Unexpected Ingredients That Need To Be In Your Meatloaf

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Meatloaf is an all-time American favorite dish with a complex history and various possible ingredients. Alongside ketchup and mashed potatoes, it defined an era of homemade cooking, becoming the ultimate comfort food and synonymous with childhood memories for many people. But what if you decided to be a vegetarian, developed lactose intolerance, or wanted things a little different than your mom or grandma used to make? Meatloaf's got you covered.

A versatile dish, meatloaf can incorporate virtually any type of savory ingredient and become vegetarian, dairy or gluten-free, or anything you would like it to be. Just swap or add some ingredients, and you end up with a completely new dish. In addition, you can let meatloaves from around the world inspire you. Go creative and borrow ingredient ideas from Italy to the Middle East, stay classic with a classic meatloaf recipe, or go local and use regional products exclusively. And the best part? With meatloaf, you can get as creative as you want. Just make sure you strike a balance with your ingredients. Beyond that, flavor and ingredient-wise, the sky is the limit. Check out these unexpected ingredients that can boost up your meatloaf.

BBQ sauce

The classic meatloaf recipe calls for a favorite American condiment, ketchup. Use ketchup to dip the meatloaf in the sauce, add it to the meat mixture, or do both. But there is a way to add more flavor to your meatloaf, which means using BBQ sauce instead of ketchup. This Southern meatloaf recipe upgrades the meatloaf by using sweet barbeque sauce, paprika, and green peppers. The recipe uses the barbecue sauce as a glaze, brushed on top of the meatloaf after baking it for 45 minutes. After another 15 minutes in the oven, the sauce becomes a sticky and sweet coating.

There are several best brands of barbeque sauce to choose from if you're looking for something with more flavor. You can also give it a try and make your homemade barbecue sauce. The recipe calls for all kinds of flavors, such as Worcestershire sauce, ground mustard, smoked paprika, cumin, apple cider vinegar, and hot pepper sauce (if you like things spicy). Whatever the type of barbecue sauce you choose to use in your meatloaf, it will improve the taste of the dish.

Hard-boiled eggs

Although meatloaf is a staple of American cooking, several other cuisines worldwide have variations of the dish. It appears in European cooking but also in Middle Eastern cuisines, offering different ingredients, textures, and tastes. The classic meatloaf recipe uses eggs to bind the meat mixture while baking. However, another way to use eggs in your meatloaf, as proven by Greek, German, or Hungarian dishes, is by adding hard-boiled eggs in the middle of the loaf. Hard-boiled eggs bring welcome visual and textural variations, as the bright colors of the egg ensure an aesthetically pleasing sight, and the pleasant texture of the hard-boiled egg constitutes a surprise.

To boil the perfect egg, you will need to adjust the temperature and use older eggs, making them easier to peel. Another trick for easier peeling is adding baking soda to the boiling water. Some salt and vinegar added to the boiling water will also guarantee softer egg shells.

Quick oats

All the ingredient categories in the classic meatloaf recipe are there for a good purpose, derived from chemistry and the general baking rules. For example, eggs have the purpose of binding the mixture while baking, onions are included for the flavor, and breadcrumbs (or crackers) soak up the excess moisture and ensure that the loaf doesn't fall apart. But sometimes, the meatloaf can come out too dry or soggy, even though you follow the recipes. To avoid moisture issues, swap breadcrumbs with quick oats, as these will ensure that the loaf holds together when sliced. Oats absorb and maintain more moisture than breadcrumbs or milk-soaked bread (another ingredient that binds meatloaf).

According to Healthline, oats contain large amounts of starch, a substance that absorbs water. In addition, oats bring another benefit to meatloaf, as they are gluten-free. For those individuals with gluten sensitivity, they can be a welcome solution to preparing meatloaf. Whatever oatmeal brand you prefer, don't forget to buy the unflavored and unsweetened kinds, as sugar will surely not go well in a meatloaf.

Extra water

An unexpected meatloaf ingredient that can quickly solve the moisture issue is water. Some meatloaf types (generally the healthier versions, made with minced turkey or chicken) tend to dry out while cooking, resulting in a brick texture. To avoid this, add water. The idea comes from the Italian restaurant Rao's, where the chef uses water in the meatball mixture. Meatloaf has a similar consistency as meatballs, so the principle of adding water works with this dish, too.

On the other hand, it's helpful to keep in mind that you should use water according to the ingredients in your meatloaf recipe. The mixture won't require much water if you use liquid ingredients (ketchup, eggs, sauces). Also, if you're using fatty meat, the fat will melt during cooking, and your meatloaf won't require more liquids. The trick to adding water to your meatloaf is to go with small amounts of fluid mixed with the ground meat until it is no longer sticky. If you keep adding water past that point, you will likely end up with a soggy meatloaf.

Bell peppers

A common addition to the classic meatloaf recipe, bell peppers give the dish an bright flavor and sweet taste. When you use them in meatloaf, deseed the bell peppers, dice them and cook them with onions, garlic, and herbs. After cooking, mix the vegetables with the ground meat and bake the meatloaf. The flavor of bell peppers is unmistakable and probably one reason many meatloaf recipes feature this vegetable.

It's essential to keep bell peppers fresh until you get to cook them because they tend to lose their characteristic flavor if you don't use them immediately. You will also need to pay attention to what you're buying, as peppers that are soft or show signs of damage are usually not very good and won't last very long. Use some bell pepper hacks to bring out their best flavors when cooking. Always deseed bell peppers before consuming, and try to push and pull their caps to do this mess-free. Also, if you want all the flavor of the peppers but none of the bitterness, you should peel them after roasting. Peppers can also be charred on the grill for a smoky flavor or caramelized with onions before mixing them with the ground meat.


Mushrooms are another vegetable ingredient that can become part of meatloaf, and they're great in the recipe alongside ground meat (they pair well with turkey) or as the main gravy ingredient. Still, the most spectacular use is to make a vegetarian mushroom meatloaf, using only mushrooms instead of ground meat. This meatloaf has the advantage of being a lighter version, with less fat, which packs lots of nutrients, as mushrooms are rich in B vitamins, antioxidants, and potassium (per Healthline).

You can use any mushroom variety you prefer in the recipe. If you like the earthy and intense flavors, use cremini, porcini, oyster, or chanterelles. If you're not a fan of the taste and texture, use some mushroom types with milder aromas, such as button mushrooms. The mushroom meatloaf recipe comes with lots of umami, a flavor boosted by sautéing the mushrooms. The meatloaf is sure to be solid because the bread, oats, and walnuts mixed with the mushrooms are suitable binders. That way, you can easily slice it and have a nice texture. The use of earthy herbs, such as sage, thyme, and oregano, complements the earthy flavor of the mushrooms.


For an Italian twist, add pesto to your meatloaf. In this pesto meatloaf recipe, the Italian sauce completes the classic dish. It is a beef meatloaf with all the usual ingredients (ketchup, breadcrumbs, Worcestershire sauce, and eggs). Pesto is added to the meat mixture and spread on the loaf, and the sauce brings both moisture and flavor to the meat mixture. The pesto's fresh, earthy, and cheesy flavors make it a perfect addition to the classic meatloaf taste. The recipe also calls for grated Parmesan cheese added to the ground beef, alongside parsley, onion, and garlic powder.

You can make your fresh pesto if you want an original take on the recipe. It bursts with the flavor of fresh basil and replaces the cheese with capers for a lighter sauce. The lemon juice adds to the freshness, while a subtle garlic flavor completes the buttery aroma of pine nuts. The fresh pesto can be a great addition to your meatloaf, as it goes well with lean meat and brings a unique reinterpretation to a classic dish. To complete the Italian meal, serve the pesto meatloaf with pasta.

Potato chips

Potato chips are another answer to the frequently asked question: "How do you make meatloaf less crumbly?" They retain moisture and increase volume, adding a particular crunch and saltiness to the meatloaf. In this reinterpreted meatloaf recipe, potato chips are mashed into crumbs and added to the meat mixture. The recipe uses ground beef, pork, onions, garlic, an egg, ketchup, and curry powder for flavor.

But what type of potato chips should you use? Depending on your preferences, you can choose store-bought international chip brands or go local and use some regional potato chip brands. Some interesting potato chip additions to meatloaf are sour cream and onion potato chips, cheese-flavored potato chips, and BBQ-flavored chips. But, of course, it all depends on what kind of flavor you're in the mood for, as potato chips come in all possible aromas and can add a pleasant new taste and texture to your dish.


A representative meat type in Italian and French cooking and a delicacy in other cuisines, veal became the symbol of animal cruelty during the '80s. In recent years, however, things have changed, as nutritionists and farmers have started expressing different views. According to the American Veal Association, veal contains less fat than beef and is rich in protein, zinc, and vitamin B. In addition, the animal raising rules adhere to rigorous and humane principles. So, there's no surprise that veal is returning to American cuisine.

Veal reacts differently than beef when cooked, as it tends to retain moisture and has a paste-like consistency when ground. This fact makes it ideal to use in meatloaf. In Italy, veal is the main ingredient in some polpettone recipes (a local dish similar to meatloaf). If you choose to replace beef with veal in your meatloaf, keep in mind that the taste is less intense, so it's best to pair it with some ingredients that bring out its flavors, such as nutmeg and lemon.


Acclaimed as the best low-fat alternative to ground beef, ground turkey can successfully become a meatloaf ingredient. According to Healthline, ground turkey's most important quality is the smaller fat percentage compared to ground beef. The only condition is to use plenty of seasoning, as turkey tends to be somewhat bland. Also, as turkey is lean meat, your meatloaf runs the risk of being too dry, but adding fat would only defeat the purpose of using a fat-free meat type. So, to ensure that your turkey meatloaf has enough moisture, try using white and dark turkey meat.

Season ground turkey with vegetables (onions), garlic, chili powder, or a hot sauce to enhance the taste. You can add bell peppers or mushrooms for a more robust veggie flavor. Some other possible combinations with ground turkey are thyme and mint. The earthy flavor of the thyme and the fresh taste of mint bring a whole new dimension to the meatloaf. Turkey meatloaf is best served with cheesy mashed potatoes or simply in a sandwich.


Lamb is a versatile type of meat with a distinct flavor, which is used, in its ground form, in all sorts of meatballs and kebabs from Middle Eastern cuisine. The texture of the meat is perfect for meatloaf, as it has just enough fat to be moist but not so much as to become soggy. The intense aroma of lamb goes well with all kinds of spices and aromas, from the complex taste that is curry to mild flavors, such as pine nuts or yogurt. You can add a Greek twist to your lamb meatloaf if you combine it with feta cheese, pine nuts, fresh rosemary, and mint. Or you can try to combine the lamb with Middle Eastern spices (such as cinnamon, cumin, and coriander) and go for a Moroccan taste.

Ground lamb can be the star of meatloaf and meatballs. In a Spanish-Jewish lamb meatballs recipe, the meatballs are made using harissa paste, cumin, coriander, caraway, fennel seed, and cinnamon and served with Greek yogurt. As the recipe requires a large quantity of ground meat (1½ pounds) and binding agents (egg yolk, panko), you can also use it to make a lamb meatloaf. For a recipe with a spicy kick, the spiced lamb meatballs with green raisin pesto offer the same option of being cooked either as meatballs or as meatloaf.


Bacon is the meat lover's perfect breakfast dish, and it is also delicious when added to several foods, including meatloaf. With its salty, smoky taste, bacon brings tons of flavor to any food and lends a particularly fatty texture. No wonder it is an ingredient in many recipes, including desserts. With many bacon brands to choose from, bacon can be an excellent meatloaf ingredient.

There are two ways to use bacon in a meatloaf. The most common one is to wrap the meatloaf in bacon before baking it. To do this, use raw bacon and line your meatloaf pan with bacon strips. Before pressing the meat mixture into the pan, spread some glaze over the bacon. Make sure you fold any overhanging bacon over the meat mixture, flip the meatloaf onto a baking sheet and wrap the ends of the meatloaf with bacon. Bake your meatloaf (use a meat thermometer to ensure that the interior has reached 165 F) and brush the outer layer of bacon with glaze while cooking. Another way of using bacon in your meatloaf is by adding it to the meat mixture. For this, cook the bacon first. Make sure you avoid these common mistakes while cooking bacon. Don't let the bacon become crispy if you plan to use it in your meatloaf mixture. Instead, ground the cooked bacon and add it to your usual meatloaf recipe to get that delicious flavor.


With countless sausage types and brands to choose from and a ground meat texture easily adapted to meatloaf, sausage is another unexpected ingredient that can be part of your meatloaf. Of all the different types of sausage, the Italian is probably the best suited for a meatloaf recipe. Its texture (ground pork is the preferred meat) and seasoning (fennel, basil, and, depending on the variety, hot pepper) make it compatible with meatloaf ingredients. You can choose any sausage brand you prefer. Just make sure that it is a raw sausage so that you can mix it easily with the rest of the meatloaf ingredients.

Swap part of the ground beef for sausage when adding sausage to the meatloaf. Opt for hot if you prefer a fiery twist on your meatloaf. Add more vegetables, peppers, and seasonings, such as garlic, Italian seasoning, or basil, to complete the flavor. Either way, make sure that the flavors you are using don't clash with the flavors in the sausage.


For many people, meatloaf is synonymous with beef. But on the other hand, many stores sell mixed ground meats, which they label "meatloaf mix." These usually contain beef, pork, and veal. Because cooking with veal is a personal choice, beef and pork are the most used types of meat. Ground pork is necessary for meatloaf as it comes with an essential ingredient that beef lacks: fat.

Fat is helpful in meatloaf for two reasons. First, it comes with a specific flavor that manages to complete the taste of the meatloaf. Second, it influences texture and helps keep the meat mixture moist. Your meatloaf ends up with a different (and better) flavor and texture if you use pork and cook it on a sheet pan, not in a loaf pan. A meatloaf recipe with pork and beef usually requires more beef, so the pork flavor and fat don't overwhelm. Add earthy herbs to the mixture, such as thyme, which go well with the meat combination.