It’s either the end of times or the beginning of a beautiful new era, because after two decades of loathing, I am now head-over-heels in love with this juicy Turkey Meatloaf!
Of all the foods I despised as a kid (there were many), meatloaf was the king villain.
Ben had similar feelings, so I promised in our wedding vows I’d never cook it (kidding, but now you see our level of fervor).
Except…I couldn’t stop thinking about meatloaf.
- Turkey meatloaf is easy, protein rich, relatively inexpensive, and feeds a crowd; all qualities I esteem in a dinner recipe.
- My sister makes it for her family regularly and has been pestering me to give it another chance for years.
- When you step back and think about it, meatloaf is essentially a giant Baked Turkey Meatball; meatballs are one of our favorite foods.
So what’s the deal with meatloaf’s perceived maliciousness?
Perhaps the first problem is the word “loaf,” which sounds decidedly unappetizing when placed directly after “meat.”
Let’s call this a giant turkey meatball and believe in its potential!
Other valid gripes are that a lot of meatloaf is dry and bland, the taste of raw onions is overly pervasive, or the meatloaf is greasy, all problems this recipe solves.
(My other major problem with meatloaf is the traditional ketchup topping, but I realize I’m in the minority there. In case you share my aversion, I have a scrumptious alternative in the recipe notes.)
To make the best, most moist meatloaf, I scoured the internet and pulled nuggets from popular recipes like Ina Garten’s turkey meatloaf, classic turkey meatloaf (think Pioneer Woman and Betty Crocker), and more complex versions from gourmet food magazines.
I simplified where I could (easy turkey meatloaf is what we all need), lightened things up to keep this turkey meatloaf healthy, and used a few little tricks to ensure this meatloaf has stellar flavor.
Buy a lotto ticket, folks, because miracles do happen—Ben and I both ate our words in the form of second helpings!
How to Make the Best Turkey Meatloaf
A great meatloaf is a 1. moist and 2. tender meatloaf with layers of complex flavor.
The secrets to moist meatloaf are:
- Use meat that is 93% lean or less, never more.
- Include liquid like milk or chicken broth.
- Add eggs, which make the turkey meatloaf moist and keep it from falling apart.
- Be gentle with the meat. If you compact it, your meatloaf will be tough.
- Do not overcook the meatloaf—bake turkey meatloaf until an instant read thermometer registers 160 degrees F, then let it rest.
The secrets to flavorful meatloaf are:
- Take your time caramelizing the onions.
- Add finely chopped mushrooms. You can’t taste them but they really boost the umami factor and make this recipe special.
- Include simple but powerful enhancers: smoked paprika and Worcestershire sauce.
- Ground Turkey. Using ground turkey for this recipe helps keep it light without sacrificing flavor. Turkey is also an excellent source of protein and iron. (Don’t worry, it’s moist!)
- Onion. Letting the onions caramelize brings out their natural sweetness, which tastes scrumptious in this meatloaf.
- Mushrooms. Chock full of umami goodness, mushrooms add essential flavor to the meatloaf. They’re super finely chopped so no one will know they are in there, promise.
- Spices. For complexity of flavor I used a mix of smoked paprika, garlic powder, dried thyme, salt, and black pepper.
- Chicken Broth. Liquid is critical for creating a moist meatloaf.
- Worcestershire. The second swing of the 1-2 umami punch.
- Italian Seasoned Breadcrumbs. Another secret to a perfectly moist meatloaf. Using Italian seasoned breadcrumbs helps add extra flavor.
- Eggs. Critical for moisture and to hold the meatloaf together.
- Ketchup. Although it’s not my favorite choice for a meatloaf topping, I know many people enjoy it. For those who also dislike ketchup on meatloaf, see the recipe notes below for my easy swap.
- Cook the onion, mushrooms, and spices. You want the onions to be softened but not browned.
- Transfer the vegetables and spices to a bowl, then stir in the broth and Worcestershire.
- Add the turkey, bread crumbs, and eggs.
- Mix until combined.
- Shape the mixture into a loaf. Spread the ketchup over the top. Bake this healthy turkey meatloaf on the upper rack for 60 to 70 minutes at 325 degrees F. Let cool, then DIG IN!
To keep the top of your meatloaf from cracking, place a casserole dish filled partway with water on the oven rack below it as it bakes.
- To Store. Refrigerate meatloaf in an airtight storage container for up to 4 days.
- To Reheat. Rewarm leftovers in a baking dish in the oven at 350 degrees F or in the microwave.
- To Freeze. Slice and freeze meatloaf in an airtight, freezer-safe storage container for up to 3 months. Let thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating.
Meal Prep Tip
Up to 1 day in advance, cook the mushrooms and onions with the spices as directed. Refrigerate the mixture until you’re ready to finish the recipe.
Turn leftover meatloaf into a pizza topping (Whole Wheat Pizza Dough makes the perfect base) by crumbling slices onto the pizza before baking. You could also use crumbled leftovers to create a unique homemade chili.
How to Serve Turkey Meatloaf
- With Potatoes. Meatloaf and potatoes are a delicious pairing. Serve a side of Crockpot Mashed Potatoes or Air Fryer Baked Potato.
- As a Sandwich. Slice and serve it as a Meatloaf Sandwich with any other desired ingredients.
- With Pasta. Since we’ve already established that this turkey meatloaf is basically one big meatball, it makes sense that it would be delicious with pasta. Try it with Instant Pot Spaghetti or Eggplant Pasta.
- With Vegetables. Enjoy your meatloaf with a side of veggies like Roasted Spaghetti Squash, Roasted Green Beans, or Sautéed Brussels Sprouts.
- With Bread. A side of Rosemary Olive Oil Bread or No Knead Focaccia would be a hit.
- With Salad. Keep things light with a side of Arugula Salad. Or, combine the veggies and salad by serving Roasted Eggplant with Crispy Chickpea Arugula Salad.
What to Serve with Turkey Meatloaf
One Pot Meals
Instant Pot Mashed Potatoes
Recommended Tools to Make this Recipe
- Large Skillet. This pan is ideal for cooking everything from veggies to eggs.
- Baking Sheet. Perfect for baking this turkey meatloaf recipe.
- Instant Read Thermometer. The best way to check your meatloaf for doneness.
Meatloaf, great big turkey meatball, meat log—by any name, this easy turkey meatloaf is legitimately delicious.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes, you can easily make this recipe gluten free by swapping the Italian seasoned breadcrumbs for gluten free breadcrumbs. If your breadcrumbs are plain, add a pinch of salt and Italian seasoning.
If neither the ketchup nor tomato paste option sounds appealing to you, you can take your meatloaf in a different direction. Some recipes call for a topping of Barbecue Sauce (yum!) or even Alfredo sauce (try my Chicken Alfredo Bake sauce and add some fresh parsley).
While we enjoy using ground turkey in this recipe, you could absolutely swap ground beef if you prefer it.
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 small onion finely chopped
- 8 ounces cremini (baby bella) mushrooms very finely chopped (you can’t taste these!)
- 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1/3 cup chicken broth or milk
- 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 2 pounds ground turkey use a max of 93% lean or the meatloaf will be dry
- 3/4 cup Italian seasoned breadcrumbs
- 2 large eggs lightly beaten
- 1/3 cup ketchup see notes* to make meatloaf without ketchup
- Place racks in the upper middle position of your oven and the lower position and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil or parchment paper.
- In a large skillet heat the oil over medium-low heat. Add the onion, mushrooms, thyme, garlic powder, smoked paprika, salt, and pepper. Cook until the onions are translucent and the mushrooms are browned, about 15 minutes. Adjust the heat as needed so that the onions soften but do not brown. Don’t shortcut this step as it is key to the meatloaf’s flavor.
- Transfer the mixture to a large bowl. Add the broth and Worcestershire sauce and mix well. Let cool for about 5 minutes.
- To the bowl, add the turkey, breadcrumbs, and eggs.
- With your hands (they really do work best for this), gently mix until all of the ingredients are evenly combined.
- Wet your hands, then use them to shape the turkey mixture into a 9×5-inch loaf in the center of the prepared baking sheet. Spread the ketchup evenly over the top.
- Fill a 9 x 13“ casserole dish with about an inch of water and place it on the lower rack (this will create steam in the oven to make the meatloaf extra moist and keep the top from cracking). Bake the meatloaf on the upper third rack for 55 minutes, then take its internal temperature to gauge progress. Return to the oven and continue baking until the internal temperature is 160 degrees F at the thickest part, about 5 to 15 minutes more depending upon your oven and the shape of your loaf. Let the meatloaf cool for 10 minutes, then slice and enjoy.
- *If you share my aversion to ketchup in general or just like your meatloaf without ketchup, instead mix 1 tablespoon tomato paste with 1/2 tablespoon olive oil. Brush over the top and sides of meatloaf during the last 15 minutes of cooking.
- TO STORE: Refrigerate meatloaf in an airtight storage container for up to 4 days.
- TO REHEAT: Rewarm leftovers in a baking dish in the oven at 350 degrees F or in the microwave.
- TO FREEZE: Slice and freeze meatloaf in an airtight, freezer-safe storage container for up to 3 months. Let thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating.
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I’ve been known to use mashed cruton cubes if I didn’t have any bread crumbs, plus you get extra flavor~~!
Great idea Judy!
I would love to make this recipe, but need to do it without mushrooms…is there a viable substitute?
Hi Glenna! Possibly! I’ve only tested it with the mushrooms, so it would be hard for me to say for sure. If you decide to experiment, I’d love to know how it goes!
This was SO good! Literally did a happy dance in my kitchen. This was the first time I’ve used ground turkey and actually had it come out edible. 5 stars from my picky eight year old and even pickier husband (even after I told him about the mushrooms) too!
Hi Kristin! So glad you enjoyed the recipe! Thank you for this kind review!
This was a HUGE HIT with the entire family. Founded recipe to a T, must admit was dubious about how it would come out but it was AMAZING! Kids loved the leftovers too (mind you, we had only 2 pieces left :0 )
YAY! I am so happy to hear that, thank you for taking time to let me know!
I made it and loved it. Only thing I don’t have an oven & cooked it in my Air Fryer. Came out delicious & moist. Hubby loved it.
Hi Dolores! So glad you enjoyed the recipe! Thank you for this kind review!
This was super moist as you said it would be. I would recommend people cook the mushrooms until the liquid is out. I didn’t but it was fine.. I just wasn’t sure about it. I also put the tomato paste on too early. oops. My thermometer was low battery so it wouldn’t work, but cooking it 70 minutes worked. I am looking forward to meatloaf sandwiches.
Hi Anne! So glad you enjoyed the recipe! Thank you for this kind review!
I made this last night, it was perfect. Of course, I could not wait for lunch today, as I thought about a turkey meatloaf sandwich, which was yum! I did not change anything except when I looked in my pantry for Italian breadcrumbs, I was out…..I used oatmeal instead with a T of Italian seasoning…it was juicy and wonderful.
Hi Heide! So glad you enjoyed the recipe! Thank you for this kind review!
My husband was SO skeptical when I told him this meatloaf was made with turkey, but after trying it, he ended up eating almost half the loaf! It had so much flavor and wasn’t the least bit dry. He has already requested for this to be on our dinner recipe rotation!
Hi Lauren! So glad you enjoyed the recipe! Thank you for this kind review!
How do you caramelize onions and them not turn brown? You cook onions a long time to get them caramelized.
Hi Patti! Brown in the sense that you don’t want them to burn. They will be a nice caramel color. This is done by cooking them low and slow.
Also, do you drain the onions and mushrooms?
Hi Patti! There is no draining involved. You shouldn’t have any liquid coming off them that would require you to drain them.