Keep the comfort in comfort food by steering clear of this trio of mistakes.

By Stacey Ballis
Updated March 11, 2020
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Meatloaf is one of the ultimate comfort foods. It is best friends with mashed potatoes, for one, and what’s not to love about that? Second, the dish adapts well to different meats and flavor profiles, and it is as good cold on a sandwich as it is hot on a plate. Perhaps best of all, meatloaf is super easy to make—but strangely, it’s also relatively easy to mess up. And maybe that’s why people either love or hate meatloaf—because if it’s been ruined, it’s something you don’t want to have again.

Don’t let that happen to you. Enjoy making this American classic, but make sure you avoid these three mistakes that can ruin an innocent pan of meatloaf.

Credit: Greg DuPreeFood Styling: Rishon HannersProp Styling: Thom Driver

Mistake 1: Making it too lean

A good meatloaf demands a balance between lean and fat. You want enough fat to keep the meat from drying out during cooking, but not so much as to make the result a greasy mess. The best way to hit the sweet spot is actually to use more than one meat: A good mix is a combo of beef, pork, and veal. You get beefy flavor, some fat from the pork, and tenderness from the veal. Perfection. If you’re not a veal fan, just go with beef and pork. If you’re going beef alone, choose a package that is 85-90% lean. If you are going with turkey or chicken, use thigh meat, which will be a better flavor and texture than white meat, which will dry out during cooking.

Mistake 2: Skipping the binder

Meatloaf needs tenderness, which means retaining moisture during a long cooking process. The best way to do this is to bind your meat with a combination of carbs, liquid, and protein. Make sure your recipe includes either breadcrumbs or fresh bread and water or milk or cream. Add an egg to that combo, and you are on your way to keeping your loaf tender and moist.

Mistake 3: Skimping on seasoning

Unlike its cousin the hamburger—which really only needs salt and pepper to shine—meatloaf cries out for more seasoning. Under-seasoned meatloaf will be so bland that not even gravy will be able to save it. Look for recipes that take seasoning seriously, and if you’re feeling cautious, do a test run: Take a small amount of your meatloaf mixture pre-baking, make a tiny, two-teaspoon patty and fry it up in a pan until cooked through. That little bite will tell you if you need more of anything.

And then bring on the mashed potatoes!