The redemption of America's classic dish: Meatloaf

Meatloaf reimagined

When you think meatloaf, you may be like New York Times political writers Frank Bruni and Jennifer Steinhauer who fondly remember their mother and grandmother’s versions. Or maybe you weren’t such a fan of that traditional mix of beef, pork and veal with a prominent slathering of ketchup or tomato sauce.


Now this meal they call “the Meryl Streep of comfort foods,” with its multitude of versions, is coming into its own.

“It is amazing how much meatloaf bigotry there is out there,” Bruni told Mo Rocca at the Kitchen Table in New York City.

The iconic American dish deserves some respect.

“I frequently now serve meatloaf when I have people over for dinner. And when they come and you say-- and they say, ‘What are we having?’ Or when you tell them and you say, ‘Meatloaf,’ there’s this look on their faces like, ‘We trudged all the way over here, and you’re giving us a meatloaf.’ But if you give them the right meatloaf, they leave happy campers,” Bruni said.

Championing its renaissance, Bruni and Steinhauer discovered a mutual passion for meatloaf.

“So it was sort of a binding agent between the two of you?” Rocca asked.

“It was our breadcrumbs and our egg,” Bruni said.

“A little egg, not too many eggs,” Steinhauer said.

“What’s your history with meatloaf?” Rocca asked Steinhauer.

Song, Jean

“I started making meatloaf more when I had my own children because it’s obviously something you can make for an entire family pretty quickly with just one side,” she responded.

The two are remixing mom’s old standby in their new cookbook, “A Meatloaf in Every Oven,” with nearly 50 recipes experimenting with muffins, meats and international ingredients, including meatloaf with miso and mirin.

“You can take almost any flavor profile and you can make it into a meatloaf, and you’ve got the form and shape and the texture of a meatloaf, but you’ve got the flavors of some other dish in your memory, and it’s a cool cooking and a cool eating experience,” Bruni said.

Some food historians trace meatloaf’s history back to ancient Rome. But meatloaf, as we know it, became widely popular during the Depression and World War II. 

“People were trying to kind of eat cheaply… They were trying to stretch protein, and they were trying to do things that weren’t complicated,” Bruni said. 

New York Times political writers Jennifer Steinhauer (left) and Frank Bruni (right) CBS News

Since then, whether loved or despised, it’s become an American staple.

Like many Americans, President Trump’s mother used to make her son meatloaf.

“If you look at Donald Trump’s favorite recipe, which is his mom’s meatloaf… it’s a meatloaf proudly without nuance,” Bruni said. “Whether you’re talking about Trump or any other politician and we have some politicians meatloaves in the book, it is uncanny how much their meatloaves end up saying about them.”

In a rare bipartisan gastronomic display, Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer and Republican Sen. Susan Collins contributed recipes.

“I really love meatloaf because my mother had this amazing recipe. She was not a very good cook but she made the meatloaf and barbeque chicken so well together,” Schumer said.

“My mother is a wonderful cook and could make anything, but her meatloaf is something that all six of us kids just loved,” Collins said.

Meatloaf can bring people together.

“People say, ‘Time heals all wounds.’ I think meatloaf heals all wounds,” Bruni said.

So what is the future of meatloaf?

“I think the future of meatloaf maybe is gonna be more on restaurant menus,” Steinhauer said. “It is the ultimate comfort food and I think people just enjoy seeing it.”

“I think you could see, as people become more comfortable with experimenting, as they realize that many of these dishes stretch as far as your imagination can go, I think you’ll see more meatloaf,” Bruni added.

Bruni’s not trying to rebrand meatloaf.

“We want to redeem meatloaf,” he said.

A few tips from Bruni and Steinhauer: Most meatloaves are better cooked on a tray, not in a loaf pan, so you can spoon the juices back over the loaf and it’s easier to slice and serve. Also, meatloaf is great reheated, and sometimes even better on days two or three when the flavors have really had time to sink in and develop.