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If you have not tried smoked meatloaf then you are missing out on something really wonderful. The cool thing is that if you have a great family recipe that you use for oven meatloaf, just use that same recipe and cook it in the smoker. You will see what I mean when you taste it for the first time.
I have many, many emails from folks telling me that they will never cook meatloaf in anything but the smoker from now on. Well, it's ok to bake a meatloaf once in a while but in my opinion, you will miss the smoke flavor when it's not there.
One quick suggestion is to try this thick sliced onto a sandwich with some onions, lettuce tomato.. whatever you like on a burger and it is outrageously delicious!
Purchasing the Meat
There are as many meatloaf recipes as there are last names and possibly more so I'm not going to tell you that my meatloaf recipe is better than yours.. many family meatloaf recipes are passed down from generation to generation and everyone thinks there's is the best and that's perfectly fine. Everyone also has their own mantra for what kind of meat makes the best meatloaf. Some use high fat ground beef, others use ground chuck and some even mix sausage and beef together.
Whatever you do is fine.. it's meatloaf and it's going to be good especially smoked!
I like to use regular ol' ground beef with a medium high fat content (80/20 or 85/15) as this seems to hold together better for me and is big on flavor due to the fat content.
Preparing the Meat
Well for crying out loud.. you put all of the ingredients in a large bowl, roll up your sleeves and get to mixing with your bare hands. Here are the ingredients that go into my meatloaf.. I say “my” very lightly as this is actually my wife's meatloaf but I happen to like it and I have adopted it as my own as well;-)
Note: I usually double this recipe to make sure there is plenty for everyone and for sandwiches later.
Easy Meatloaf Recipe
- 2 lbs. ground beef
- 1 small onion finely chopped
- 1/2 green pepper finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic minced (optional)
- 1 C. fresh bread crumbs or saltine cracker crumbs
- 2 eggs lightly beaten
- 3/4 C. Jeff's sauce
- 1/4 C. milk
Instructions: Mix all ingredients in a bowl. blend the mixture about 4-5 minutes and then form onto a flat cookie sheet.
Forming the “Loaf”
Well I have been known to lay it out on a sheet pan and just form it into a shape with my hands but then it's usually not very pretty. “Pretty” is not high on my priority list but if you're doing this for company you might as well make it look good so here's what I do:
Once the meatloaf is mixed up real well, put the mixture into a disposable foil loaf pan and pack it in real good.
Then carefully turn the loaf pan upside down onto “whatever” you plan to cook your meatloaf on.You can't just place it on the grate like other meats so you have to do something that holds it securely but allows maximum smoke penetration. I have tried many things over the years and this is what seems to work best for me.
That's right.. it's a rack from the Bradley Smoker. I love using the Bradley but when I'm not using it, I'm still using the racks for other things.
At this point, the meatloaf is ready to smoke and all you need to do is make sure you have your smoker ready to go. Leave the loaf on the counter and go get your smoker ready.
Preparing the Smoker
Regardless of whether you are using an all wood smoker or a charcoal, gas or electric unit, do whatever is required to make it maintain about 240 degrees. I cook meatloaf anywhere between 225 and 240 degrees F but I usually shoot for the higher end of that.
Be sure to have plenty of wood chips, chunks or splits so you can really keep the smoke flowing and get yourself some nice smoky flavor and a beautiful smoke ring to boot. I like to use mesquite the best with meatloaf but suit yourself on that or just use what you have available. I have used oak, pecan, cherry, hickory and even peach when smoking meatloaf and it's always good no matter what.
If you are using something other than a wood smoker, I recommend that you keep the smoke going for at least 3 hours or about 75% of the cook time. This allows for the best smoke penetration and flavor.
Once the smoker of your choice is ready, go get the meatloaf.
Smoking the Meatloaf
Now I don't know about you, but I don't generally like to have a lot of drippings just going everywhere in my smokers so I usually try to catch them if possible especially when smoking meatloaf. They tend to produce quite a bit of grease and I like to place a pan under the loaf to keep the smokers a little cleaner. Here's how I do it if I am using a single grate smoker.
As you can see, I just set the Bradley rack right on top of a large foil pan and set this contraption directly on the smoker grate.
If I am using a smoker that has multiple grates, one on top of another, I will place the pan on a lower grate instead as in this propane smoker.
I like to go ahead and place a thermometer probe into the center of the meat so I will know exactly when it's reached a safe temperature and is safe to eat. This ensures that I don't overcook it.
Note: if you don't have one of these digital probe meat thermometers, they can be found at Wal-mart, Lowes, Home Depot or you can order them online at Amazon.com. If you do choose to order online at Amazon.com, use this link and we get a small commission from the transaction.
We can expect the meatloaf to take about 4 hours.. here it is at only 1 hour into the process.
Here is the loaf at about 3 hours into the process.. it's getting there but still has a little ways to go.
At about the 4 hour mark, the loaf hit 154 degrees F and I decided to go ahead and slather it with my barbecue sauce. Some folks like to use ketchup but I'm telling you, you have to try my barbecue sauce recipe on this meatloaf, it is simply to die for and I guarantee you that you won't be using plain ketchup anymore!
At 4.5 hours, it finally reached 160 degrees and I called it done. The barbecue sauce has caramelized on the outside of the loaf and it was just begging to be tasted.. something I was only too happy to comply with;-)
Let the meatloaf cool for about 15 minutes or so and you should be able to slice/cut it easier. When it's too hot, it tends to fall apart easier.
Here is the piece of meatloaf that I cut out specifically for taste testing.. somehow, I forgot all about the potatoes and other fixins that we had made to go with it. Pure happiness.
Quick Recap (Preparation and Smoking)
- Purchase ground meat
- Mix all ingredients together and form into loaf (see pan trick above)
- Be sure to use my sauce recipe instead of ketchup for a kick you won't forget
- Prepare smoker for cooking at 225-240 degrees F
- Place meatloaf on wire rack or other device for smoking
- Place loaf in smoker
- Smoke for about 4 hours or until it reaches 160 degrees in center of loaf
- Keep smoke going for at least 75% of the total cook time
- Add Jeff's sauce to outside of loaf about 30 minutes before done
- Let rest for 15 minutes before slicing
- Slice and serve
Notes: I make my loaf's large so I can put the slices on a sandwich if I want to (bread size). If you want it to get done quicker, just make the loaf thinner and it will cut the time way down.
You don't have a Bradley rack or something similar? Lay a foil muffin pan upside down inside of a large foil roasting pan. Lay the meatloaf on top of the muffin pan to cook. This will allow the juices to run down into the pan and holds the loaf up out of the juices and gives it plenty of exposure to the smoker.
By the way.. I found the Bradley Racks on Amazon.com so if don't own the smoker but want to purchase the racks, you can do that.. they are great for a ton of things inside and outside of the Bradley smoker.