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Mushy Meatloaf? This Is What to Do

A mushy meatloaf is a meatloaf leftover. If it happens to you, here’s how to avoid and salvage it.

You’re reading this, which means the meatloaf you just cooked turned out a little too mushy for your liking. Maybe you cooked without a recipe, and you’re looking for clues to what went wrong. Or maybe you followed the recipe from grammy’s cookbook down to a T, but your meatloaf still turned out more pie than loaf.

Don’t beat yourself up—mishaps are a normal thing and part of the charm of home cooking. Before you throw in the towel and swear off meatloaf-making for good, we’re here to tell you that not all is lost: We’ve put together these tips and tricks to help you find out what went wrong and how to keep it from happening ever again.

Why Your Meatloaf’s Mushy

Before we can put our fingers on what makes a meatloaf mushy, let’s discuss what a meatloaf is.

Most meatloaves are made from a seasoned mixture of ground meat and a filler. Traditionally, that filler is bread crumbs or chunks of bread soaked in milk. A beaten egg is used for a binder. Minced garlic, grated onion, ketchup, salt, and spices are added for aroma and flavor.

Too Much Bread: The most common reason meatloaf turns out mushy is that the cook adds too much bread. When the meat-to-bread ratio is off, the meatloaf can’t hold its shape and falls apart too easily on the fork or when bitten into.

This mistake can easily be identified by the meatloaf’s texture. Does the meatloaf feel spongy, like when you’ve added too much bread to meatballs? If yes, then you’ve pinned down the reason for the mushiness. If not, continue reading below for more potential causes.

Too Much Binder: Go easy on the egg when making meatloaf. While it’s there to bind everything together, adding too much of it can have the opposite effect and make your meatloaf too moist and soggy for its own good.

“Too moist” is the key to this mistake. While adding too much bread results in a dry, spongy meatloaf, using too much egg creates a meatloaf that’s so wet it can’t hold itself together. It may also have a slightly eggy taste, somewhat reminiscent of an omelet.

Too Much Onion: Next on our list of mushy meatloaf culprits is the humble onion. We grate this fragrant vegetable into our meatloaves for its sweetness and aroma. Without it, the meatloaf tastes somewhat bland and lacks that homely flavor. However, adding too much can result in a mushy meatloaf.

How can you identify this mistake? Give the meatloaf a taste. Does it have a squeaky texture, similar to the sensation of biting into a fresh onion? This is a surefire sign that you’ve added too much onion, to the point where it has overpowered the meatloaf. Expectedly, adding too much onion can unfavorably alter the meatloaf’s texture.

No Resting: If you don’t allow the meatloaf to rest before slicing and serving it, it might seem mushy because it’s still cooking from residual heat!

If the meatloaf is to be served immediately, it should rest for 5 to 10 minutes before slicing and serving. This allows the fats and juices to redistribute within the meat, helping it to firm up. If you plan to refrigerate it, allow it to cool before placing it in the fridge.

Low-Quality Meat: Check the ingredient list on that package of ground meat you just used. Does it contain fillers? If so, how much? Soy protein, modified starch, and water are all signs that your meat has fillers in it (that you didn’t add!).

Meat fillers are a boon to manufacturers. They lower the cost of meat, thereby increasing the profits of those who produce and sell it. However, for consumers like us, the fillers in store-bought ground meat dilute the value we get for our money with every pound of meat purchased.

How to Fix a Mushy Meatloaf

To avoid disappointment, it’s important to temper your expectations: The only way to truly fix a mushy meatloaf is to start over and make it again. However, that doesn’t mean a mushy meatloaf can’t be salvaged! If you’ve already done cooking yours, there is a thing or two that you can do to firm it up.

We associate mushiness with excess moisture, which is why one of the best ways to address mushiness in a dish is to continue cooking it for a little longer. Cut the meatloaf into slices as thick as your thumb, space the slices out on a tray lined with parchment paper, and bake them in a 325°F (ca. 160°C) oven for 10 to 15 minutes.

If you believe you’ve messed up the meatloaf mix to the point of no return, consider transforming it into a different dish. Some of our favorite recipes for leftover meatloaf are Meatloaf Spaghetti (Linda Larsen for The Spruce Eats), Meatloaf Shepherd’s Pie (Larsen for The Spruce Eats again), and Meatloaf-Stuffed Peppers (Lena Abraham for Delish).

How to Make Your Meatloaf Firm

To make a good meatloaf, use high-quality meat. Buy your meat from the butcher or a grocery store you can trust, ideally where they grind it to order. Or get a meat grinder and grind it yourself.

Go for the meat trinity: Combine equal parts ground beef, pork, and veal. Beef adds flavor, pork adds succulence, and veal balances the beef and pork out with its mild flavor and leanness.

For every 1 pound (0.45 kilogram) of meat, add 1 beaten egg, 2 tablespoons of ketchup, ½ a cup of bread crumbs, and ½ a cup of finely grated onion. If you’re using bread soaked in milk, don’t forget to squeeze out the excess milk from the bread before adding it to the ground meat. This can help reduce moisture, which in turn can lessen the mushiness.

Less is more: If you add fewer of something, you can always add more later—but if you add too much, you can’t really take it away.

Smear the meatloaf with ketchup and/or cover it with bacon strips to keep the outside from drying out. Bake in a 375°F (190°C) oven for approximately 40 to 45 minutes. Since time is an approximation, use a meat thermometer to test doneness. The meatloaf’s done and safe to eat only once its internal temperature has reached 160°F (71°C).

Rest the meatloaf for 5–10 minutes before slicing and serving it.

Bringing It All Together

When your meatloaf turns out mushy, this usually means you added too much binder or filler to the ground meat mixture. Next time, prepare your meatloaf using a ratio of 1 egg and ½ cup of bread crumbs for every 1 pound of ground meat.

To make the meatloaf you just made less mushy, slice it up and bake it for another 10 to 15 minutes in a 325°F (ca. 160°C) oven. Or just use it up in spaghetti, Shepherd’s pie, of stuffed bell peppers.

Know your author

Written by

Dim is a food writer, cookbook author, and the editor of Home Cook World. His first book, Cooking Methods & Techniques, was published in 2022. He is a certified food handler with Level 1 and Level 2 Certificates in Food Hygiene and Safety for Catering, and a trained cook with a Level 3 Professional Chef Diploma.