The Secret Ingredient You Should Be Using In Your Meatloaf

Despite being a staple of American comfort food since the 1870s, meatloaf doesn't always get the respect it deserves. It's certainly not the prettiest looking dish, and if prepared poorly, choking down dry meatloaf can turn an enjoyable meal into punishment. If you've avoided cooking this dinner plate of Americana for fear of sending your family members running for the hills, there's a simple secret ingredient that will save your meatloaf from drying out. (No, it's not ketchup). That secret ingredient is... water!

There are numerous ways you can help prevent that loaf of ground beef or turkey from turning into a flavorless brick, and while Worcestershire sauce and Kewpie mayo are great, you could be out of luck if they're not already in the kitchen cabinet. The legendary New York City Italian restaurant Rao's uses water to keep its famous meatballs fresh, and Food52 has successfully applied this same technique to meatloaf. After all, meatloaf is really just one giant meatball heaved into a baking pan.

Whereas the Rao's meatball recipe calls for 2 cups of water to 2 pounds of meat, writer Emma Laperruque noted that particular ratio "didn't go great" for her meatloaf and recommends using less water. Laperruque also recommends pouring some water over caramelized onions before adding them to the meatloaf mixture. It helps to cool them down and creates a tasty onion broth that can be added to your meatloaf for some extra flavoring. 3/4 cup of water for 2 pounds of ground beef should keep things nice and moist.

How much water should you add to your meatloaf?

When it comes to a juicy meatloaf, the right ratio of lean meat to fat is an important thing to take into consideration. With ground beef chuck, it's recommended that an 80 percent meat to 20 percent fat ratio be used to make a meatloaf that's moist without being greasy (via The Spruce Eats). Of course, if you like to keep things on the healthy side of the spectrum, then you may opt for leaner ground beef or skip the beef altogether and go with ground turkey or ground chicken. These options can still make killer meatloaf, but because they have a lower fat content, there's the risk of the meatloaf drying out. By adding some water to your meatloaf mixture, you'll be able to make up for that loss of fat and ensure that your ground turkey meatloaf comes out healthy, juicy, and delicious. 

Now that we've gone over why adding some water to your meatloaf mixture is the easiest (and possibly best) secret meatloaf ingredient ever, we need to address the big question: How much water should you add? So here's the thing — there really is no hard rule that you must stick to in terms of water measurement. You'll need to factor in things such as the type of meat you're working with and any eggs, veggies, or other things that you may be adding to the meatloaf mixture. However, it's recommended that you add a little bit of water at a time — about a tablespoon — while you're mixing your meatloaf mixture (via The Today Show). When it no longer sticks to the bowl, then the mixture should be moist enough and will be ready to be transferred to the pan for baking.  

Other ways to add water to your mealoaf

It seems the secret of adding a little H2O to your meatloaf can also be done more than one way. The Birch Cottage takes a unique approach to meatloaf and the water doesn't go into the meat mixture — but underneath it. They recommend that to get a moist meatloaf every time, you should place a large pan filled with water on the bottom rack of an oven preheated to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. This rather simple but outside-the-box approach makes a lot of sense, as the water in the pan should cut down on the amount of moisture being cooked out of the meatloaf.

Lifehacker even reported that adding a little bit of ice water to your ground beef mixture when making burger patties can help in keeping them extra juicy. Now that you know the super simple way to keep your meatloaf from tasting like the Sahara desert, why not give this classic dish another chance?