If you’re pretty confident with your meatloaf mixture, but just want to be sure how hot and how long to cook it for, plus know exactly when it’s done, here’s a simple guide to help you out.
I recently wrote a post describing how to choose the beef meatloaf recipe that’s best for you. In doing so, I reviewed twenty-eight recipes for this classic dish, and discovered the most consistent approaches to cooking a beef meatloaf, as well as analysing the various cooking times the authors use. As a result, I’ve been able to pull together a simple guide to reliable results for oven-baking your next meatloaf.
If you just want the guide, feel free to skip straight to the simple 5-step meatloaf cooking guide. Or you can jump to read the detailed answer to one of the three big questions:
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Ideal oven temperature for meatloaf
Given how much variation there is in ingredients and methods amongst meatloaf recipes, you would expect a lot of variation in oven temperature, but this is not the case at all.
Of the twenty-eight recipes that I reviewed, twenty-three authors bake their meatloaf at 350°F (180°C). Of the other five, one cooks theirs a little cooler, and four go a little hotter, but none higher than 400°F (200°C).
Meatloaf is a deep, dense dish, so it takes a fair length of time to cook at this temperature. But the reason most authors don’t go any hotter is to give the meat time to cook through evenly.
If you cook it too much hotter, the meat on the outside will tend to overcook, which is a common cause of cracks in the top of your meatloaf. And a cracked meatloaf is more likely to dry out and crumble when you slice it.
To avoid cracking and keep the finished dish juicy, the ideal oven temperature for meatloaf is 350°F (180°C).
A flatter freeform meatloaf (baked on a tray rather than in a loaf pan) will cook through faster, so cooking it at 400°F (200°C) is likely to be fine. But for a meatloaf cooked in a deep loaf pan, you’re better to stick to 350°F.
How to tell when your meatloaf is done
Before we delve into estimated cooking times, we need to look at how to figure out when a meatloaf is cooked. It’s a big, thick piece of meat, so how can we tell if it’s cooked all the way through?
You can of course cut your meatloaf open to see if it’s cooked. But this method’s not foolproof, plus it allows a lot of the juices to escape. This will be even worse if it’s then got to go back in the oven.
As is the case with so many other dishes, especially large cuts of meat, the best way to tell if it’s done is to measure the internal temperature with a meat thermometer.
If you haven’t used one before, a meat thermometer is a device with a long, slender probe that you insert into meat (or any other food) to measure its internal temperature. They are inexpensive, and indispensable. They’re particularly helpful for big pieces of meat, like a nice thick meatloaf.
For smaller pieces of meat that you’re cooking several of at once, like chicken breasts, you want an instant-read thermometer. These are capable of very quickly measuring the temperature of the meat once the probe is inserted.
I use this digital fast-reading meat thermometer, and it works brilliantly, giving me a precise internal temperature in about four or five seconds. Simply open the oven, slide the oven rack out, and pop the thermometer probe into the thickest part of the meat. You’ll know if you need to keep cooking, how much more it needs, and after two or three measurements you’ll get a sense of how quickly the temperature is rising too.
But for a big piece of meat like this it’s much easier to use a thermometer that you can leave in the meatloaf while it cooks.
I use this oven-safe meat thermometer, which I insert into the meat before it goes in the oven. Then, assuming I’ve kept my oven glass clean enough (not always a safe assumption!), I can monitor the temperature of my meatloaf while it cooks without even opening the oven. You can also get fancier models with digital readouts, and even wireless models that readout on your phone.
Meatloaf internal temperature
The US Department of Agriculture’s safe minimum cooking temperatures recommend 160°F (71°C) for ground beef, pork, veal and lamb, and 165°F (74°C) for ground chicken and turkey.
For the best results with a large piece of meat however, you should allow it to rest for 10 to 15 minutes before serving. This allows the juices in the meat to redistribute evenly, and gives time for the temperature to stabilise. And this means that the temperature of your meatloaf will usually rise about 10°F or so while it rests.
So if you pull your meatloaf from the oven at 160°F (71°C), by the time you let it rest it could well have risen to 170°F (77°C) or more, meaning you’re unnecessarily losing more juices as the meat continues to cook more than it needs to.
You’ll get better results if you pull your meatloaf out of the oven about 10°F less than your target temperature.
Internal temperature of fully cooked meatloaf
A beef or pork meatloaf is fully cooked at 160°F (71°C).
A chicken or turkey meatloaf is safe to eat at 165°F (74°C).
If you’re going to rest your meatloaf for 10 or 15 minutes you can pull it out of the oven at 150°F (66°C) for beef or pork and 155°F (68°C) for chicken or turkey. Just check the temperature again after resting it and before you slice it to make sure it’s risen to the safe temperature.
How long does meatloaf take to cook?
There are a couple of factors that affect the cooking time of your meatloaf.
The impact of oven temperature
It’s no surprise that oven temperature affects cooking time.
Based on the recipes I reviewed, meatloaf will cook about five to seven minutes faster (per pound) at 375°F (190°C) than it will at the recommended 350°F (180°C). And at 400°F (200°C), it’ll likely cook another two to three minutes faster again (per pound).
But keep in mind that cooking it too hot can cause cracking or even crumbling.
The impact of shape (loaf tin vs freeform)
Because of differences in shape between a freeform meatloaf and one cooked in a loaf pan, there is a meaningful difference in cooking time between the two approaches.
If you cook your meatloaf freeform on a tray or baking sheet, it’s likely to cook 5 to 10 minutes faster per pound of meat, depending on its shape. A flattened freeform meatloaf will cook faster than a deep loaf-shaped one.
Typical cooking time for meatloaf
In a 350°F (180°C) oven, meatloaf should take 30 to 40 minutes per pound of meat (66-88 minutes per kg).
If you’re cooking it freeform on a baking sheet or tray it will be towards the lower end of this range, and if it’s in a loaf pan it’ll be towards the upper end.
A chicken or turkey meatloaf will take a little longer because of the higher target temperature.
And of course this is only a guide because everyone’s ovens are different. To be safe, start checking the internal temperature when you reach about 25 minutes per pound, just to make sure your meatloaf’s not cooking faster than expected. Or better yet use an oven-safe meat thermometer and leave it in the whole time so you know exactly what’s going on.
Simple guide to cooking meatloaf
For the most reliable results, try cooking your meatloaf as follows:
- Bake it uncovered at 350°F (180°C).
- Expect it to take about 30-40 minutes per pound (66-88 min/kg).
- Remove it from the oven when the internal temp hits 150°F (66°C).
- Rest your meatloaf for 10 minutes.
- You can safely slice it once the temperature reaches 160°F (71°C).
A chicken or turkey meatloaf will take a little longer. It should be removed from the oven when its internal temperature reaches 155°F, and can be sliced and safely eaten at 165°F (74°C).
All of this is of course just a guide, because there are so many factors that can make yours take a little longer, or cook a little faster. But you can avoid problems by watching the internal temperature as you go.
If you haven’t guessed already, I really love my meat thermometer!
Meatloaf cooking FAQ
What oven temperature should I cook meatloaf at?
For best results, meatloaf should be baked at 350°F (180°C).
How long does meatloaf take to cook per pound?
At 350°F, you should expect meatloaf to take between 30 and 40 minutes per pound (66 to 88 minutes per kg at 180°C).
What internal temperature is meatloaf done at?
Beef or pork meatloaf is fully cooked and safe to eat at 160°F (71°C).
Chicken or turkey meatloaf needs to be cooked to 165°F (74°C).
How long should meatloaf rest after cooking?
For best results, rest your meatloaf for 10 minutes after it comes out of the oven.
Remember that the internal temperature will rise a little during this time.
What internal temperature should I take meatloaf out of the oven?
If you’re resting your meatloaf for 10 minutes or so, you can remove it from the oven at 150°F (66°C) for beef or pork, and at 155°F (68°C) for chicken or turkey.