Having a few meals in the freezer is a convenient way to deal with dinner on busy weeknights. However, if one of those meals is meatloaf, you might be disappointed. Make it with the wrong meat, store it incorrectly, or even cook it the wrong way, and you could end up with either an overcooked brick, or worse: an undercooked home for dangerous microbes.
All-beef meatloaf tends toward dryness, even if you cook it right after you form the loaf. Freeze your meatloaf for later use, and you compound the problem, as the cold, dry air of the freezer can dry out the meat. Instead, Chef Alton Brown uses a mix of ground beef, pork and lamb. The pork adds moisture and the lamb provides a pleasant flavor contrast.
To Precook or Not to Precook
You can take a frozen meatloaf and put it right in the freezer without causing any food-safety problems. The Alabama Cooperative Extension advises that you can partially cook a meat loaf or form the loaf and freeze it raw. If you choose to precook, use a meat thermometer to ensure the center of the meat reaches 140 degrees Fahrenheit -- hot enough to kill any dangerous microbes -- and cool it in the refrigerator before you freeze it.
Wraping It Up
Wrapping your formed meatloaf properly helps prevent freezer burn. Freezer burn happens when water molecules move from the meat to colder areas of the freezer, such as the sides. Forming your meat loaf in an aluminum pan and covering the top with several layers of foil can help prevent freezer burn. A layer of plastic wrap between the meat loaf and the foil also helps -- just don't forget to take the plastic out before cooking the meat loaf.
The safest way to cook any frozen food is to use a probe-style meat thermometer. That way, you can ensure your meat loaf gets to the USDA-recommend temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit. However, it's hard to shove a thermometer probe into a rock-hard meat loaf. Inserting a skewer into the formed meat loaf, removing it, and wrapping the loaf gives you a handy access hole. Or you can use an instant-read thermometer to check during baking. Bake the loaf at the temperature called for by your meatloaf recipe, usually between 350 and 400 F.
- Alabama Cooperative Extension: Freezing Main Dishes
- "I'm Just Here for the Food"; Alton Brown; 2002
- The Library of Congress Science Facts: What is Freezer Burn?