Holy Experience Loaf
A truly masterful meatloaf by S. John Ross ©2002

The humble meatloaf can be humble indeed if it's dry or flavorless, and lots of lame meatloaf has given the dish a tarnished image. This recipe could single-handedly rescue the reputation of meatloaf forever, I daresay, if we put tights and a cape on it and let it fly over the city.

The "secrets" (!?!) to defeating dry meatloaf are moisture and controlled heat. Fat helps, too, but this recipe works even with the leanest of meats and still emerges moist and delicious. This meatloaf has an extra-wet "forcemeat" batter, and it's basted regularly to insure the right texture. By baking the dish at 325° instead of 350°, supper takes a little longer to get done ... but it's a lot better when it's served. Enjoy!

  • 1 onion, chopped fine
  • 3 cloves garlic, pressed
  • 10 long dashes Tabasco
  • 1 finely crumbled bay leaf
  • 1-1/2 generous tbsp each salt & black pepper
  • 5 strips very crisp bacon, crumbled
  • 2 cups beef or veal broth
  • 2 cups milk
  • 2-1/2 cups bread crumbs
  • 3-1/2 pounds ground meat

The Method: In a large mixing bowl, combine the chopped onions, garlic, Tabasco, bay leaf, salt, pepper, bacon (crumbled), and bread crumbs. Add broth and toss to coat crumbs evenly. Add milk, a half-cup at a time, mixing with a wooden spoon until you have something like a thick batter. Add meat and knead the entire mixture with your fingers; work at it for several minutes, the resulting product should be completely blended and as smooth as you can get it.

Fill two loaf pans, each with half of the mixture. Bake in a preheated 325° oven for approximately 90 minutes (a quick-read thermometer should come clean at 165°), basting with extra broth or a mixture of water and butter every 15 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes after removing from the oven; slice and serve with mashed potatoes and a green vegetable on the side, and your choice of sauces (barbecue sauce, mushroom gravy, or a dollop of sour cream flavored with salt and horseradish are traditional). Serves 6, with leftovers. It's also good chilled and sliced, on sandwiches.

The Meat: In my original "Holy Experience Loaf," the meat is a 6:1 ratio of beef to hot sausage (3 lbs hamburger and a half-pound of Jimmy Dean hot). The result is heavenly. These days, I keep things leaner and use the leanest ground turkey I can find, and toss in a little extra hot sauce and a dash of sage to make up for the loss of the hot sausage's extra seasonings. The result is still heavenly, and not nearly so naughty.

Other Ingredient Notes: One (round) box of breadcrumbs (most brands) is exactly the right amount for this recipe. Sometimes I use plain; sometimes I use seasoned; both work fine (seasoned, predictably, perks the meatloaf right up). I find that with most pepper mills, a teaspoon is about 20 full grinds.

Variations and Substitutions: The Tabasco and/or salt can be doubled (or more) for added "zing." You can make the flavor more complex by adding a splash or two of A-1 or a drop or three of liquid smoke. Fat-free Turkey bacon (or even a big whopping handful of soy-crunchy "bacon bits") can stand in for the real bacon in a pinch or on a diet. These days I tend to up the broth to three cups and drop the milk to a single cup (and replace it with Silk brand soy milk) to make the dish more diabetic-friendly (sadly, I also skip the mashed potatoes, for the same reason).

Yummy Meatballs: Instead of making loaves, roll meat into golf-ball sized meatballs and fry in butter until browned. Fill a deep casserole with the browned meatballs and cover with tomato sauce. Bake at 325° for 30 minutes. Serve covered with mozzarella & Monterey jack.

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