Getting a deep, brown crust on meatloaf

There are so many things to love about meatloaf. It’s a cheap meal to make that kids love. The meaty interior is complimented by the tangy glaze. It is super easy to make with items you probably already have in your kitchen. And, that ultra brown meatloaf crust around the outside! Am I right?

The key steps to get an amazing meatloaf crust on your meatloaf are:

  • Add baking soda to the meatloaf
  • Brush the meatloaf with oil before baking
  • Increase the temperature of the oven
  • Add the glaze after the crust has formed

You can use any or all of these techniques to get that ultra brown crust you’re looking for.

Baking soda increases browning

Baking soda increases the ph level, which increases the maillard reaction. This is a scientific way of saying that adding baking soda to meat makes it brown faster. This works for lots of things, including meatloaf. Baking soda can impact the flavor of your meatloaf if you use too much.

Since you only need the baking soda for browning you don’t need to mix it into the meat. Mix the baking soda with water and brush it on the meatloaf before baking. This will help the crust form a deep, dark layer.

Add 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda to about 2 tablespoons of water per pound of meat. For example, for a meatloaf with 2 lbs of meat, add 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda to 4 tablespoons of water. After you have formed the loaf, brush it with the mixture and let it sit for at least 10 minutes (or up to 30 minutes) before baking.

Oil helps the crust form

Brushing the meatloaf with a thin coat of oil before baking helps drive off the moisture from the surface of the meatloaf. This allows the surface temperature of the meatloaf to rise. This in turn increases crust formation.

You can use any neutral oil such as vegetable, canola, safflower or olive oil. Use a pastry brush or something similar to coat the meatloaf on all exposed sides before baking.

If you are using the baking soda trick above, add the oil right before putting into the oven.

Increase the oven temperature

Moisture is one of the enemies of a good meatloaf crust. The crust will not start forming until the surface is completely dry. A higher oven temperature will drive off moisture on the surface of the meatloaf faster. This will allow the meatloaf to spend more time browning.

The best browning occurs when the oven temperature is above 400 degrees. Every meatloaf recipe behaves differently so you may need to do some experimenting. Try your existing recipe at 425 and see how well it browns. You can always turn the oven temperature down if it starts getting too brown before it’s done.

Glaze after the crust forms

Glazing a meatloaf before baking will prevent a crust from forming. Instead of glazing your meatloaf before baking, wait until 10 minutes before it’s done. This works best when using a high temperature oven (425+) as it allows the glaze to set quickly once it’s been added.

Another option is glaze the meatloaf after it’s done. To avoid a glaze that’s cold and wet, cook the glaze on the stove until it reduces by 1/3 and keep it warm. Then add the glaze right after removing from the oven. The heat of the meatloaf will set the glaze slightly, but it will already be thick from reducing.

Upside down baking

It’s tricky to get a deep crust when using the upside down baking method. This is my favorite method for cooking meatloaf. If you don’t know this method, see the ultimate guide to meatloaf.

Here are the steps when using this method…

  • Do everything the same right up to putting the meatloaf into a 350 degree oven
  • Mix your baking soda and water and have it ready
  • Remove your meatloaf halfway through cooking
  • Turn the oven temp up to 450
  • Dry the meatloaf carefully with paper towels and then brush on the baking soda mixture
  • Let the meatloaf sit out for 10 minute or longer if the oven hasn’t gotten to 450 yet
  • Brush the meatloaf with oil just before putting back into the oven
  • Reduce your glaze until thick and reserve
  • Remove the meatloaf when the crust is as brown as you want it
  • Glaze, or serve the glaze on the side.

Pan-fried Meatloaf Hack

You can pan-fry slices of meatloaf in a little oil just before serving. I do this all the time, especially with leftover meatloaf. I call this a hack because it isn’t about creating a crust on the entire loaf, but it is awesome if you love meatloaf with a crisp, dark exterior. An added bonus is that fried leftover meatloaf slices don’t fall apart as easily because of the crust they develop.

Heat about 1 tablespoon of oil in a nonstick or cast iron skillet over medium heat. When the pan is hot, add the slices of meatloaf carefully so they don’t fall apart or splash oil. Meatloaf slices tend to brown very fast, so watch them closely and resist the urge to use high heat. They’ll brown just fine on medium.

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