A New Twist On An Old Favorite: Smoked Meatloaf

August 26, 2022

One of my pitmaster friends showed me the wonders of smoked meatloaf a few years ago. Ever since then, I have been tinkering with this recipe, trying to get it just right. And, now I think I have got it so you can share the recipe as well!

Here is what you need to know:

Smoked meatloaf

Smoked Meatloaf Recipe

Check out this delicious smoked meatloaf recipe!

Ingredients

  • 2lbs of lean ground beef
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 medium onion, minced
  • 2 eggs, slightly beaten
  • 1/2 Panko bread crumbs
  • 1 tsp. of salt
  • 1/2 tsp. of black pepper
  • 1/4 cayenne pepper
  • 2/3 cup of BBQ sauce, divided

BBQ Rub

  • 2 tbs. of brown sugar
  • 2 tbs. of paprika
  • 3/4 tsp. of salt
  • 3/4 tsp. of black pepper
  • 3/4 tsp. of garlic powder
  • 3/4 tsp. of onion powder
  • 3/4 tsp. of chili powder
  • 1/4 tsp. of cayenne powder
Beef Steak Marinade

Method

Step 1

Preheat your electric smoker or pellet grill to 275°F.

Step 2

In a large bowl, add the ingredients and half of the BBQ sauce. Mix well with your hands. Mold the ingredients into a loaf shape.

In another bowl combine the ingredients for the BBQ rub.

Sprinkle over the meatloaf.

Place the meatloaf on a grill pan.

Step 3

Smoke meatloaf for about two hours. Take off the heat and pour the rest of the sauce over the meatloaf. Return to the smoker.

Take the smoked meatloaf out of the smoker when the internal temperature reaches 165°F.

Rest for a few minutes, slice, and serve.

Breaking Down the Smoked Meatloaf Recipe

Here are some guidelines to help you to better understand how to create a moist and flavorful meatloaf.

Choosing Your Ground Meat

The first step involves deciding which meat to use in your meatloaf. As you can see, I have used lean ground beef here. It is important to ensure that your ground beef has a fat content of at least 15 percent. This works to keep your meatloaf moist.

Personally, I prefer an all ground beef approach to my meatloaf. I have found that it is the only way to maintain that truly meaty flavor. However, I know plenty of people who enjoy a mix - ground beef, ground pork, and even ground venison. So go ahead and give your favorite combination a try.

Make sure that there is a good amount of fat in any of the meat that you choose. If there isn't, you will need to add a bit more fat or oil to the recipe. Otherwise, it is going to be dry at the end of the smoking process.

The only thing that I would refrain from adding to this mix is turkey. This meat dries out a little too quickly when smoked. Thus, your meatloaf recipe may end up rather dry.

The Bread Crumbs

As you will have seen in this smoked meatloaf recipe, I have included Panko bread crumbs - what I like about these is that they add crunch and texture to the meatloaf. Not to mention, you can also choose a seasoned version and get a bit more flavor out of the deal as well.

If you can't find Panko or just don't want to use it, simply sub it out with regular bread crumbs.

Fresh vs. Dry Spices

As you will have noticed, I have used fresh garlic and onion in my recipe. However, you may also find plenty of other smoked meatloaf recipes that call for garlic and onion powder.

I find that fresh ingredients work best in the mix for a couple of reasons. First, it adds flavor but doesn't overpower the flavor of the meat. And, remember, we are adding these dried spices in the rub so you don't want to go overboard.

The other reason that I like to use fresh components here is that it adds a bit of texture and moisture into the mix. As such, I suggest that you do the same.

Variety of spices

To Add Cheese or Not to Add Cheese

I know a lot of people love adding cheese - shredded cheese, in particular - to their meatloaf. So, should you do this too?

Well, the last thing that I would want to stop you from doing is experimenting. Whenever I have tried using cheese in my recipe, though, it hasn't turned out very well.

To start with, I have found that the cheese compromises the texture and sturdiness of the meatloaf structure. For another thing, I find that rather than melting into gooey deliciousness, the cheese simply becomes rubbery.

The BBQ Rub

The BBQ rub that I have provided here is a delicious one, however, you don't have to stick to it if you don't want to. If you have a favorite rub, then feel free to use it.

The only tip that I would offer here is to be mindful of the kind of meat that you are using as well as the sauce you will be adding later on. Your rub should complement the two for a more cohesive flavor experience.

The BBQ Sauce

You get free range in your choice of BBQ sauce as well. There is one suggestion that I would like to make, however. As with most meatloaf recipes, the key to a delicious, traditional meatloaf is a sweet BBQ glaze. With smoked meatloaf, the sweetness pairs beautifully with the smoke flavor.

Thus, when making your own BBQ sauce, I would suggest upping the sweetness factor and reducing how much cider vinegar or any tangy or sour component is in the recipe. In case you are buying a store bought version, look for one that is a bit sweeter.

Understanding the Smoking Process

Here are some guidelines for making the best smoked meatloaf:

The Wood Chips

There is no denying that the wood chips add amazing flavor to your smoked meatloaf. Nevertheless, you do need to be careful with the kind of wood that you use and how much you use it as well.

Keep in mind that meatloaf is a bit more delicate than traditional meat cuts. As such, it benefits from a slight smoke flavor - too much and you will overpower the natural flavors of the meat and seasonings.

I would advise you to use something mild like cherry or oak wood. I know that some people like to use mesquite or hickory but I would use these in incredibly small quantities.

The Smoker Temperature

I have seen popular recipes setting the temperature from anything from 250°F to 300°F. Naturally, the higher the temperature the quicker the meatloaf smokes. Still, I prefer 250°F for my recipe.

This low and slow version of smoking ensures that your meatloaf doesn't dry out. After all, is there anything worse than dried meatloaf? I prefer to err on the side of caution so that I don't regret it later on.

Man grilling meat in smoker

Adding the Sauce Now vs. Later

There are also plenty of recipes that will have you add the sauce before placing the meatloaf in the smoker the first time around. Now, I don't like doing this because I find that it causes the top and sides of the meatloaf to dry out by the time the smoking process is done.

Pouring the sauce on top about an hour before the smoked meatloaf is done ensures that there is a gorgeous moist glaze created on top.

Of course, if you want, you can always experiment by adding sauce upfront and see if you like the results.

Checking the Internal Temperature

I know that a lot of people have gotten used to checking the doneness in a classic meatloaf recipe by adhering to time guidelines. However, this is not something that you should risk with smoked meatloaf.

Focusing on the temperature ensures that you can take out your meatloaf precisely when it is done - not a second later. This reduces the risk of drying out your meatloaf.

For this type of recipe, I would look for a digital thermometer - one that you can track the progress of either on your smoker display or via an app on your phone. Thus, you will know exactly when to take your meatloaf out of the smoker.

How to Serve Smoked Meatloaf?

I enjoy having this dish as the main feature of any meal, particularly dinner. This is why I like to add sides like mashed potatoes. For something a little healthier, steamed or roasted vegetables, lightly seasoned work just as well.

Something a bit more along the lines of comfort food would include mac and cheese. Or, if you are looking to keep things light, dinner rolls with a serving of barbecue sauce will do the trick.

How to Store Meatloaf?

The good news is that you can freeze meatloaf! My advice would be to only ever slice as much meatloaf as you need for the moment. Leave the rest whole and untouched.

While you can freeze meatloaf slices, I find that it retains its moisture, flavor, and texture a lot better.

Start by tightly wrapping the meatloaf in plastic wrap. This prevents freezer burn. Next, place it in an airtight container.

Now, you can freeze the dish for up to 3 months. Past this date, though, and the taste and texture are compromised. This is why I would suggest writing the date on the container in the market. Then, you will know when to use it up by.

Reheating Smoked Meatloaf

It is best to defrost the meatloaf thoroughly before reheating it. It will take a longer time in the fridge, but this may be your best option. If you wish to defrost it out on the counter, make sure that you don't leave it out for longer than an hour at a time.

You can reheat the dish either in the oven or on your stovetop. It is a good idea to slice the meatloaf into equal slices. This allows you to heat it up more evenly.

To keep the meatloaf moist, add some broth to the mix. Then, serve with barbecue sauce.

Related Reading

Grilled Meat on White Ceramic Plate

Wrapping Things Up

So, there you have it - one stop guide to the best ever smoked meatloaf. As you can see, this dish is a lot easier to prepare than you may have imagined. Thus, now you have no reason not to give it a try. Go ahead and get started today!

By Kristy J. Norton
I'm Kristy – a chef and connoisseur of all things BBQ! You can find me either in my kitchen (or someone else's) or at a big outdoor barbecue surrounded by friends and family. In both my professional and personal life I’ve picked up more than a few tips and tricks for turning out delicious food. I consider it a privilege to share it with others!
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