Traditional Meatloaf

published Aug 7, 2022
Traditional Meatloaf Recipe

Inside a classic meatloaf is a kaleidoscope of flavors: savory seasonings, cooked aromatics, Worcestershire sauce & ketchup, brown sugar, and a hearty amount of ground meat.

Serves6 to 8

Prep20 minutes

Cook1 hour

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A photo of a slice of meatloaf on a plate with mashed potatoes and green beans.
Credit: Olivia Mack McCool

For me, meatloaf is a nostalgic, comforting dish that can evoke memories of childhood dinners cooked by Mom. Some might say it’s as American as hot dogs or hamburgers. However, the first meatloaf is thought to have originated from Europe and as far back as the 5th century.

Back then, it was created by mixing chopped cold meats with leftover scraps of vegetables to make the less affluent families stretch the expensive protein a bit further. It’s said that meatloaf made its way across the pond during colonial times, where it started as “scrapple” in Pennsylvania, created by German immigrants using ground pork and cornmeal. It then evolved into the meatloaf we know and love today, finding its way into many kitchens across the country ever since.

What Is Traditional Meatloaf Made Of?

Ground beef is often used for meatloaf, but some grocery stores sell meatloaf mix, a blend and equal ratio of ground beef, ground pork, and ground veal. The ground meat you choose is usually mixed with aromatics (onion and sometimes garlic) and binders — usually beaten eggs and milk-soaked breadcrumbs.

Typically, onions are sautéed and cooled before mixing in with the ground meat, but this recipe uses grated raw onion for speed, which melt into the meat when cooking. The mixture is also flavored with herbs, spices, Worcestershire sauce, and ketchup. It is then either pressed into a loaf pan or free-formed into a compact loaf on a rimmed baking sheet, covered in a glaze, and then baked for an hour. Although generally meatloaf can be prone to cracking, the freeform meatloaf tends to crack more than the loaf pan version. 

What Is in Meatloaf Glaze?

There are many glaze variations, but traditionally, only ketchup was used. However, if you want more sweetness and tang, you can add brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, or a dash of vinegar. 

Why Do You Put Milk in the Meatloaf Mixture?

Soaking breadcrumbs in milk is a traditional method when making meatloaf, as it helps create a tender, moist meatloaf and prevents the proteins in the meat from shrinking

Do You Bake Meatloaf Covered or Uncovered?

This question is slightly controversial because not everyone agrees! Some believe that tenting the meatloaf in foil for part of the baking time helps lock in the moisture, yielding a juicier loaf, whereas some think that covering it steams the loaf and affects the texture. I prefer to leave it uncovered, so the glaze gets nice and caramelized during the whole bake time. 

What to Do with Leftover Meatloaf

If you happen to find yourself with any leftovers, then try these ideas/

  • Crisp up in a skillet and serve with a zingy salad. 
  • Crumble leftover slices and mix in with a marinara sauce for a quick pasta sauce.
  • Make these delicious sloppy Joe meatball subs.

Traditional Meatloaf Recipe

Inside a classic meatloaf is a kaleidoscope of flavors: savory seasonings, cooked aromatics, Worcestershire sauce & ketchup, brown sugar, and a hearty amount of ground meat.

Prep time 20 minutes

Cook time 1 hour

Serves 6 to 8

Nutritional Info


  • 1

    medium yellow onion

  • 2 cloves


  • 2/3 cup

    fine, dry breadcrumbs

  • 1/2 cup

    whole milk

  • 1/2 small bunch

    fresh parsley

  • 5 large sprigs

    fresh thyme, or 1 teaspoon dried thyme

  • 2

    large eggs

  • 2 pounds

    85% lean ground beef

  • 1/2 cup

    ketchup, divided

  • 2 tablespoons

    Worcestershire sauce, divided

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons

    kosher salt

  • 1 teaspoon

    freshly ground black pepper

  • 4 teaspoons

    packed light or dark brown sugar


  1. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F. Line the bottom and two long sides of a 9x5-inch loaf pan with a 9x14-inch sheet of parchment paper, so the paper hangs over the sides.

  2. Grate 1 medium yellow onion on the large holes of a box grater into a large bowl (about 1/2 cup onion and juices), discarding any large pieces of onion. Finely grate 2 garlic cloves into the bowl. Add 2/3 cup fine, dry breadcrumbs and 1/2 cup whole milk. Mix with your hands until the breadcrumbs are thoroughly moistened. Set aside to soak while you prepare the remaining ingredients.

  3. Pick and finely chop the leaves from 1/2 small bunch fresh parsley until you have 3 tablespoons. Add 2 tablespoons to the bowl with the breadcrumbs and reserve the remaining 1 tablespoon for serving. Pick the leaves from 5 fresh thyme sprigs until you have 1 tablespoon and coarsely chop, then add to the bowl. Beat 2 large eggs in a small bowl until broken up.

  4. Use your hand to mix the moistened breadcrumbs, onions, and herbs. It should feel like a paste. Add 2 pounds lean ground beef, breaking up the meat as you add it to the bowl. Add the eggs, 1/4 cup of the ketchup, 1 tablespoon of the Worcestershire sauce, 1 teaspoon dried thyme if not using fresh, 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, and 1 teaspoon black pepper. Mix with your hands until well combined, being careful not to overmix.

  5. Transfer to the loaf pan and firmly pack it into the pan. Smooth out the surface with damp hands.

  6. Place the remaining 1/4 cup ketchup, remaining 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce, and 4 packed teaspoons brown sugar to a small bowl and stir to combine. Spoon onto the top of the meatloaf and spread it out with the back of a spoon.

  7. Bake until the glaze is thickened, the meatloaf feels firm to the touch, and an instant-read thermometer registers at least 160℉ when inserted into the center, about 1 hour.

  8. Let the meatloaf rest for 15 minutes. Grasping the excess parchment, lift the meatloaf out of the pan onto a clean cutting board or platter. Garnish with the remaining 1 tablespoon parsley before slicing and serving.

Recipe Notes

Make ahead: The meatloaf mixture can be formed in the loaf pan, covered, and refrigerated for up to 1 day. Let sit at room temperature while the oven is heating before uncovering and baking.

Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days.