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Bacon-topped Meatloaf

Ingredients:

1/2 cup seasoned croutons - crushed
1/2 cup milk or half and half (may need more - adjust as needed)

1/2 large red onion, small diced 
1/4 large red bell pepper, small diced (remove seeds and any white on the inside)
3 to 4 cloves crushed garlic (grind to paste with kosher salt or use a garlic press)
2 large eggs
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 tsp yellow mustard
2 tsp Worstershire sauce
2 to 4 tbsp catsup
1 heaping teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon chili powder

1 1/2 pounds ground beef (I used 90% lean)
Extra catsup for top of meatloaf before bacon
7 slices sliced bacon
(I would use thin sliced if I was doing it again - the thick bacon
was too thick to get "crispy", which is how I imagined this topping)

Method:

Cover a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and set aside.

In a large, wide-mouth mixing bowl, combine crushed croutons with milk or half and half.  Add more if it sucks it all up and doesn't look mushy.  It should look gloppy, similar to consistency of oatmeal.

Prep the rest of the vegetables while the crumbs are soaking.  Add everything except the ground beef and bacon to the saturated crumb mixture.  Stir until well combined.  

Add ground beef and combine thoroughly, using your hands.  If it needs more liquid to hold shape, add more catsup.  You can check for the correct consistency by making a small meatball with your hand.  Gently begin to shape into a mound while still in the bowl.  When it is holding together well, gently slide it onto the prepared baking sheet (using the large wide-mouthed bowl helps with that).  Pat the loaf to your liking (I like mine more flat than a traditional loaf - the cooking is more even and you don't end up with a pink middle).  With the side of your hand, push down in the center to form a shallow trough; add catsup to the indented area.

Use the bacon to make a lattice top for the meatloaf.  If you don't know how to do a lattice - it is easily found on Google or YouTube.  I have also seen bacon added by just laying strips across the loaf.  Make yourself happy - do it your way!  Tuck all of the bacon ends under the meatloaf.  I thought the lattice looked pretty.

Place in refrigerator to firm up for at least 30 minutes while you preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
Remove meatloaf from fridge and place in middle rack of oven.  Bake for 30 minutes and turn the meatloaf.  Bake another 20 to 30 minutes.  Meat thermometer should read at least 160 degrees and bacon should be crispy.  In the attempt to get my bacon crispy, the internal temp was 170.  Fortunately, all that bacon fat kept everything nice and moist.  Carefully drain the bacon grease and allow to rest for 5 to 10 minutes after removing from oven before sliding it onto a cutting board using two large spatulas.  Use a serrated knife for slicing through the bacon without crushing the meatloaf.   

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