"Meat loaf” is cited in print since at least 1875-1876; “meatloaf” (one word) became a popular spelling since the 1950s. The meatloaf dish—ground beef shaped into a loaf—perhaps can be dated to ancient Rome (4th-5th century).
An 1800s recipe (much reprinted in newspapers, magazines and books, but not with a credited source) includes pepper, salt, chopped onion, one egg, and two slices of bread soaked in milk. Meatloaf is often served with barbecue sauce or tomato ketchup, but no sauce is mentioned in the earliest “meat loaf” recipes from the late 1800s.
Meatloaf is a meat dish consisting of ground meat (usually ground beef or a combination of ground beef and lamb, or pork), which is formed into a loaf shape and baked or smoked. The loaf shape is formed by either cooking it in a loaf pan, or forming it by hand on a flat baking pan. The meatloaf has European origins; minced meat loaves were cooked already in the 5th century, and were mentioned in the famous Roman cookery collection “Apicius”. Meatloaf is a traditional German, Belgian and Dutch dish, and it is a cousin to the Italian meatball. American meatloaf has its origins in scrapple, a mixture of ground pork and cornmeal served by German-Americans in Pennsylvania since Colonial times. The American version may be garnished with ketchup.
Many meatloaf recipes are interchangeable with meatball recipes, the distinction coming from shape and from the accompaniments or choice of sauce. Sometimes tomato sauce or ketchup is in the meat and baked along with the meat. Meatloaf is a versatile dish. The ground meat is mixed with a binder such as eggs and breadcrumbs, small pieces of bread soaked in milk (or red wine or another liquid), or wheat germ, finely ground almonds, or oatmeal, to make it more dough-like. Salt, spices and herbs (such as parsley), as well as chopped vegetables (such as onions, green peppers and celery), may also be added. Some recipes add strips of bacon on top. Meatloaves may be filled with eggs, cheese, vegetables, herbs, mushrooms, or a combination of these ingredients. Some meatloaves can be made by adding meat and sometimes also eggs to a meatloaf mix before baking. A regular oven is not required. Meatloaf can be cooked in a slow cooker or in a microwave oven. To ensure even cooking in a microwave oven, it is best cooked in individual portions (for instance, in a mug) or as a small loaf.
In many parts of the United States, meatloaf is a popular dish. In 2007, it was voted the 7th favorite dish in the United States according to the Good Housekeeping website.
During the Great Depression, cooking meatloaf was a way to stretch the food budget for families, using an inexpensive type of meat and other ingredients as leftovers; along with spices, it was popular to add cereal grains to the meatloaf to stretch the meat. The tradition lives on with the merits of producing a lower-fat dish with superior binding and consistency. The meatloaf is typically eaten with some kind of sauce or relish. Many of these recipes call for pasta sauce or tomato sauce to be poured over the loaf to form a crust during baking. The tomato-based sauce may be replaced with simple brown gravy or onion gravy, but the meatloaf is prepared in a similar manner. Barbecue sauce, tomato ketchup, or a mixture of both tomato ketchup and mustard may also be used.
Another variety of meatloaf is prepared by frosting it with mashed potatoes, drizzling it with a small amount of butter, and browning in the oven.
The meatloaf is normally served warm as part of the main course, but can also be found sliced as a cold cut. Meatloaves can also be considered as a typical Midwestern comfort food, or even soul food.
Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary
Main Entry: meat loaf
: a dish of ground meat seasoned and baked in the form of a loaf
(Oxford English Dictionary)
meat loaf n. a baked loaf whose main ingredient is minced or chopped meat; cf. LOAF n.1 2e.
1892 New Eng. Mag. Feb. 690/2 Great creamy rusk were made, and *meat loaf, and pot-cheese.
1932 E. CRAIG Cooking with E. Craig 58 (heading) Banana and meat loaf.
1988 L. COLWIN Home Cooking xii. 86 Meat loaf ranges from the sublime..to the pedestrian: meat, egg, seasoning and bread crumbs.
The Mothers’ Treasury
London: The Book Society
Pg. 144, col. 2:
Chop fine whatever cold meat you may have,—fat and lean together; add pepper, salt, and a finely chopped onion, two slices of bread which have been soaked in milk, and one egg; mix well together, and bake in a form. This makes an admirable tea or breakfast dish.
19 February 1876, Elkhart (IN) Evening Review, ‘Domestic Recipes,” pg. 1, col. 3:
Meat Loaf.—Chop fine whatever cold meat you have on hand, fat and lean together; add pepper, salt, and a small onion chopped fine if desired, with two or three slices of wheat bread which have previously soaked in milk, and one well beaten egg; mix all well together and bake in a small dish or pan.
Housekeeping in old Virginia.
Containing contributions from two hundred and fifty ladies in Virginia and her sister states.
By Marion Cabell Tyree
Louisville, KY: J.P. Morton & Co.
Chop fine whatever cold meat you may have, fat and lean together; add pepper and salt, one finely chopped onion, two slices of bread which have been soaked in milk, and one egg.
Mix well together and bake in a form. This makes an admirable tea or breakfast dish.—Mrs. J.
The household (of the Detroit free press). A cyclopaedia of practical hints for modern homes ...
Edited by May Perrin Goff
Detroit, MI: The Detroit Free Press Co.
Chop fine whatever cold meat you may have, fat and lean together; add pepper and salt, one finely-chopped onion, two slices of bread, which have been soaked in milk, and one egg. Mix well together and bake in a dish. This makes a nice tea or breakfast dish.
My Favorite Receipt
By Royal Baking Powder Company
106 Wall St. N. Y.
Meats, Meat Loaf, Stews, Sausage, etc.
Pg. 10, col. 1:
Beef Loaf.—1 1/2 lbs. lean beef (raw), 1 cup rolled cracker, small teaspoon pepper, small tablespoons salt, 1 egg; chop the beef very fine; mix all together with the hands; form into a long loaf, with lumps of butter on top, and bake from 1/2 to 3/4 hour; slice when cold.—Mrs. A. F. Lowerre, Southold, N. Y.
25 August 1888, Inter Ocean (Chicago, IL), pg. 2, pg. 15:
A cold meat loaf is just the thing to cut in slices for picnic or lunch sandwiches. Chop any kind of good, cold meat, season with salt and pepper and place in a mold. Take the bones and bits of meat and boil them with an onion or two cut fine. When boiled enough strain, and add one spoonful of gelatine dissolved. Pour this over the meat and set away to cool and harden.
What to eat, how to serve it
By Christine Terhune Herrick
New York, NY: Harper & Bros.
Meat Loaf.—Two pounds raw or underdone beef or veal, minced fine; quarter-pound ham, also minced; two eggs; half-cup (Pg. 152—ed.) fine bread-crumbs, one tablespoonful melted butter; pepper, salt, chopped onion, and herbs for seasoning to taste. Work all the ingredients well together, and press closely into a brick-shaped tin. Cover this, set it in a pan of boiling water, and bake an hour and a half, taking care that the boiling water does not cook away. Turn out and slice when cold.
Google News Archive
8 September 1916, Pittsburgh (PA) Press, “A Kitchen Blessing,” pg. 15, col. 5:
The two paddles will work together splendidly when it is necessary to lift safely from baking pan to serving dish a meatloaf or roll, a baked fish or a meat turnover with its tender crust.