Binder is the second most important ingredient in a meatloaf. Without a binder, meatloaf is nothing more than a giant, seasoned hamburger. The binder gives a meatloaf it’s tender texture and helps it retain moisture.
The best binder for making a meatloaf is whatever you already have in your kitchen. It is an excellent use for stale bread and crackers, old breadcrumbs, oatmeal, unsweetened cereal and even leftover potatoes.
Bread is the most popular meatloaf binder
Bread is one of the best and most popular binders for meatloaf. Probably because we always have lots of stale bread around. Bread works just as well whether it’s fresh, stale or dry. Any break you use should be cut or torn into very small pieces or run through a food processor. You will also need to adjust the amount of liquid in your recipe to compensate for moisture in the bread.
As with most binders, you’ll want to use 1/2 to 1 cup of bread per pound of meat. More bread will result in a softer, more tender meatloaf. Less bread and your meatloaf will be firmer.
A good guide for adjusting the amount of liquid is that dry bread will need about twice as much liquid as fresh bread. You can easily adjust by knowing that your binder and liquid together should be the consistency of a paste. There should be no extra liquid after mixing your bread and liquids together. If there is, pour it off.
Breadcrumbs work too
Breadcrumbs work very similar to dry bread in meatloaf. The main thing to pay attention to is whether the breadcrumbs have added salt or spices. If you made them homemade then you can use them the same way as with dry bread. If they’re store bought, you should taste them and make sure the flavor will work and then adjust the salt accordingly.
Panko is a Japanese variety of breadcrumbs that also works well for meatloaf. They may or may not have added salt, use them cautiously. They take longer to absorb liquids that other breadcrumbs so you may need to soak them longer to gauge the consistency. You are also looking for the consistency of a paste once the liquids have been fully absorbed.
Crackers are also great
Crackers behave just like breadcrumbs in meatloaf. They can be fresh or stale and work just as well. They always have added salt so reduce the total amount of salt if you’re using a recipe that normally uses a binder without added salt. Crackers also need to be crushed or run through a food processor before using. To crush by hand you can put them in a zipper bag and use something heavy like a skillet or rolling pin to gently crush them.
Nearly any crackers will work. Here are a few ideas:
- Ritz Crackers
Cereal Grains work great
Cereal grains work really well as a meatloaf binder but you need to adjust your recipe differently for each. Here are some cereal grains that work well. You’ll want to process most of these through a food processor so they resemble the texture of breadcrumbs. Most don’t have added salt so make sure your final recipe has enough.
- Oatmeal – Instant oatmeal can be used without processing. Run traditional oats through a food processor or else it may not cook thoroughly.
- Instant rice – Rice must be the instant type and must be processed unless you’re ok with big pieces of rice in your meatloaf. That might ok, though.
- Instant barley – Barley must also be the instant type to cook through properly.
- Corn flakes – Any low sugar breakfast cereal could work, but just watch out for any with a lot of sugar or flavors that would not taste good in a meatloaf.
I hope this goes without saying, but you will NOT be happy if you make a meatloaf using apple and cinnamon oatmeal, or Fruity Pebbles. Stick with unflavored cereal grains.
Potatoes totally work as a meatloaf binder
Yes, potatoes totally work. It’s a great way to get rid of a small amount of leftover mashed or boiled potatoes. You can also use instant potato flakes. As with breadcrumbs, shoot for a paste consistency and watch out for added salt. You should add an extra egg to your recipe when substituting potatoes because they do not hold a meatloaf together quite as well as the other options.
Great meatloaf resources
- The Ultimate Guide to Meatloaf
- Improved Betty Crocker home-style meatloaf recipe
- The best binder for meatloaf?
- Getting a deep, brown crust on meatloaf
- How many pans do you need to make a meatloaf?
- Serious Eats Food Lab
- Turkey Meatloaf from America’s Test Kitchen (YouTube)