Recipe Connection: How to Make Meatloaf/Meatballs

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This isn't mine- I forgot to take a photo! But meatballs are meatballs, more or less...The one pictured is Martha's recipe.

This isn’t mine- I forgot to take a photo! But meatballs are meatballs, more or less…The one pictured is Martha’s recipe.

Meatloaf is more of a “choose your own adventure” than a recipe, I’m afraid. If you’re a by-the-book kind of cook, you may want to skip this post. If you can handle a little flexibility, let’s talk meat. Loaf. And balls.

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My mom’s meatloaf growing up contained all the basics:  ground beef, oatmeal, eggs, and ketchup. I’m guessing there were other parts, too, but those are the essentials. When I grew up, the first meatball/meatloaf recipe I tried was from 30-Day Gourmet’s Freezer Cookbook.

I was impressed and inspired by the fact that the authors make their meat-mix in a 10-gallon Rubbermaid tub. That’s a serious amount of meat. My receptacle of choice is fondly referred to as the “mondo bowl” because that’s how I described what I wanted on my Christmas list a few years back. (Speaking of Christmas lists, it’s on my to-do list to update the “Gadget Wishlist” there at the top of your screen in time for you all to utilize it to make your Christmas lists. I keep putting it off – start bugging me to get it done, okay? Thanks!) My mondo bowl makes big batches easy, and I always make a big batch when I make meat-mix. Why?

  1. Fewer dishes (always my goal!)
  2. When meat’s on sale, you might as well make it into meat-mix.
  3. It’s more fun to mix by hand when the meat hasn’t been frozen and thawed, plus you can choose to freeze some raw if you’d like.
  4. Streamlines planning – if you want to use veggies or leftover rice, you can do it once for all.
  5. Turn the oven on once and cook it all up to save energy.
  6. Meatballs are my ultimate favorite “on-hand” item for the freezer, because you don’t even have to thaw them. You can walk in the door and have dinner on the table in 15 minutes. (Maybe 20…I’m a bit time-challenged!)
  7. It’s cool to say “I made 10 pounds of meatloaf last night. What did you do?”
  8. Once your hands are covered in raw meat, you can’t chase children around and stop them from wreaking havoc or leaving the house. Best to make sure hubby’s home and just get it over with!
  9. Did I mention reusing loaf pans and cookie sheets makes fewer dishes?
  10. And finally – as fun and uplifting as it is to sink your hands in a huge bowl of raw meat, it’s kind of nice to get that over with all in one day, too. :)

Basic Meatloaf Structure

The basics of a good meatloaf or meatball are as follows:

Ingredient Options Amount (dbl, triple, etc as needed)
Ground Meat Often a mixture of beef, turkey, and even pork 1.5 lbs
Grains Dry oatmeal, cooked brown rice, bread crumbs (bet you could use barley but haven’t tried it) 2/3-1 cup
Liquid binding agent, often tomato-based Ketchup, tomato sauce (you can fudge part of this with pumpkin, squash, or sweet potato puree if you like) 2/3 cup
Eggs Whole eggs keep everything from falling apart! Some people add milk, too. 2 eggs
Onion and garlic For fla-vah and super food power ½ cup diced onion, 2 cloves garlic or ½ t. garlic powder
Salt 1 tsp
Herbs and spices Endless varieties:  Italian seasoning, Mexican kick, pre-mixed herb blends, simple parsley or thyme Totally optional, but here’s what I use:

½ tsp basil

¼ tsp cayenne pepper

½ tsp thyme

Sneaky veggies (optional) What do you want to add? Shredded zucchini? Finely diced carrots? Broccoli stems? Colored peppers? Puree-of-veggie-what? Just don’t overdo it and add everything in your fridge, or you’ll have veggie balls with a hint of meat.
Sneaky organ meats (clearly optional!) Cooked liver chunks from your beef stock, ground beef heart (no more than ¼ lb per 1.5 lbs of meat)

The oh-so-complicated method:

First:  prepare any cookie sheets or loaf pans you’re going to use. Then throw everything into your mondo-est bowl, take your wedding rings off, plunge hands into mess and mix until uniform.

Don't leave your shredded carrots this big.  They were a bit ridiculous and not so good in meatloaf.

Don’t leave your shredded carrots this big. They were a bit ridiculous and not so good in meatloaf.

Make sure the kids aren’t going to take advantage of your raw meat hands being stuck in the bowl for a few minutes!

A batch with 1.5 lbs of meat will make one large meatloaf OR two small/medium loaves OR about 60 walnut-sized meatballs. I make the meatballs either with my hands or an ice cream scoop, depending on my mood and what I got out before getting meaty.

To bake meatloaf: Pack meat-mix into a loaf pan and bake at 350 degrees for one hour or until no longer pink in the center. This is always trial-and-error for me! (“Family, we’re going to start with salads tonight…because the meatloaf isn’t quite done yet…”)  Cool 10 minutes to slice. (Ah. I never noticed that part in the recipe. Must be why mine always falls apart on the plate!)

You can bake a lot at once, just swap from the bottom to top shelves equally.  This will take a little bit of math if you do balls and loaves at the same time.

You can bake a lot at once, just swap from the bottom to top shelves equally. This will take a little bit of math if you do balls and loaves at the same time.

To freeze meatloaf (options):

  1. Freeze raw in the loaf pan, either to stay in the pan or with foil (or freezer paper, maybe?) under it so that you can lift the loaf out once frozen and reclaim your loaf pan. Thaw completely before baking with above directions.
  2. Freeze whole, cooked meatloaf, cooled well, in a plastic bag with all the air sucked out of it with a straw. Thaw completely before baking at 350 for 30-60 minutes until heated through.
  3. Cool cooked meatloaf, then slice and freeze slices on a cookie sheet. Transfer to a plastic bag for storage once frozen. To bake, lay slices flat on a cookie sheet and bake at 350, about 15 minutes if already thawed, 30+ minutes if frozen. (You’ll want to use a sauce if you freeze slices as they’ll get a bit dry. You can pour the sauce on them right away in the oven to heat all together.)

To bake meatballs: Place on baking sheet (I line it with parchment paper for easy clean-up as these are incredibly messy little buggers) and bake at 375 degrees for 20-30 minutes until no pink in center. If you’re baking a batch with a loaf or two, just bake at 350 and make it work!

To freeze meatballs:  Freeze individually on a baking sheet, then transfer to a plastic bag for storage. You can usually get out the number you want for a meal and put them (frozen) in a pot of spaghetti sauce to heat. If you want meatballs with gravy or sauce, just place them on a baking sheet and follow the directions for sliced meatloaf.

How We Eat Them

Our meatballs are always in spaghetti, and our meatloaf is usually served plain with 5 million choices of dipping sauces (see Raise your Condiment Awareness) and a baked or mashed potato on the side. You could do a stroganoff, salisbury, or teriyaki sauce (over rice) with great success.

I’m not going to tell you that I’m a meatball queen. I’m really not. Freezer queen, yes. Procrastination princess? Definitely? But meatballs? They’re hit or miss around here on account of never following the same recipe twice! The last one wasn’t that good, actually – I think I pushed too many add-ins into the mix (carrots, zucchini, beef heart, squash, etc.). Don’t make my mistake. And if you come up with the perfect concoction, be sure to leave it here for the rest of us!

This post is part of Tempt My Tummy Tuesday at Blessed With Grace, Tasty Tuesday at Balancing Beauty and Bedlam, Tuesdays at the Table at All the Small Stuff, Top 10 {Tuesday} at Oh Amanda, Pennywise Platter Thursday, and The $5 Dinner Challenge.

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31 Bites of Conversation So Far

  1. LindsayPal says

    Great post- so efficient! I like the shredded carrots for sneaky veggies.

    Oh, but I end up chasing children around yelling with some kind of raw meat on my hands about 3 times/week. I’m sure they will have nightmares about it someday! (I don’t touch them without washing, of course.)

  2. says

    Love the chart!

    I remember my mom once made a variation with shredded potato instead of bread crumbs in it. I think she used those Simply Potatoes hash brown potato strips, but you could just use actual potatoes sans chemicals.
    .-= Jendeis´s last blog ..Day of Detox =-.

  3. says

    oh and barley is wonderful in meatloaf – my mom actually has a recipe that is probably half gr beef and half barley (making your beef go further!) – I often shape mine into “large potato size rounds” – making “mini meatloaves” -(think make it look like a large potato! Or smaller if you want some kid size portions!) they cook a little nicer, a little quicker – can freeze before or after cooking – can pull out servings for just 2 or 6 depending on what you need……..
    .-= Jen´s last blog ..Egg Nog =-.

  4. ~M says

    Where do you find huge mixing bowls? Ideally, I’m looking for glass/pyrex/Anchor Hocking type bowls (and even more ideally, with lids), but anything will do. I can’t figure out what search to do on amazon, if they even carry such a thing.

    • Katie says

      My biggest glass bowl is big, but not huge. The one I used for these meatballs I got because I asked for a “mondo bowl” for my birthday, and my MIL is a great shopper! I think Pampered Chef has a big one, but that would of course be pricey. This is my glass bowl, but mine has a lid and was part of a large set: Pyrex Prepware 4-Quart Rimmed Mixing Bowl, Clear
      They’re out there, but they’re not easy to find!
      Good luck – Katie

    • Katie says

      LOL! Whole or ground beef heart? Mine came WHOLE the first (only so far, good grief) time from the farm. I food processed it in little chunks! You can just add it to ground beef recipes, no more than 1/4 lb heart per lb beef. It’s a little sweeter than gd beef, I would say, but not too crazy. Stick it in your meatballs, girl! I hope they turn out great! :) Katie

  5. says

    Making this right now! 3lbs of meat. 1.20 pounds of local grass fed ground beef, 2 pounds of ground turkey. Used about 2 1/2 cups of gluten free bread crumbs.

    2 short meat loaves and 21 meatballs.

    No veggies in it today.
    .-= AmandaonMaui´s last blog ..Happy Father’s Day! =-.

  6. Cortney says

    Hi! Are you freezing the meatballs raw or cooked? Can you do either? I’m assuming that your 15-20 minute meal is done with frozen cooked meatballs heated in a pan with sauce!? My family loves soagetti but I’ve never done meatballs, usually just meatsauce.

    • Katie says

      You’re right, the quick meals is with cooked meatballs. They turn out so well that I’ve never frozen them raw, although I have frozen meatloaf raw before, right in the loaf pan. So you could do it either way, but I like to just make a big greasy mess on my cookie sheets once and benefit from it later! :) Katie

  7. Sarah says

    I have to tell you I made these meatballs and I did a smaller trial batch that I called “Asaian” . I added some ginger and an Asian seasoning Ibhad. They were fantastic! I used equal parts Barley and Quinoa. I served them last night for dinner with Aspargus. My freezer is now stocked with the regular ones I made too. Thank you so much! god bless!

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