Easy Weeknight Dinner: A Revisionist’s Meatloaf. - Something Edible
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Easy Weeknight Dinner: A Revisionist’s Meatloaf.

Easy Weeknight Dinner: A Revisionist’s Meatloaf.

Abstract: While I seldom see any good reason to cook with condensed soup, and I sure haven't won any bake-off awards for my artful execution of a non-dairy whipped topping dessert, I do believe that judicious use packaged food can truly be a time-saver. This four ingredient meatloaf uses pulverized instant stuffing mix as a binder and seasoning base. And, to keep the dish home-cooked legit, this loaf is basted with a homemade barbeque-style sauce.  This is a dead-simple recipe that is perfect for a ravenous family on a weeknight when dinner doesn't have to be a thirty-minute affair.

Purpose: Almost exactly a year ago, I published my family's favorite recipe for meatloaf. At the time, I was pretty sure that I wasn't going to get any closer to meatloaf nirvana, especially where keeping the wife happy was concerned.

I now stand corrected.

Y'know, sometimes the smallest of changes can be the muse that can cause a fella to look at something from a different perspective. Where meatloaf is concerned, the catalyst was tomato sauce. I've always made sure to keep an 8oz can of sauce in the pantry for the same reason I keep a box of instant stuffing in there with it; 'cuz you never know when the boss is going to want meatloaf. On a Sunday a few weeks back, I had to double the recipe as I was making meatloaf for a crowd. However, upon sticking my nose past the threshold of the Lazy Susan, I discovered that I only had enough tomato sauce to manage a one pound loaf. Crisis! Back to the fridge I went, where I spied a jug of buttermilk. Yeah; it'd probably do. For whatever reason that followed (maybe because it was for company), I decided to take an extra thirty seconds to show the packaged stuffing mix the inside of my blender, effectively rendering seasoned breadcrumbs out of the whole mess. Into the oven it all went, and about an hour and forty-five minutes later, I noticed that there wasn't a whole hell of a lot of leftovers. This one was a keeper. 

I wasn't originally planning on posting this recipe, but recently as I took some dinnertime photos of a meatloaf encore in hopes of capturing some decent microblog fodder, it struck me that I was doing a lot more picture-taking than I was cooking. Despite all the photojournaling, dinner was still coming together with a minimal amount of stress. This meatloaf was practically cooking itself; and if that doesn't make for a brainless weeknight meal, I can't help ya.

Recipe: Jump to the detailed recipe. (or, keep reading for the gist of it) -

The Loaf

  • 3 oz instant stuffing mix (That's 1 1/4 cup, or half a box.)
  • 1 egg
  • 4 fluid oz buttermilk (That's a half cup.)
  • 1 lb ground beef (85% lean is best.)
  • The Sauce

  • 4 fluid oz tomato sauce
  • 1 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper ground
  • 1/4 tsp thyme ground
  • 1/4 tsp coriander ground
  • 1/8 tsp liquid smoke Pick your fav.

  • Preheat an oven to 325F (or, set up a grill for indirect heat at the same temperature). Lightly oil a 10 inch cast iron skillet.
    For the loaf, pulverize the instant stuffing in a blender or food processor until you've got breadcrumbs. Whisk the egg with the buttermilk and stir in what was once stuffing. Let the mix stand for about 10 minutes to let it all hydrate. In the meantime, whisk together all the sauce ingredients in a separate bowl until integrated.

    Back to the loaf - Gently work the beef into the binder with your hands (mix it together, but don't be squeezing your beef any more than you have to). Shape into a loaf in the skillet while leaving a well in the middle to hold the majority of the sauce. Pour the sauce over the loaf, baste any bare spot swith sauce, and cook for 1 hour or until the internal temperature is at least 160F. Let rest for 10 minutes before slicing.


    • If you enjoy meatloaf and don't have any cast iron, it's time to buck up and buy. That ten inch model works swell where only one pound of meat is concerned. If you plan on doubling, better opt for the twelve inch'er.
    • Because we're cooking in cast iron, this recipe will work great on any grill where you can maintain that 325F over indirect heat (I'm looking at you, Traeger folks).
    • I really can't be bothered to dirty a scoop to measure out my stuffing mix. I find that it's much easier to just pour into a bowl on a scale until you've divided the contents of one standard-sized, 6oz box in half (I'll let you do the math).
    • That ten-minute rest to let the stuffing hydrate is an absolute necessity. After the breadcrumb's soaked up all that liquid, it'll do a much better job of binding and keeping everything moist, even if you accidentally over-cook your loaf a little.
    • Don't go crazy when shaping that loaf. One of the best ways to ruin the texture of ground beef is to beat the buhjeezus out of it. Don't over-mix and keep the amalgamation loosely packed so as to finish with a firm, yet yielding texture.
    • That 'divot' in the middle is by design: It acts as a reservoir for your sauce and ensures that nothing is under-done in the middle.
    • If you really wanna earn your packaged food merit badge and are opposed to making your own sauce, try mixing a quarter cup of your favorite barbeque sauce with a just a quarter cup of tomato sauce.
    •  If you're doubling the recipe, you may want to consider a second meat variety (if your spouse allows such a thing). When I was growing up, we always did meatloaf with ground beef and ground pork, and I reckon it'd be just dandy in this application.

    Results: Though originally concocted for a Sunday meal, this meatloaf qualifies as easy weeknight fare because- well, it's easy. While this might not be the fastest of weeknight main dishes you can put on the table, there's no denying the simplicity. If dinner doesn't have to be on the table in less than thirty minutes, there's really nothing fussy about putting a skillet in the oven and waiting. After I began cooking my meatloaf in cast iron, I really began to wonder why anyone would want to do anything different. What little grease that remains renders to the bottom of the skillet and makes for a great cast iron seasoning exercise (if caramelizing onions ain't your thang). After four or five meatloaves, even a brand-spankin' new skillet will begin to thrive.

    If you like a meatloaf with a blend of various critter, and chunky, identifiable pieces of vegetable, you'll probably find this method a bit monochromatic.  Don't get me wrong; I'm all for 'gourmet meatloaf' (an oxymoron to be certain), and you can add all kinds of interesting flavors and textures to mine and I'm certainly gonna eat it. However, as it is so often is when you cook for your family, it pays to pander if you want everyone to walk away satiated. The finicky folk in my house like even textures and flavors, so that's how we roll with our meatloaf.

    More than anything, this blog has been a learning experience for me, and I relish those opportunities. While it's good to have the original version documented for posterity, meatloaf version 2.0 is a more refined implementation that's a little easier on the eyes as well if presentation is important (and I really only like to serve ugly food to myself).

    ...speaking of presentation, have you ever tried to photograph a meatloaf? How can something that tastes so damn good be so difficult to photograph? Meatloaf gets my vote as the ugly duckling of comfort food.

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