If You Have The Time, You Should Smoke Your Meatloaf

There may be no more classically American meal than meatloaf. Apart from burgers and fried chicken, there's no dish more iconically part of U.S. history than a big old baked loaf of meat. It's also straightforward to make, consisting of just ground beef, eggs, bread crumbs, and maybe some vegetables or milk (or unusual additions like butter if you're feeling fancy). It's one of the few dishes from the early 20th century that still stands the test of time today.

But even though it's a classic recipe, that doesn't mean there can't be room for improvement. Charting a course through the undiscovered waters of meatloaf experimentation may seem daunting, but happily, plenty of people are willing to go there first, and some of them have discovered a truly interesting way to up your meatloaf game: smoking it. It turns out that the same fantastic wood smell and flavor you get from grilled beef products works just as well for the classic meatloaf — as long as you do it right.

Smoking meatloaf imbues it with an incredible wood flavor

To be clear, the move here is not to just put the raw, formed meatloaf directly into the smoker with no protection or planning; that will create a mess and fall apart if it's sitting directly on a grill. What you want to do first instead is cook the outer edge of the meatloaf in a pan to form a slight crust that will help hold things together. Another option is to put it in a container like a grill basket that allows the smoke to penetrate the meat from all sides but keeps it from disintegrating in contact with uneven direct heat. Beyond that, though, it's pretty simple — as with any smoking, it just takes several hours.

The other key here, as with any smoking, is wood chips. Although whether you should soak them first is a matter of debate, wood chips are the engine that drives quality smoking, and which type of wood you use makes a huge difference. In addition to the adage that less wood is more, you want to be sure you're using the correct type of wood for the flavor profile you're targeting. Oak will give them a mellow flavor, mesquite imparts that classic, unique BBQ tang, maple is mild and slightly sweet (which is great with a honey-based glaze), and hickory is pretty great in all situations. Just don't use pine because that stuff tends to impart a weird, bitter flavor.

You can turn your grill into a smoker pretty easily

The good news is, if you're trying to smoke a meatloaf and don't have a smoker, there's a pretty easy fix: turn your grill into one. The first step is to fire up a charcoal or gas grill as normal. Next, dump the wood chips directly onto the coals if it's a charcoal grill, and lay them on the bottom cooking grate if it's a gas grill. Give it some time to get going, and once you see smoke, add your meat and let it do its thing (obeying the classic grilling practices like the 3-2-1 rule and following tips like misting your meat).

If you can manage it and have the time, smoking a meatloaf is a fantastic way to put a new spin on a classic meal. Trying it would be an excellent way to spice up dinner time.