How to Make a Low-Carb or Gluten-Free Meatloaf

What to Use as a Binder

Meatloaf on a cutting board
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Meatloaf is a traditional comfort food. If you are on a low-carb or gluten-free diet, you can enjoy meatloaf by making just a few changes. There are four components to the basic meatloaf: meat, seasonings, filler, and sauce. Each can be varied to suit your own taste and nutritional needs. Let's take the components one at a time.

The Meat

Meatloaf can be made out of any kind of ground meat. Ground beef is traditional, but there is no reason you can't use turkey, lamb, pork, or any other kind. Meatloaf mix, which is available in some stores, is a combination of beef, pork, and veal. Many recipes include sausage (taken out of the skin). Any meat is fine; however, it's best to avoid very fatty meats as they will release grease. Most meatloaf recipes call for 1.5 to 2.5 pounds of meat for a standard loaf pan.

The Seasonings

The seasonings can vary depending on your taste and adventurousness. Meatloaf can be made Italian style, Mexican style, or plain American style. It can be flavored with anything from wine to hot sauce to curry powder. Garlic is a favorite seasoning, as is Worcestershire sauce and ketchup. However, low-carb eaters will want to watch the sugar in regular ketchup and if you're eating gluten-free, be sure to check any sauces you add.

The Filler

A loaf of only ground meat can be very dense, plus it won't hold as much juice and can end up being dry. This is why the meat is mixed with a starch such as bread or oatmeal. The starch absorbs the juices and makes the loaf less dense. Most recipes call for about 1/2 cup of filler per pound of meat. Vegetables such as spinach, onions, mushrooms, or green peppers also make the loaf less dense, as well as add flavor. Fruit such as chopped apple or applesauce is not an unusual addition, adding juiciness as well as a sweet counterpoint to the savory loaf.

On low-carb diets, starchy fillers are discouraged, especially bread crumbs. Those on a gluten-free diet need to avoid bread that contains gluten. It is perfectly fine just to leave it out. But if you do this, know that you'll have to drain the excess grease and juices that the starch would have absorbed. Or, you can form your loaf on a baking sheet instead of in a loaf pan. Here are some low-carb ideas for fillers for meatloaf :

  • Low-carb or gluten-free breadcrumbs
  • Oatmeal (not instant), depending on your carb allowance and degree of gluten sensitivity
  • Dried vegetables such as onion, tomato, mushrooms
  • Dried soup mix: Count the carbs as you can't use it in the same quantities as other fillers, and check for gluten.
  • Fresh or frozen vegetables such as spinach and the others listed above will make the loaf less dense, but won't absorb juices.
  • Crushed pork rinds
  • Textured vegetable protein (TVP)
  • Carb Counters Instant Mashers
  • Thicken Thin NOTcereal and/or NOT sugar

Putting the Loaf Together

In addition to the filler, one egg per loaf is usually used as a binder. Some say that if you add more than one it interferes with the texture. Your hands are the best tools for mixing up a meatloaf but don't overdo it. The heat from your hands will melt the fat and give the loaf a gummier texture.

The Sauce or Topping

Though a topping for the meatloaf isn't a requirement, it is common. Most popular toppings are tomato-based sauces such as ketchup, barbecue sauce, tomato sauce, tomato paste, or piquant sauce. Mushroom gravy or bacon are other choices.

You can put tomato-based sauces on about 10 to 15 minutes before the end of cooking. Add gravy after the meatloaf is on the plate. For low-carb eaters, learn how to make a low-carb gravy. If you're eating gluten-free, ensure the gravy isn't made with flour or other ingredients that add gluten.

Cooking the Loaf

Traditionally, meatloaf is baked in a large loaf pan, but it will cook faster if divided up into small loaf pans or even muffin cups. At 350 F, the muffin cup loaves will cook in 15 to 20 minutes, as compared to an hour or more in a large loaf pan. Some say that cooking it longer at 325 F will create an improved texture. For any of these choices, the meatloaf will be done when you check the temperature at the center of the loaf and it registers 155 F.

It's also fun to make meatloaf in different shapes on a baking sheet. Try a heart shape or get even more creative.

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