in the oven, and in an hour it was done (and not spilling over with grease). It looked like a beauty. I took one bite and proudly proclaimed, "Best meatloaf ever."
So while I didn't love the recipe I had found online, I did fall for the idea of getting my loaf ingredients at Trader Joe's!
Do you have a secret meatloaf trick or recipe? Share it in the comments below!