Meatloaf, the quintessential American comfort food, has about a million variations, from bacon-wrapped to applesauce meatloaf. Your family probably has some flavor preferences, such as the addition of bacon, sauteed vegetables or the classic ketchup glaze. Regardless of the seasonings you add, the basic recipe for meatloaf remains the same. By adding ingredients in the right proportions, you're assured of a meatloaf that's tender without being runny.
The ideal meatloaf has a ratio of one part ground meat to one part bread. Dry bread softened in milk provides tender results, but you can also use oatmeal, crushed crackers or stuffing mix. At this ratio, the meatloaf will be wet, but not runny. When you cook a runny meatloaf, it usually flattens and may continue to ooze, rather than browning.
Many home cooks mix up a meatloaf by hand, but the best way to accomplish the job is to toss the ingredients in a stand mixer. After you've thoroughly incorporated the ingredients, let the mixture sit for five minutes. Although it might have seemed runny at first, it should develop a moist, but firm, consistency. Another solution, recommended by "Cook's Illustrated," is to replace some of the bread or crackers with a bit of unflavored gelatin or sauteed mushrooms. The gelatin or mushrooms absorb some of the liquid while retaining a meaty flavor.
If after mixing the ingredients and allowing them to sit for five minutes your meatloaf still seems runny, it's time to make some adjustments before you toss it in the oven. At this point, you can add an egg, which binds the ingredients together, or add a few more tablespoons of bread, crackers or oatmeal. Add the bread a tablespoon or two at a time so you don't add too much. The last thing you want is a dry meatloaf.
If your meatloaf is a bit on the damp side, how you cook it can also help improve its texture. For the classic meatloaf shape, bake meatloaf in a loaf pan, rather than on a baking sheet or casserole dish. This will limit how much it can spread. Drain the liquid off the meatloaf halfway through cooking to allow it to brown and become firm.