How to Cook a Perfectly Tender Meatloaf

Some nights, meatloaf can be the uncomplicated, beloved centerpiece of the family meal. Other times, it can be a dry and crumbly dinner disaster (that nobody takes seconds of).

Even for a dish so classic and straightforward, there are plenty of ways to screw up meatloaf. This handy guide shows you how to cook a perfectly moist meatloaf, no matter what the circumstances. Find out the ideal internal temperature for meatloaf, then check out our tips on how to keep it from drying out in the oven.

If you keep this proven advice in mind, you’re sure to come out with a mouthwatering meatloaf every time.

WATCH: How to Make a Meatloaf Bundt Cake


Best Oven Temperature for Meatloaf

The ideal oven temperature for cooking meatloaf is no higher than 350 degrees. While it’s tempting to crank the oven up for a shorter bake time, the tender and juicy meatloaf you’ll get from a low and slow bake will be worth the wait.

Try our: Classic Meatloaf

Lining the pan with aluminum foil can help the loaf cook evenly and hold in moisture (not to mention, save you time cleaning after dinner).

How to Tell When Meatloaf is Done

The ideal internal temperature for meatloaf is 160 degrees. While the USDA doesn’t have a determined cooking temperature for meatloaf as it does for whole meats, it does recommend cooking ground beef to 160 degrees.

The meatloaf’s doneness can’t be determined just by a timer, especially when you want to catch it at the just the right minute before it overcooks. Monitor the meatloaf with a meat thermometer until it reaches an internal temperature of 160 degrees. That’s your cue to get it out of the heat and onto the countertop to rest.

As with regular baking, be aware that baking meatloaf at a high altitude could alter your cook time. Depending on your elevation, you may need to add up to 20 minutes to the recipe’s original cook time.

Try our: 31 Best Meatloaf Recipes

Just like when cooking whole meats, let the meatloaf rest for about 10 minutes to let the flavors and juices settle. Otherwise, all that meaty goodness will end up on the cutting board instead on on your fork.

If tragedy strikes and your meatloaf, we’re here to help with our chef’s secret to saving dry meatloaf.

Tips for Perfectly Moist Meatloaf

  1. The amount of fat and liquid in your recipe will ultimately determine how tender and juicy meatloaf turns out. Pay attention to the ratio of lean meat to fat in your meat mixture because the fat will liquify during the cooking process. If the ground meat has less fat, you’ll need to compensate by adding more fat or liquid to keep the loaf from drying out. 
  2. Sauteeing your chopped veggies in butter or oil beforehand will allow them to release even more moisture and flavor when baked inside the loaf. 
  3. When mixing with your hands, handle and shape the meat carefully to avoid compressing and making it dense. It’s also possible to overmix, so try not to not over do it. 
  4. Don’t skimp on the breadcrumbs! The starches will soak up moisture that the meat and veggies can’t hold on their own. You can even soak the breadcrumbs in a splash of stock or milk beforehand to make sure they’re damp. 
  5. Adding more liquid doesn’t mean you have to use milk or stock. In fact, you have the opportunity to add even more layers of flavor to your meaty dish, whether that be with soy sauce, maple syrup, or steak sauce. The flavor options are limitless.

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