Meatloaf was a standard dinner in my house growing up. Almost every week, I’d come home from school and see a pack of ground turkey defrosting in the kitchen sink and my mom hard at work shredding cheddar cheese. I knew exactly what we were eating. We had it so often that after I moved out of the house at 18 to attend college, I rarely cooked it myself.
It’s not that my mom’s meatloaf wasn’t delicious — it absolutely was. It’s just that I always had the feeling she only made it when she had no idea what else to cook. The truth is, in and of itself, meatloaf isn’t an exciting dish. It’s literally a bunch of meat, packed into the shape of a loaf of bread and then baked. It’s something I used to call a “mom meal” before I became one. Back then, I thought of mom meals as any dish that could be made in under an hour that fed as many people as possible; bonus points if it only required one pot or made cleaning up afterward easy.
Now I realize how judgy and ungrateful I was to think that a dinner that my mom regularly made me was anything other than her absolute best and a tangible display of her love. As the mother of a 1-year-old with a full-time job, a husband, and two dogs, you can bet that meatloaf is on my dinner table a lot now, too.
For the sake of novelty, I’ve tried to experiment with different meatloaf recipes, but I’ve come away disappointed every time. (I just don’t believe that ketchup should ever be used as a sauce.) But the more recipes I tried, the more I realized what I was looking for: a dish that’s meaty, savory, and slightly elevated — and doesn’t require an enormous amount of extra work.
To find that balance, I replaced my mother’s ground turkey with high-quality ground beef and her cheddar with funky aged Gruyere. I also swapped out ketchup or tomato paste for an herby mushroom gravy that, quite frankly, I now want to pour over everything. Lastly, I topped the meatloaf with crunchy, parsley-laden breadcrumbs so that I could get a little texture with all that meat. The result? A mom meal that feels sophisticated but approachable. I would serve this alongside roasted Brussels sprouts, broccoli, or even cabbage and pillowy mashed potatoes — after all, it never hurts to have something to soak up all that extra gravy.
Note: If you don’t want to use both Italian breadcrumbs and panko, you can substitute panko for the Italian breadcrumbs in the meatloaf by combining ¼ cup panko, 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning, and 1 teaspoon salt.
Not Your Mama’s Meatloaf Recipe
For the meatloaf:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup yellow onions, chopped
3 large garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, finely chopped (about 5 stems)
2 pounds ground beef (80/20 ratio)
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 packet onion soup mix, such as Lipton Golden Onion
¼ cup Italian breadcrumbs, such as Progresso
2 large eggs
10 ounces grated Gruyere, divided in half
For the breadcrumb topping:
1 cup panko
¼ cup Italian flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
For the gravy:
4 cups mushrooms, torn into pieces (a combination of shiitake, maitake, cremini, oyster — whatever is available)
Olive oil, for drizzling
2 large garlic cloves, sliced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ cup onion, diced
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
¾ cup beef stock, such as Kitchen Basics
½ cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper to taste
Step 1: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Step 2: Heat oil in a medium-sized pan and add the onions. Cook until the onions start to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and thyme and continue to cook for another 5 minutes. Transfer the onion mixture to the refrigerator to cool completely.
Step 3: In a large bowl, add the ground beef, Worcestershire sauce, soup mix, Italian breadcrumbs, eggs, and half (5 ounces) of the Gruyere. Mix all the ingredients thoroughly, then incorporate the cooled onion into the meat mixture.
Step 4: Place the meat mixture in a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan, packing it in as tightly as you can to ensure there is no air trapped inside. Place on the middle rack in the oven and bake uncovered for 45 minutes to 1 hour, then briefly remove from the oven and top with the remaining Gruyere. Return the meatloaf to the oven and continue to bake until an inserted thermometer reads 160 degrees. When the meatloaf is ready, remove it from the oven and set it aside to rest.
While the meatloaf is baking, make the breadcrumb topping:
Step 1: Place the panko on a baking sheet on the oven’s lower rack to brown, about 5 minutes. Remove the breadcrumbs, allow to cool slightly, and toss with parsley and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Set aside.
Once the meatloaf has finished baking, make the mushroom gravy:
Step 1: Increase the oven temperature to 425 degrees.
Step 2: Place the torn mushrooms on a parchment-lined baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with a little salt. Roast the mushrooms on the oven’s top rack for 10 minutes. Once the mushrooms are browned, remove and set aside.
Step 3: Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and cook for about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sprinkle flour into the pan. Cook the flour mixture for about 5 minutes, stirring continuously. Pour in the beef stock and whisk until a thick gravy has formed. Add the heavy cream and roasted mushrooms and cook for another 5 minutes. If the gravy becomes too thick, you may add some more beef stock to loosen it. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Step 4: To serve, cut the meatloaf into ½-inch thick slices, pour the mushroom gravy over it, and top with breadcrumbs. Serve with your choice of sides.
Ryan Shepard is an Atlanta-based food and spirits writer. She loves Mexican food, bourbon, and New Orleans.
Louiie Victa is a chef, recipe developer, food photographer, and stylist living in Las Vegas.
Recipe tested by Louiie Victa