The Simple Way Ina Garten Achieves Evenly Cooked Meatloaf

It's hard to think of a dish more comforting and homey than meatloaf, the nostalgic meal of molded, baked ground meat that tends to evoke memories of the family dinners of our childhoods. While the name is perhaps not the most appealing out there, an excellent meatloaf definitely is, typically featuring a mix of ground beef or pork, onions and garlic, fresh and dried herbs, eggs, and breadcrumbs or milk-soaked bread packed into a loaf pan and baked until hot and fragrant. Popular with adults and children alike, meatloaf makes a tasty accompaniment to other classic comfort foods such as mashed potatoes and mac and cheese.

Most meatloaves are by definition a simple (and even vaguely unattractive) affair, and it's all good because the proof is in the pudding, so to speak, in how they taste. Even when a sophisticated chef such as Ina Garten — aka the Barefoot Contessa — throws together a meatloaf, it's bound to come out looking like, well, a brown lump of meat. But what's certain is that a Garten-made meatloaf is going to be delicious. And, in the case of one of the Contessa's recipes for the dish, part of the secret lies in how she shapes the loaf.

Ina Garten pats out the meat on a sheet pan instead of using a loaf pan

While meatloaf is generally a very easy dish to make, it can be prone to certain pitfalls, such as coming out dry as a result of using ground meat that's too lean or turning out tough because you've overmixed the ingredients (via Eat This, Not That!). Another problem that can befall meatloaf is uneven cooking — when a thinner part of the loaf gets overdone and dry before a thicker part even finishes cooking. But wherever there are cooking snafus, Ina Garten seems to have a solution and her approach to meatloaf is no exception.

In a Food Network video showing Garten preparing her meatloaf recipe, the Barefoot Contessa ditches a loaf pan altogether, instead shaping her meatloaf mixture on top of a parchment-lined baking sheet. Using her hands, Garten pats out an oblong shape, making sure that the meatloaf is the same thickness at every point, instead of thicker in some parts and thinner than others. "If it's thicker at one part than the other, part of it will overcook," she explains. So if you've been plagued by unevenly cooked meatloaf in the past, it might be time to try Garten's method and reach for a sheet pan instead of a loaf pan.