is supported by our Pitmaster Club. Also, when you buy with links on our site we may earn a finder’s fee. Click to see how we test and review products.

Grilled Meatloaf, The Ultimate Comfort Food

Share on:
Smoked meatloaf with mashed potatoes

Meatloaf is perhaps the ultimate comfort food, and therefore the least glamorous. Many of us use recipes handed down for generations. But somehow meatloaf was not part of my family tradition, so I needed to invent one. And naturally, it had to kick you know what.

When devising the ultimate meatloaf, the first question is, are there any rules? How far outside the loaf pan can I go? I dreamed up all sorts of exotic creative approaches, but then I realized what we all want is meatloaf, not a sausage. Something familiar. Something that tastes like home. Comfort food. Something Grandma would recognize as meatloaf. Only I wanted it to be better and I wanted it cooked on the grill for a smoky flavor.

My ultimate meatloaf would have to be moist and tender. I love simple recipes, and, while a well-seared steak with only salt and pepper may be a breathtaking violin solo, meatloaf has the opportunity to be a string quartet, with more complexity. I also want leftovers that make a killer sandwich.

From a culinary standpoint, there were four crucial problems to solve: Flavor, texture, moisture, and crust.


When Googling meatloaf, the most common recipes start with a blend of beef, pork, and veal, and many grocery stores actually sell packages of “meatloaf mix” made with equal parts of each.

Since meatloaf contains ground meats and they need to be cooked up to 155°F, they tend to dry out. Many recipes add wet ingredients, among them milk or cream, soy saucemustard, ketchupKC style barbecue sauce, salsa, canned soup, and Worcestershire. But if you add wet stuff, you need to add a starch to absorb it or else the loaf will fall apart. That may be why people add bread, bread crumbs, crackers, oatmeal, and flour. Another reason people use these mix-ins is a carryover from the Depression when hamburger was almost always extended with some sort of grain.

My Italian American wife and her family have been using bread soaked in water and squeezed almost dry in meatballs for generations. Of all the starches I have seen in meatloaf recipes on the internet, my favorites are dried potato and goldfish crackers, mainly because, if I wasn’t Meathead, I’d be Potatohead, and goldfish crackers are my favorite snack.

Another popular mix-in is some kind of fat. Fats bring flavor to the party, they don’t need starch to absorb them, they don’t evaporate during cooking, and they don’t drip off easily. Good sources of fat are ground beef fat, strips of bacon, pork belly, or even butter.

In the recipes I researched, the most popular vegetable mix-ins were onions, bell peppers, garlic, and celery. I also found recipes with chopped carrots, chopped tomatoes, mushrooms, canned peas, raisins, dehydrated onion soup mix, and cheeses. I have even seen pickled beets in several recipes (mostly recipes from New Zealand and Australia). I hate beets. I know, it’s an unreasonable prejudice. But it stems from a troubling childhood incident with borscht and the “children in Russia who are starving”. Forgive me.

Some recipes add sweeteners like granulated sugar, honey, jams, etc. Almost all recipes include one or two raw eggs as a binder.

Glaze, sauce, or nekkid?

A glaze baked on top is common. Ketchup and brown sugar are the most popular toppings, sometimes mixed together, but I’ve also seen barbecue sauce, fresh tomatoes, and honey on top. Alton Brown uses a balsamic glaze. Sign me up for anything having to do with balsamic. Others prefer a sauce, like a marinara, or a cream sauce with mushrooms. These pasta sauces intrigue me because if you make enough sauce, you could serve slices of meatloaf on pasta. Of course, if this is what you like to do, why not just make meatballs and be done with it?

But the more I thought about it, the more I had reservations about toppings. I want my loaf browned all over so I don’t want sauce getting in the way. I want the complexity that comes from the Maillard reaction. Some folks try to get the best of both worlds by holding the glaze until the last 15 minutes of the cook, but then it softens the crust.

Side dishes

I asked members of the Pitmaster Club for side dishes. Most went with mashed potatoes and peas, green beans, or carrots. In fact, in testing this recipe I was inspired by the Shepherd’s Pie at my local Irish pub and placed the meatloaf slices right on top of the mashed potatoes. In that case, I made Buttery Garlic Mashed with a big scoop of sweet peas mixed with onion sautéed in butter.


One thing is essential: Leftovers go on a sandwich. I like to grill or griddle slices of meatloaf and serve them on a bun like a burger with lettuce, tomato, and my secret sauce. You might like the sandwiches better than the loaf!

Prep and cooking techniques

One important concept: Don’t cook meatloaf in a loaf pan or a pan with high sides. Loaf pans keep the sides and bottoms from browning, and the brown crust is the best part. A far better strategy is to form the loaf and put it on a rack hovering above a pan so it can brown on sides. This technique also drains off the excess fats and liquids squeezed out when proteins shrink. If you use a loaf pan or a sheet pan, the fat just makes the bottom soggy, and the albumin squeezed out of shrinking proteins makes for an ugly tan glop that nobody wants to eat. Just gently place the raw loaf on the gridiron on your grill.

don't use loaf pans

We’ll cook at 325°F (163°C), which is high enough to brown the exterior, but not so high as to cause the proteins to get their undies in a bunch and squeeze out all the moisture. At that temp, it should take about an hour for the loaf to cook through, but please do not use a clock to tell when this recipe is done. It is done when the meat hits 155°F in the deepest part of the center, the temp at which ground meat is safe.

Ultimate Grilled Meatloaf Recipe

Smoked meatloaf sliced
Tried this recipe?Tell others what you thought of it and give it a star rating below.
4.27 from 106 votes
This is the ultimate meatloaf recipe, moist, flavorful, and cooked on the grill, where it picks up smoke flavor as well.

Serve with: Garlic Mashed Potatoes, and sweet peas with sauteed onions. To drink: A nice simple rosé is my first choice. If you prefer beer, try Guinness stout, since it is served on top of mashed potatoes and reminiscent of shepherd's pie.

Main Course


Servings: 8 servings


Prep Time: 1 hour
Cook Time: 1 hour 15 minutes


Wet Stuff

  • 2 raw eggs
  • 1 tablespoon  soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon hot sauce (I prefer Chipotle Tabasco, or my homemade Controlled Burn Hot Sauce)
  • cup whole milk or 2% milk
  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated orange zest (about 1 large orange)

Dry Stuff

  • 1 ½ cups unseasoned bread crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons dried crumbled basil leaves
  • 2 teaspoons dried crumbled oregano leaves
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon Morton Coarse Kosher Salt
  • ½ teaspoon dried thyme
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg


  • 1 small onion
  • ½ small sweet red bell pepper or you choice of colors
  • ½ cup sun dried tomatoes


  • 1 pound coarsely ground beef chuck, 80 to 85% lean
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • ½ pound uncooked bacon
About the sundried tomatoes. Use soft, pliable sundrieds. If yours have dried hard, soak them in warm water for about 15 minutes before chopping or else they will soak up all the other liquids in the loaf and make it dense. I use my home made smoked sundrieds. If you wish, substitute chopped dried plums, raisins, or apples.
About the salt. Remember, kosher salt is half the concentration of table salt so if you use table salt, use half as much. Click here to read more about salt and how it works. 
Optional toppings. This loaf is flavorful and moist, so it should not need toppings, but I must confess, I like caramelized onion or even a sunnyside up egg occasionally.
Metric conversion:

These recipes were created in US Customary measurements and the conversion to metric is being done by calculations. They should be accurate, but it is possible there could be an error. If you find one, please let us know in the comments at the bottom of the page


  • Prep. In a big bowl, mix the wet stuff thoroughly.
  • In a small bowl, mix the dry stuff thoroughly.
  • Set aside 1/2 cup (118ml) of the dry stuff for the crust. Add the remaining 1 cup of the dry stuff to the wet stuff and stir it together. Let it soak for a minute or two.
  • Chop the onions, peppers, and sun dried tomatoes into small bits. Add the veggies to the big bowl. Chop the bacon into small bits and add that to the bowl along with the rest of the meat. Mix gently. Resist the temptation to overwork the mass and pack it tight. We don't need no stinkin' meat bricks. If it doesn't mix thoroughly, that's OK: bursts of flavor are fun. Form it into a cylinder about 3" (7.6cm) in diameter. Yes, I know this sounds weird, but this tube shape will insure that it cooks evenly on all sides and it makes it easier to roll around on the grill to brown on all sides.
  • Pour the remaining 1/2 cup (118ml) of the dry stuff on a flat surface such as a cutting board and set the loaf on it so the bottom gets coated. Sprinkle the rest of the crust over the rest of the surface and roll it around so the loaf is coated on all sides.
  • Place the meatloaf in the refrigerator to firm up while you prepare the grill.
  • Fire up. Set up your grill for 2-zone cooking. Preheat the indirect side to about 325°F (163°C). That's a good temp for browning things without squeezing out too much moisture. Start a pot of water boiling for the potatoes.
  • Cook. Place the loaf on the grate on the indirect side. If you like, throw some wood on the fire to add a bit of smoke, but not too much. Roast until the temp in the center of the loaf is 160°F (71°C), which is the temp at which the eggs are thoroughly cooked and safe.
  • Serve. Remove the meatloaf from the grill, slice and serve with mashed potatoes and/or your favorite side dishes.
  • Now tell us, what do you do with your leftovers?


Here are some nice looking recipes I studied and they might provide you with inspiration.

HuffPost’s French chef Kerry Saretsky Boeuf Bourguignon Meatloaf with an amazing red wine ketchup.

Millionaire’s Meatloaf (topped with chili shrimp) adapted from Chef David Burke’s formula by the New York Times.

The alchemists at Cooks Illustrated like to make the very best recipe they can, regardless of ingredients.

A popular pretty standard classic recipe on

Quaker Oats has several recipes including a simple, classic one.

Meathead goes over the top with an Italian sausage recipe with a cheese, pepper, and onion center, wrapped in bacon, smoked, topped with grilled marinara, and served on pasta.

Related articles

Published On: 3/23/2016 Last Modified: 2/22/2022

Share on:
  • Meathead - Founder and publisher of, Meathead is known as the site's Hedonism Evangelist and BBQ Whisperer. He is also the author of the New York Times Best Seller "Meathead, The Science of Great Barbecue and Grilling", named one of the "100 Best Cookbooks of All Time" by Southern Living.


High quality websites are expensive to run. If you help us, we’ll pay you back bigtime with an ad-free experience and a lot of freebies!

Millions come to every month for high quality tested recipes, tips on technique, science, mythbusting, product reviews, and inspiration. But it is expensive to run a website with more than 2,000 pages and we don’t have a big corporate partner to subsidize us.

Our most important source of sustenance is people who join our Pitmaster Club. But please don’t think of it as a donation. Members get MANY great benefits. We block all third-party ads, we give members free ebooks, magazines, interviews, webinars, more recipes, a monthly sweepstakes with prizes worth up to $2,000, discounts on products, and best of all a community of like-minded cooks free of flame wars. Click below to see all the benefits, take a free 30 day trial, and help keep this site alive.

Post comments and questions below


1) Please try the search box at the top of every page before you ask for help.

2) Try to post your question to the appropriate page.

3) Tell us everything we need to know to help such as the type of cooker and thermometer. Dial thermometers are often off by as much as 50°F so if you are not using a good digital thermometer we probably can’t help you with time and temp questions. Please read this article about thermometers.

4) If you are a member of the Pitmaster Club, your comments login is probably different.

5) Posts with links in them may not appear immediately.



Click for comments...


These are not ads or paid placements. These are some of our favorite tools and toys.

These are products we have tested, won our top awards, and are highly recommend. Click here to read how we test, about our medals, and what they mean.

Use Our Links To Help Keep Us Alive

A big part of this site is our unbiased equipment and product reviews. We love playing with toys and we have no problem calling them the way we see them. Some companies pay a finder’s fee if a reader clicks a link on and buys a product. It has zero impact on our reviews, zero impact on the price you pay, and the sites never tell us what you bought, but it has a major impact on our ability to keep this site alive! So before you buy, please click our links. Here’s a link that takes you to a page on Amazon that has some of our favorite tools and toys:

Compact Powerful Sear Machine For Your Next Tailgater

Char-Broil’s Grill2Go x200 is a super-portable, fun little sizzler made of heavy, rust-proof cast aluminum. The lid snaps shut. Grab the handle and you’re off to the party! Char-Broil’s TRU-Infrared design produces searing heat while reducing fuel consumption. A 16 ounce LP gas canister is enough to keep you flipping burgers for hours.

Click here to read our detailed review and to order

Blackstone Rangetop Combo: Griddle And Deep Fryer In One

The flat top does the burgers and the fryer does the fries. Use the griddle for bacon, eggs, grilled cheese, and so much more. And why deep fry indoors when you can avoid the smell and mess by doing it outside!

Click here to read our detailed review and to order

The Good-One Is A Superb Grill And A Superb Smoker All In One

The Good-One Open Range is dramatically different from a traditional offset smoker. By placing the heat source behind and under the smokebox instead of off to the side, Open Range produces even temperature from left to right, something almost impossible to achieve with a standard barrel shaped offset.

Click here to read our complete review

Grilla Pellet Smoker proves good things come in small packages

We always liked Grilla. The small 31.5″ x 29.5″ footprint makes it ideal for use where BBQ space is limited, as on a condo patio.
Click here for our review on this unique smoker

GrillGrates Take Gas Grills To The Infrared Zone

GrillGrates(TM) amplify heat, prevent flareups, make flipping foods easier, kill hotspots, flip over to make a fine griddle, and can be easily moved from one grill to another. You can even throw wood chips, pellets, or sawdust between the rails and deliver a quick burst of smoke.

Click here for more about what makes these grates so special

Bring The Heat With Broil King Signet’s Dual Tube Burners

3 burner gas grill

The Broil King Signet 320 is a modestly priced, 3-burner gas grill that packs a lot of value and power under the hood. Broil King’s proprietary, dual-tube burners get hot fast and are able to achieve high, searing temps that rival most comparatively priced gas grills. The quality cast aluminum housing carries a Limited Lifetime Warranty.

Click here to read our complete review

Groundbreaking Hybrid Thermometer!

Thermapen One Instant Read Thermometer

The FireBoard Spark is a hybrid combining instant-read capability, a cabled temperature probe, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity. We gave Spark a Platinum Medal for pushing the envelope of product capability while maintaining high standards of design and workmanship.

Click here to read our comprehensive Platinum Medal review