Mmm…meatloaf! Hopefully this dish brings back those memories we can only associate with comfort food as well-known as this. Imagine a college kid, with this great deal. Do all the cooking for a group of 4 and they do all the cleaning. Yes, it created a messy cook, that’s another issue. . So, if you have only been following your mother’s or grandmother’s recipe and didn’t see all the new takes on this dish that has existed since Ancient Rome, you might have missed all the amazing new ways to cook it, like an electric skillet.
A cook’s night off one of the roomies grabbed an electric skillet and cooked meatloaf!? But…but…that’s an oven baked food dish. Well no. In this case it was set right on the metal and carrots and potatoes thrown in on the sides to roast with it. Yes, the bottom got a little crustier than many folks may like, but the idea of using that device for this food has great merit.
Why an electric skillet?
What a modern oven offers is accurate temperature control. Until recently, getting accurate temperature control using a surface heating source, electric or gas, was very hard to accomplish. Unless you have an electric fry pan. That is exactly what it offers, a thermostatically controlled heated surface.
Before microwaves, these may have been the most common device in any kitchen. They still have a place, accurately cooking everything from pan fried chicken to pancakes and French toast…even hamburgers. Which, if you think about it, a meatloaf is nothing more than one huge hamburger with seasonings and other goodies built right in.
Of course you cannot flip a meatloaf very effectively, or without a mess likely. To make up for that, you have the snug fitting lid that comes with the electric skillet. This brings the added benefit of retaining moisture that can be lost if oven baking, and keeping in the heat to cook the upper surfaces.
Avoiding the scorch
If you crank the skillet up to 350 degrees and drop your meatloaf on there you will get a nice crispy crust on the bottom. If you have a rack that will fit into your skillet then you can use that to elevate the meat. If your meatloaf recipe is softer to start with, line that rack with aluminum foil to keep from making deep indents while it cooks.
The other advantage of a rack is that this allows the fats bleed away from the meat. Again, a trade off. Some folks swear by using an actual loaf pan, keeping the meatloaf in contact with all the fats until you remove it before serving. This will make for a moister meatloaf. Some would say a greasy meatloaf. Perspective and personal taste.
Another work around is to fold a layer of aluminum foil and set parchment paper on top for the meatloaf to rest on, This will allow for much of the fat to drain away. It will also reduce the scorching. Drop your temp to 300 or 325, add a couple minutes of cook time and you will get great results. In short, you can avoid the scorching and rendered oil issues with just a small amount of planning.
Breaking with tradition
Since we’re already out of the oven and venturing into new territory, what can you do different? First thing that comes to mind is onion. That’s right, skip the rack and line the bottom of the pan with one-half inch thick slices of onion, peeled and cut across the rings. Set your meatloaf right on top of the onions, use 300 degrees and in about 90 minutes you have seriously caramelized onions to serve with your meal. Or rack it on some thick cabbage rounds, cook, drain the oil and use them as an incredible base flavor for your next soup or stew.
Moving on with the vegetable world, if you use leaner meats, 90% lean beef, lean ground turkey, chicken or buffalo, you can expand your horizons. Now it takes on pot roast like versatility. Fill the sides with carrots, taters, celery, sweet potatoes, rutabaga…any of the usual suspects you enjoy cooked that way. This approach will yield juices that can be made into a gravy or sauce, although some skimming of oil may still be needed.
More temp and time tweaks
You can emulate most recipes from a crockpot, or even in the direction of a sous vide. A note of caution on the latter. A sous vide works with complete immersion of the meat in a water bath. This contact, and lack of air contact, allows for lower temperatures than you may want to use in the electric skillet. For example, you could easily cook a meatloaf in sous vide for 4 hours at 140 degrees and your meat is safely pasteurized, fully cooked and good to serve. In the skillet the ambient temperature of the air, with the skillet set at 140, is going to be decidedly less, possibly dipping into the danger zone by health standards.
But low and slow at say 200 degrees will give you a more tender, and juicier meatloaf with a texture leaning toward that of a cooked cased sausage. If your preferences run toward rarer meats you can certainly monitor the interior temperature, watching for standard ranges; 130-med rare, 140-medium, 150-med well, 160 and up-well.
Which sums this up with the thought that an electric skillet is a fine way to cook a meatloaf, with some variables and controls you can use to make a better meal for your family and friends.