A Brief History of Meatloaf (and How to Make It Extra Meaty)

By the editors of Cook's Illustrated

Made famous during the Great Depression, this dish dates back to Roman times.

HISTORY OF THE ‘LOAF

Who knew meatloaf wasn’t just the invention of thrifty housewives during the Great Depression? It turns out the idea of mixing meat with a tenderizing filler traces back to the fourth or fifth century AD, when the Roman cookbook Apicius presented a recipe for patties made of chopped meat, bread, and wine. But it wasn’t until the late 1800s that American meatloaf was born, inspired by recipes offered by manufacturers of the newly invented meat grinder.

 Apicius

The Depression only increased meatloaf’s popularity, along with developments in food manufacturing that produced flavorful, inexpensive mix-ins like mustard and bouillon. In the 1940s, World War II rationing spawned meat-free loaves, whereas postwar creativity in the 1950s and ’60s produced the likes of Bacon-Dill Meatloaf and Spicy Peach Loaf (Good Housekeeping Cook Book, 1955). In the 1970s and ’80s, veal, pork, and beef “meatloaf mix” came into vogue, elevating the dish to dinner party-worthy status. In the 1990s, restaurateurs marketed upscale versions, and today, innovations continue as loaves are stuffed, wrapped, or laced with international flavors.

TROUBLESHOOTING MEATLOAF

Meatloaf typically contains a milk and bread panade (learn more about different kinds of panades) that helps lock in moisture. But the textural enhancement comes at a cost: all of that starchy bread dulls flavor. Our recipe cuts way back on the panade but still produces a moist, meaty loaf.

Lots of Panade: Moist But Not Meaty


A milk and bread paste creates a juicy loaf, but the starches from the typical three pieces of bread mask many of the flavor compounds in the meat.

No Panade: Meaty But Dry


Without panade to trap liquid and lubricate the ground meat, the proteins will bind tightly together and squeeze out moisture.

A Little Panade: Meaty and Moist


Adding sponge-like mushrooms and gelatin to the loaf traps moisture, allowing us to cut back the bread by more than 80 percent for an ultra-meaty loaf.

 Meatier Meatloaf

RECIPE FOR MEMBERS: Meatier Meatloaf

Now that you know how to make the meatiest meatloaf ever, give it a try. Umami-rich browned mushrooms add extra savory notes, and the mixture of gelatin with the right amount of panade gives our loaf the perfect texture.

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