Freezing softens vegetables, such as onions, celery and carrots, which is a bad thing in some cases. In meatloaf, though, this tenderizing action is perfectly acceptable. The eggs, breadcrumbs and ground meat in a typical meatloaf also freeze well when mixed together. Wait to spread a ketchup-based sauce over the meatloaf until you're ready to cook it, though, to prevent a sticky mess. You can also add a layer of bacon at the last minute, as well.
Play It Safe
You can safely freeze uncooked meatloaf, so long as you follow a few simple guidelines. First, if the meat is frozen, thaw it in the refrigerator, rather than on the countertop, before making the meatloaf because thawing at room temperature encourages bacterial growth. Wash your hands and any cutting boards and tools in soapy water before and after making the meatloaf. Use only fresh ingredients. Freezing does not improve the quality or freshness. Wrap the meatloaf tightly in plastic wrap or place it in a sealed container. Label it with the date and freeze it at 0 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the USDA.
After safety, your next concern is probably about quality. Uncooked meatloaf will retain its quality for up to four months. After four months, it will still be safe to use, but it won't taste as good. Uncooked meats stay fresh longer than frozen cooked meats. You might have heard that you can't freeze eggs. It's true that fresh eggs don't freeze particularly well, but when incorporated into a recipe with other ingredients, such as breadcrumbs and ground meat, they'll taste fine.
When you're ready to use the meatloaf, be sure to thaw it safely. Freezing halts microbial growth, but as soon as you thaw the meatloaf, bacteria can begin to grow again. Temperatures between 40 and 140 F are known as the danger zone, according to the USDA, because bacteria multiply rapidly at these temperatures. Thaw meatloaf overnight in a refrigerator set at 40 F or thaw it in the microwave on your defrost setting. You can also set the frozen meatloaf in a bowl in the sink and fill the bowl with cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes so the temperature stays cool enough to thaw the meat safely. You can also cook the meatloaf while it's still frozen. Add an additional 50 percent cooking time.
Heat It Up
Bake the prepared meatloaf in a loaf pan or on a baking sheet at 350 F for 30 to 60 minutes, depending on the size of the meatloaf. It's done when the top is golden brown and a meat thermometer inserted in the meatloaf registers 160 F. Let it rest for 10 to 15 minutes before cutting it to firm up the meat. Wrap any leftovers tightly in plastic wrap or place it in a covered container and store it in a refrigerator set at 40 F within two hours of serving. Reduce that time to one hour during hot weather.
- Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images