Friday, July 27, 2007

Chris Rywalt's Vaunted Meatloaf Recipe

(This post is 100% written by Chris. Pretty Lady only re-formatted it.)

As suggested, here's my Magic Meatloaf Recipe. I've been thinking for a long time now of collecting my recipes and food knowledge into an online cookbook called "The If You're Feeling Ambitious Cookbook." The idea is each recipe would have extra instructions "if you're feeling ambitious." Usually I'm not, but sometimes I am.

First, put on "Bat Out of Hell" as loud as possible. It's important for the ambience.

1.25 lb (570g) ground beef (85% lean)
3 oz (87g) breadcrumbs (unseasoned)
freshly ground black pepper
0.5 to 1 tsp dried thyme
3 baby carrots or 1 regular carrot
2 cloves garlic
0.5 to 1 medium onion
1 egg

Start the oven at 325 degrees F. The idea here is to cook the meatloaf slowly and evenly, then crank up the heat at the end to form our crust.

I am the laziest person on Earth so I use a food processor for this part. If you're feeling ambitious, you can chop everything by hand. Start with the hardest ingredients -- garlic and carrots -- because otherwise, the softer ingredients (the onion) will liquefy before the harder ones are small enough. Process the garlic and carrots until very small. Add the onion, the breadcrumbs, the thyme, salt, and pepper and process again, pulsing and scraping down the sides until the onions are fairly small. Then crack the egg into the processor and run it until everything is combined. If you're doing it by hand, mince the vegetables and then just, you know, mix everything together.

If you don't have breadcrumbs and you're feeling ambitious you can always make some. Either throw some old hard bread into the processor and grind it up or, if you don't have any of that around, you can try this: Lay out slices of sandwich bread in a single layer on a sheet pan and cook at 200 degrees F until all the moisture is gone. Let cool (don't try to grind them while hot -- trust me, it doesn't work) and grind up in the food processor.

Back to meatloaf: Mix the ground beef and the goop from the processor. You can do this by hand, but I find it icky and, again, I'm lazy. By hand is really best, though. The trick with ground beef is to handle it as little as possible. If you compress it too much, it becomes solid beef, which for meatloaf means it'll come out like a block of wood. Not good. So mix it loosely and do not squeeze it -- keep your fingers apart and think of your hands like forks, turning the mixture over and getting it combined. Because we've pre-mixed everything but the beef, you can finish this with minimal handling. Or you can do what I do which is mix it using a stand mixer with a dough hook on low speed, scraping down the sides and turning over the bottom a few times. (My wife actually prefers the finer texture of the meatloaf mixed this way.)

Once everything is mixed, put it into a loaf pan. Don't press it in too much, but make sure it fills out the corners and is kind of flat on top. It'll never be perfect, but it'll be okay. Then turn the loaf pan over a baking pan or larger vessel. Something where the loaf won't touch the sides. It'll take some shaking to get the loaf to let go of the loaf pan, but eventually it will plop out. (Or you can just slap the mixture right on the larger pan and shape it by hand, if the loaf pan doesn't pan out for you. Ahem.)

Now insert your digital oven thermometer. Don't have one? Too bad for you. Now you're going to have to guess when it's done. If you do have one, cook until the center of the loaf is 155 degrees F. If not, well, um, let it go about 45 minutes. That's usually about right. (I've burned out about four digital oven thermometers and am currently doing this by guesswork, too.)

Then crank the oven to 500 degrees F for ten minutes. (This cooking time is for a Pyrex pan. If you're using metal, reduce it. Try maybe five and see how that goes.)

Remove the pan from the oven and let the meatloaf set for ten minutes before slicing. If you've got a lot of fat in the bottom of the pan, you might want to pour it off before resting.

I like mine with ketchup mixed with hot sauce. It's great on sandwiches the next day, also.


k said...

Chris, thank you so much! This sounds delicious.

I remember you talking about your cookbook a little while back. I think it'd be a great idea.

Chris Rywalt said...

The introduction wasn't intended for publication, but you know editors.

If you do try it, k, let me know how it goes. And don't forget to try Alton's, on whose recipe this is based.

Chris Rywalt said...

I just thought of something: This recipe sounds very precise (570 grams!) but it isn't really. First, it's because it's meatloaf -- you can substitute and remove and add a lot without causing a major failure. But you wanted a consistent recipe to follow, so here it is. And second, it's because my scale (actually both my digital scales, the first of which died (I'm very hard on my kitchen equipment, apparently)) has proven itself to be, let's say, fanciful. I don't know that a pound and a quarter is really supposed to be 570g -- it's just about what my scale says it is (online converters say 566.9905g equals 1.25 lb).

Also, I always work in weight instead of volume because weight's more consistent. Unless you're dealing with water, in which case weight and volume in ounces are the same (ever notice that?).

Anonymous said...

Mmmm. That sounds tasty.

I do my "meatloaf" in muffin tins, since it's the heels that are always tastiest anyway. And I've found this kick-ass glaze that's basically ketchup, brown sugar,and balsamic vinegar.

Dammit, now I have to go cook.

Pretty Lady said...

The introduction wasn't intended for publication, but you know editors.

I'll have you know that this was posted after 1 AM, on a day when Pretty Lady had been to see the Richard Serra retrospective, AND just worked a boywork shift. She was in no condition to make any editorial decisions beyond the removal of redundant paragraph returns.

Desert Cat said...

OMG, don't pour off the fat! That goes on the instant mashed potatoes you make up as the meatloaf is finishing! Or if you let individual slices cool in a puddle of its own juice, it soaks it back up and releases this extra flavor when you reheat it for sandwiches.

I'd never thought about the effect of overmixing the blend, but you do have a point. I've always relied on the other ingredients to provide some porosity.

I wonder (wonder...) if a person could leaven a meatloaf...

Desert Cat said...

Unless you're dealing with water, in which case weight and volume in ounces are the same (ever notice that?).

By definition. In SI it's the same deal, except the units are grams and milliliters (1 mL is defined as the volume of 1 gram of water at STP).

Anonymous said...

just worked a boywork shift - Pretty Lady

Pray tell, PL, what is a "boywork shift"?

Chris Rywalt said...

DC sez:
OMG, don't pour off the fat! That goes on the instant mashed potatoes you make up as the meatloaf is finishing!

If I were ever to make instant mashed potatoes, I would rapidly follow that up with a .45-caliber bullet to my right temple. I wouldn't even need a pistol -- I'd push it through with my thumb.

Chris Rywalt said...

DC sez:
By definition.

Well, I know that now. It's just not obvious when you've been using ounces your whole life.

Pretty Lady said...

Oh, that should read bodywork shift. Pretty Lady leaves the boywork to the boys.

Chris Rywalt said...

I assumed you were doing boywork on Moby Dick.

Desert Cat said...

Oh come now Chris. Meatloaf is not the kind of dish that goes with fresh steamed spring potatoes and dillweed.

k said...

Forgive me, DC. I must confess: I'm with chris on the mashed potato issue.

I just can't bear the instant ones. Never could. I have to make everything homemade anyway. Everything. Even chocolate sauce. Processed foods ramp up my food allergies something fierce.

And I'm so accustomed to making mashed potatoes from scratch by now that it seems like less work to me - not more - than the instant. I like to use red potatoes. Very creamy.

Right now I have to leave all potatoes entirely alone for a bit whilst I stabilize my BS. argh!

However! Potatoes notwithstanding, I'll probably let most of the fat sit where it is. And I may mix a bit of ground pork in there too.

chris, I downloaded Alton's recipe too. But I like the looks of yours better. I got supplied up today, so I may be doing some experimenting this weekend.

Mitzibel! The muffin tins are a GREAT idea! If you can send me the glaze recipe I'd really appreciate it. I'm not sure I'll use any the first time around - my hostess isn't used to having a glaze on her meatloaf - but I'd like to try it down the road.

That dry vs. wet measure thing? That's why metal measuring cups are called *dry measure* cups. The tops are level to the measure, so you fill the measuring cup with your flour, sugar, what have you, and level it off via gravity or the trusty ol' butterknife. A 1/2 c dry measure cup holds exactly 1/2 c of dry ingredient when full, etc.

The Pyrex measuring cups are called *wet* measuring cups, sometimes aka *weight* measure cups Often they show both oz. and weight gradations. They always have *extra* Pyrex above the highest mark, so you can slosh your milk around as you carry it to the mixing bowl.

This is what happens when we ladies in the Old Crone stage of life don't mind if anyone finds out we went to junior high school back when the girls had mandatory Home Ec classes. Segregated. Closed to the boys, they were.

Walter, however, knows all this stuff - his mother and older sister were both highly accomplished cooks. (However: he HATES cooking!) He tells me that in Europe, growing up, everyone used weight measures. Scales in the kitchen, one and all.

Pretty Lady said...

k, I know that stuff. I have a Wise Mommy who taught me everything necessary to survive as a grownup farm wife.

DC, what's an instant mashed potato? Do they even make those anymore?

Pretty Lady needs a potato masher of her very own, hint, hint.

Pretty Lady said...

Chris. Shut. Up.

Chris Rywalt said...

The trouble with dry measures is some ingredients -- flour comes to mind -- simply cannot be measured accurately by volume. Flour compacts, it absorbs and releases moisture, and so on. Measuring flour with cups is really unreliable.

Breadcrumbs, admittedly, are probably okay in cups. But since I've got the scale, and it's so handy and easy, that's how I operate. Small things -- like teaspoons -- I measure by volume.

Some stuff I just make up. Note there's no measuring the salt or pepper in my recipe. And the thyme is a best guess, too, since I don't measure that, either. I just put in some. Remember: I'm really, really lazy. Reaching for the measuring items is too much work (and mine are on rings hung over the prep area, even).

Chris Rywalt said...

I highly recommend the Oxo Good Grips Smooth Potato Masher. Unlike just about every other potato masher in the world, the handle is actually perpendicular to the direction of the application of force. Much better, especially if you're in a hurry and slightly undercook the potatoes.

Anonymous said...

"If you can send me the glaze recipe I'd really appreciate it."

Try this recipe from Rachel Ray. It's for meat loaf muffins with BBQ sauce. It's quite tasty and very easy. One warning: if you don't like slightly spicy foods, then cut the grill seasoning down to 1 tablespoon and use an extra mild salsa. Here's the URL for the recipe:,,FOOD_9936_29712,00.html?rsrc=search

It's also very quick, since it is one of RR's "30 Minute Meals".


Chris Rywalt said...

Rachael Ray is Satan in the kitchen. I used to love her back when she was just traipsing around Europe eating as cheaply as possible -- she was so dimply and adorable. Little did I know she'd use that to build an empire of schlock.

Anyone who cooks using her recipes probably has a Thomas Kinkade on their kitchen wall.

Anonymous said...

"Rachael Ray is Satan in the kitchen."

A good recipe is a good recipe no matter what the source.

"Anyone who cooks using her recipes probably has a Thomas Kinkade on their kitchen wall."

????? No I don't own a Thomas Kincaid and don't really find the artwork on the walls to be of particular culinary importance. I haven't noticed the Monet prints on the kitchen wall measurably affecting the quality of food prepared there, although the potted herbs on the counter sometimes do.


Chris Rywalt said...

Papapete sez:
A good recipe is a good recipe no matter what the source.

Correct. By definition. However, it's impossible to get a good recipe out of Rachael Ray, because she is Satan in the kitchen.

No I don't own a Thomas Kincaid and don't really find the artwork on the walls to be of particular culinary importance.

My point was, anyone with poor enough culinary taste to consider Rachael Ray a good cook probably also has poor enough visual taste to consider Thomas Kinkade a good artist.

Anonymous said...

"However, it's impossible to get a good recipe out of Rachael Ray, because she is Satan in the kitchen."

OK, I understand that RR is Satan, but I'm a little confused about the permutations. Is RR's proximity to a recipe enough to damn it as unworthy, or does it have to be original to her? If you find a recipe that you like somewhere else and then find that it is one of RR's, does it go from being a good recipe to evil? If RR swiped the recipe from another more worthy chef, does the worthy chef's aura redeem it or does RR contaminate all she touches? What if she does a classic recipe used by thousands of chefs for decades? Does her use of it condemn the classic recipe to the Purgatory of Untouchable Foods, or can it be saved?

Just how pervasive is RR's evil?


Desert Cat said...

Daisycat made meatloaf this evening, but she wouldn't put the carrots in it. Something against carrots in meatloaf.

I really wanted to try this recipe. *sigh* I guess I will have to make it myself some other time.

k said...

8^O !!!


Does she put carrots in marinara sauce? I remember your drop dead gorgeous roma tomatoes...

I wasn't able to get to my meatloaf yet myself. I'm hoping for tomorrow.

Chris Rywalt said...

DC, my mother's recipe was basically the same as her meatball recipe. For her, meatloaf was just a really big meatball. And her meatball recipe was extremely basic (my mother doesn't like a lot of herbs and spices in anything). The trouble with both her meatloaf and her meatballs was consistency: She never made them the same way twice. So some days they'd be good and other days they'd be frightening. My mother was not a very good cook.

Anyway, her meatloaf recipe was just ground beef, breadcrumbs, egg, salt, and a little bit of oil. No carrots, onions, thyme, or anything else. I think you could safely leave out the carrots and end up with a slightly drier, but still very edible, loaf of meat.

This recipe was just my attempt to take what I liked about her meatloaf and combine it with what I liked about Alton's meatloaf. It's not set in stone: I've been making changes to it lately (more onion, less garlic, for example) to see if it can be improved.

Chris Rywalt said...

Papapete, Rachael Ray is Satan, right? So it follows that she cannot recognize good, much less be the source of it. So if you found one of her recipes without attribution, it would still be awful. Mostly because it would still contain pseudo-ingredients like "grill seasoning" and "smoky barbecue sauce." She would not promulgate a classic recipe because it wouldn't provide opportunities for sponsorship and, worse, would probably take actual culinary know-how to produce.

Smoky barbecue sauce indeed.