This is the BEST moist meatloaf recipe with a delicious brown sugar glaze that adds the perfect amount of sweetness and pairs perfectly with the savory and juicy taste of this classic comfort food!
Caution: This brown sugar meatloaf recipe will cause a frenzy! You will be positively inundated with praise, requests for seconds, and demands to make it again! It is easy to pull together and even easier to eat!
There is nothing worse than having to choke down a dry, bland meatloaf that no amount of ketchup can save. This classic meatloaf recipe doesn’t need saving. It is super moist from the saltine crackers and onions on the inside and the flavor-locking secret sauce on the outside.
In my original post, I suggest doubling the sauce. Trust me. You want to double the sauce. Or at least 1.5x!
Table of Contents
How to make Meatloaf:
- Choose the meat: In the video, I use a blend of ground beef, veal, and pork like I do for meatballs. It was EVEN better than just the ground beef that I usually use. This is optional but feel free to use whatever you have on hand!
- Fat for the win: No matter the ground meat you choose make sure there is between 3-7% of fat in the mix. That little bit of fat helps to keep it moist. Too much fat will just make for a greasy meatloaf. No one wants that.
- Saltine Crackers: The crushed saltine crackers add a bit of salt and absorb the milk and some of the juices from the meat. This holds all the moisture INSIDE the loaf rather than letting it all run out.
- Liquid: Just enough milk to add a bit of moisture and soften the saltines but not take away from the structure.
- Lock it all in: Not only is the sauce delicious, it also locks in all that moisture and keeps the top from drying out. Even if you don’t double the sauce, make sure you have enough to cover the top of the loaf.
How to make Meatloaf in an Air Fryer?
To bake moist meatloaf in under 10 minutes, make mini meatloaves and then bake them in the Air Fryer! Make 4-6 mini loaves, top with the sauce then bake in a preheated air fryer on the Air Fry setting at 385°F for 8-10 minutes.
Pro Cleaning Tip: I lined my air fry baking sheet with aluminum foil and then gave it a quick spray with nonstick cooking spray for the easiest cleanup ever!
- Brown Sugar: You can use dark brown sugar or light brown sugar. You can reduce the amount of sugar if you’d like, but keep a little extra for that caramel molasses flavor.
- Ketchup: Any brand of ketchup will suffice. I like ketchup without a lot of added flavorings, dyes, or ingredients. This is the body of the sauce and the key flavor lock!
- Worcestershire Sauce: I may pronounce it wrong every time, but Worcestershire sauce rounds out the flavor of the sauce. It balances the sweetness of both the ketchup and brown sugar and adds a nice depth and warmth.
- Ground Sirloin: No matter the ground meat you choose, ensure there is between 3-10% of fat in the mix. That little bit of fat helps keep the meatloaf moist. Too much fat will just make for a greasy meatloaf. No one wants that.
- Milk: Any milk will do. I have used everything from whole milk to skim milk, and most recently I made it with unsweetened almond milk. It was still phenomenal! My husband wasn’t any the wiser.
- Eggs: These whole eggs are the binders. They work with the connective tissues in the meat to hold everything together.
- Kosher Salt: Kosher salt is less salty than table salt, and a teaspoon weighs less than other finer ground varieties. It heightens the flavor and will make the meat more tender.
- Spices: Ground black pepper and ground ginger bring the flavor. You can’t taste either distinctly, but you would notice if they weren’t there.
- Onion: Finely diced onion is obviously here for flavor, but it also adds to the moisture of the final meatloaf. As it cooks, it releases its inherent moisture, which flavors the meatloaf inside out and adds to the moisture retained by the saltine crackers.
- Saltine Crackers: The crushed saltines add a bit of salt and absorb the milk and some of the juices from the cooking meat. This holds all the moisture INSIDE the loaf rather than letting it all run out. The more finely crushed, the better the result!
- Chopped Rosemary: A sprinkle of chopped fresh rosemary pairs beautifully with the sauce and the fragrant meatloaf. You could also mix some into the ground beef mixture to bump it up a notch.
Variations on Brown Sugar Meatloaf
- Meat Choice: I have made this same recipe with turkey, chicken, ground beef, and a mix of beef, veal, and pork. It is exceptional every time.
- Cracker Magic: You know what is also awesome in this meatloaf? Ritz crackers. I don’t like to play favorites, but Ritz crackers are everything. Just substitute for the saltines and make sure you have an extra sleeve for snacking. 😉
- Brown Sugar Meatballs: Why yes, you can make this meat loaf into meatballs. Give ‘em a little sear like in these ricotta meatballs then pour that double batch of the brown sugar sauce over the top and simmer until cooked through! Make a sub, top rice or stab them with a toothpick for an easy app. Or reverse that and make Swedish Meatball Meatloaf! Genius
- Mini Meatloaves: Short on time? No problem. Make 4-6 mini meat loaves instead. They bake in under 20 minutes! Life happens, but nothing should stand in the way of your meatloaf dinner.
Meatloaf Recipe Substitutions
- Turkey or Chicken: This recipe is also fabulous with turkey and/or chicken. For the best results choose ground poultry with 3% fat. This is especially important with leaner protein.
- Non-Dairy Milk: I have successfully made this with unsweetened almond milk. Any non-dairy milk will do! Just make sure it’s unsweetened and unflavored. No one wants vanilla meatloaf.
Professional Chef Tip
When mixing the meat mixture, I squeeze all the ingredients until well combined, and then I continue mixing and kneading in a large bowl until a cohesive ball forms. This activates all the connective tissues in the meat. It only takes an extra minute, but it will help your meatloaf stay together and hold in all those juices keeping the meat extra moist and tender!
The BEST Meatloaf Recipe
- ½ cup brown sugar (loosely packed)
- ½ cup ketchup
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 ½ pounds ground sirloin (or ground meat of your choice)
- ½ cup milk
- 2 eggs
- 1 ½ teaspoons salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground pepper (rounded generously)
- 1 small onion (chopped fine)
- ¼ teaspoon ground ginger (rounded generously)
- ¾ cups finely crushed saltine crackers (~12 crackers)
- Chopped fresh rosemary for serving. (Lindsey's secret ingredient. It’s not necessary but it takes the dish to a whole other level!)
- Preheat oven to 350°.
- Mix together brown sugar, ketchup and Worcestershire sauce in small saucepan. (I double this sauce, so that there is extra for serving. Trust me, you’ll want to too.)
- In a large mixing bowl, mix all remaining ingredients through crackers.
- Shape into a loaf and place in a 9” x 9” pan. You can make it in a loaf pan but the larger pan allows the fat to drain away from the loaf.
- Spread enough of the ketchup mixture on the top to generously cover the loaf. Allow it to drop down the sides. It will help keep the meat moist and add tremendous flavor.
- Bake in preheated oven for 1 hour or until juices are clear. I like to use a miniature meat thermometer, because I find judging whether or not the juices are clear incredibly stressful.
- While the meat cooks bring the extra sauce to a boil and then simmer on low. Serve over mashed potatoes (obligatory, no?), drizzle with extra sauce and chopped fresh rosemary to taste. Ah-mazing. Told you so.
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