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

Meatloaf on a cutting board
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Meatloaf is a traditional comfort food that typically contains bread crumbs. If you are on a low-carb or gluten-free diet and must avoid or limit bread, you can still enjoy meatloaf by making just a few changes.

Meatloaf Ingredients

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.

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.

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, if you follow a low-carb eating plan, you will want to watch the sugar in regular ketchup. If you're eating gluten-free, be sure to check the labels for any sauces you add.

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.

If you do this, 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, or swap in one of these low-carb and/or gluten-free fillers:

  • Almond meal
  • Dried vegetables such as onion, tomato, mushrooms
  • Fresh or frozen vegetables (will make the loaf less dense, but won't absorb juices)
  • Gluten-free oats (not instant), depending on your carb allowance
  • Ground flaxseed meal
  • Low-carb or gluten-free breadcrumbs
  • Textured vegetable protein (TVP)

Sauces and Toppings

Though a meatloaf topping 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.

Meatloaf Preparation

Mix the above ingredients together along with one egg per loaf as a binder. 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.

Traditionally, meatloaf is baked in a large loaf pan, but it will cook faster if divided up into small loaf pans or even muffin tins. At 350 degrees F, the muffin tin loaves will cook in 15 to 20 minutes, as compared to an hour or more in a large loaf pan. Or, you might prefer to cook your meatloaf at 325 degrees for a longer time.

The meatloaf will be done when you check the temperature at the center of the loaf. Beef should be cooked to 160 F and poultry should be cooked to 165 F.

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