Moist and satisfying comfort, with plenty for leftovers.
My cooking moods tends to alternate between “try something fresh and new” and “fall back on the old favorites.” Nothing says “old favorites” — emphasis on old — like meatloaf. Rather than a big ump of red meat, however, this juicy, flavorful turkey meatloaf recipe tastes comforting and moist, folded with hidden vegetables and lots of savory flavor.
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Interesting Food History: Meatloaf
Bon Appétit ran a great article a few years ago about the history of meatloaf, which is actually really interesting. Arguably, the first precursors of what our essential American comfort food began as a medieval dish that used up meat scraps. Modern American meatloaf’s origins date roughly to the 1870s, with recipes for seasoned, baked scrap meat. These scraps would have been most often beef, since cows were slaughtered before winter made feeding them more difficult.
Meatloaf became increasingly popular in the 1890s with the rise of industrial meatpacking, and into the 1920s and 1930s. In this period, the Great Depression demanded that meat stretch as far as possible, as inexpensively as possible. Ground meat made an inexpensive dinner that minimized waste. By the 1950s, meatloaf had made its way into popular cookbooks, and became the popular and ubiquitous comfort food we all know.
Recipe notes for this juicy turkey meatloaf recipe:
- In developing my recipe, I used Ina Garten’s turkey meatloaf recipe as a jumping-off point. Ina only uses onions as a vegetable, incorporates chicken broth, and uses a whopping five pounds of meat. I love her recipe’s technique of cooking the onions first, to get them soft. It’s an extra step, but worth it.
- On the other hand, I use a combination of grated carrots, onion, and chopped celery. This increases the nutrition profile, and the flavor. And unlike Ina, I use water instead of chicken broth. Chicken broth would be great, but since the broth’s main purpose is to add moisture, water makes an easy and effective substitute.
- Please do the ketchup thing on top. I mean, you don’t have to, but if you really want to achieve full retro meatloaf status, smear that layer of ketchup. It caramelizes on top as it bakes, and adds a good complementary sweetness to the savory meat. I have tried it both ways (as you can see from the photos), and definitely prefer the ketchup.
- Above all, please do not — I repeat, do not — use extra-lean or all white meat ground turkey. It will be dry and hard. I prefer 93% lean ground turkey.
Did you make this juicy turkey meatloaf recipe? How did it turn out?
The Best, Juicy Turkey Meatloaf
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 large onion, diced small
- 3 carrots, grated
- 2 stalks celery, diced small
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme (about 1 teaspoon)
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste (tip: buy a tube of tomato paste for easiest use)
- 4 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
- 2 pounds 93% lean ground turkey
- 1/2 cup plain bread crumbs, preferably panko
- 2 eggs, lightly whisked
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoons fresh-ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup ketchup
- 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
- Preheat the oven to 325°F and grease or line with parchment a large casserole or half-sheet pan.
- Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the diced onion, celery, grated carrots, and thyme. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are translucent and the vegetables have softened.
- Stir in the tomato paste to coat the vegetables. Add the water and Worcestershire sauce and stir for one minute. Remove from heat, and let cool for several minutes.
- Add the ground turkey, parsley, eggs, salt, pepper, and breadcrumbs to a large mixing bowl.
- Add the vegetable mixture with the liquid to the mixing bowl with the turkey. Using your hands or a large spoon, stir to combine fully, but do not squeeze the meat or overmix.
- Shape the mixture into an oblong ball, and gently roll it into the casserole or onto the sheet pan. Shape into a big oval loaf shape.
- In a small bowl, mix together the ketchup and brown sugar, and spread it evenly over the meatloaf.
- Bake for approximately 1 1/2 hours, until the center of the meatloaf reaches an internal temperature of 162°F. Let rest, loosely tented in foil, for about 5 to 10 minutes before serving. I suggest serving this with roasted vegetables, mashed potatoes, or a big salad. Note: The F.D.A. recommends that poultry be cooked to 165°F. It is fine to remove the meatloaf from the oven a few degrees lower than that. Carryover heating will raise the temperature once it's removed from the oven.