The Meatloaf Experiment

Most meatloaves I’ve had have been heavy, dense, and tough, not to mention lacking in flavor.  I also feel like it’s kind of unhealthy to eat what amounts to a very large hamburger.  So I set out to keep the beefy flavor while healthifying (this is a professional term, you know!) a recipe I got from Cook’s Illustrated, who added caramelized onions to boost the flavor.  I amended the recipe by adding cooked lentils, oatmeal, shredded carrot as well as cooked garlic.  Sometimes I’ll add chopped and wrung out spinach and minced bell pepper to the mix if I have any on hand.  Anything to boost fiber and nutrients in my giant hamburger!


I prefer to make mini-loaves to speed up cooking and so I can freeze some without having to individually wrap a million slices.  I decided to baste each mini meatloaf (there were six loaves) with a different glaze.  Don’t ask me why, but I had several packets of takeout Chinese duck sauce and I used that as one of my glazes just to see how it would taste.  Among the other sauces was something called Homade Chili Sauce that I discovered during my trip to California (more on that another time), ketchup, molasses,  spicy barbecue sauce from Trader Joe’s, and I left one unglazed.

This is where I lost sight of my healthier meatloaf goal: I wrapped each meat loaf in a strip of bacon. Wah-wah-wahh.  As the little lotus blossom brother said, “Dude, EVERYTHING tastes better with bacon!”


PhotobucketHomade Chili Sauce


PhotobucketBarbecue sauce




PhotobucketInside the duck sauce-glazed meatloaf


  • The duck sauce didn’t do anything for the meatloaf; it might as well have been bare.
  • The loaf glazed with Homade Chili Sauce was my favorite out of all six flavors.  Lotus Brother was initially suspicious of this sweet chili sauce and wondered why I’d carried a jar all the way from CA, but he is now convinced I should buy a case of it next time I’m out there.  :/
  • Ketchup on meatloaf is classic and was better than the plain and duck sauce, but it tasted one-dimensional compared to the Homade Chili Sauce.
  • Surprisingly, the molasses-glazed loaf was the dainty member of the family, subtly sweet and a great companion to the smoky bacon.
  • I also liked the barbecue sauced one, though I think the barbecue flavor was a little overwhelming for me.  Too much smokiness for me, but that didn’t bother Lotus Brother; this one was his favorite.

I also used some of the meatloaf mixture to make meatballs by adding in shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano, minced basil, and some extra thyme and then shaping them with a little ice cream scoop.

PhotobucketRaw meatballs

PhotobucketCooked meatballs

Double-Duty Meatloaf

Note: I  prefer using the classic meatloaf mix of ground beef, pork, and veal but didn’t have veal on hand when I made this meatloaf, so it’s not included in the recipe.  You can use any combination of ground meat you like, including bison, which is very lean.

Combine your non-meat ingredients in the bowl first before you mix them into the meat- the more you handle ground meat, the tougher it gets, or so I’ve been led to believe.

What you might like that I didn’t do here is to spread the glaze on the meatloaf before wrapping in bacon.  This way, the bacon gets a chance to crisp.

1/2 cup lentils, cooked in 1/4 cup water or vegetable broth until soft
1/2 cup quick cooking (not instant) oatmeal
1/2 cup milk
2 eggs, beaten
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 T soy sauce
1 T ground black pepper
1-2 tsp salt (there’s plenty of sodium in soy sauce, so go easy on the salt)
1/4 cup minced parsley
3 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed and chopped
2 tsp olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 carrot, peeled and shredded
2 lbs ground beef (I prefer 85% lean because the resulting meatloaf is juicier and not mealy)
1 lb ground pork
Bacon (optional)
Glaze of your choice

Preheat oven to 350ºF with rack in center of oven.  In a large mixing bowl, combine cooked lentils, oatmeal, milk, eggs, Worcestershire and soy sauces, pepper, 1 teaspoon salt, parsley, and thyme.  It will not look good to eat.

In a 10″ saute or frying pan over medium, heat the oil until it shimmers before adding the onion and carrot.  Cook until soft and the onion is translucent, about 3-5 minutes.  Add the garlic and continue cooking for another 3 minutes or until the garlic is fragrant.  Take the pan off heat and allow it to cool for about 20 minutes.

When onion mixture is cool, add to lentil mixture and stir to combine.  Add meat and using your hands, gently fold and squish to combine.  If meat sticks to sides of bowl, add a tablespoon of milk until it stops sticking.  Take 2/3 of meat and form into small loaves, each about 4’x6″, and place on foil-covered sheet pan.  Wrap each in a slice or two of bacon and top with glaze.  Bake uncovered until meat thermometer placed in middle of loaf reads 160°F, about 30-40 minutes.  Remove from oven, cover loosely with foil and allow to rest for 10 minutes.

For meatballs:

Add 1/4 cup shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano, more thyme, 1/4 cup minced basil, and maybe a little minced rosemary to remaining 1/3 meat mixture.  Shape using mini-ice cream scoop if you like small meatballs, or use a larger scoop for larger but fewer meatballs.  Bake in oven for 15-20 minutes or until lightly browned.  Simmer in a sauce or freeze on a clean sheet pan until solid, then store in ziplock bag.

One thought on “The Meatloaf Experiment

  1. This looks really good! I like the idea of mini loaves, too – something for everyone. I’m planning to rip it off and try it with ground turkey instead of beef and pork. I take full responsibility for any resulting differences in texture.

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