To home cooks, having meatloaf in the freezer can be like having money in the bank. Preparing once for several meals saves precious time during a hectic week but raises questions about the best way to store prepared foods. Meatloaf is as versatile in preparation as it is at the table and can be frozen raw or previously cooked, with only small adjustments to recipes and baking times.
Your recipe should make a smooth transition from bowl to freezer to oven with only minor adjustments. Mix fresh meat, vegetables, bread crumbs, eggs and seasonings as you would for immediate baking. Portion the mixture out into large or small loaves and wrap them airtight. Do not add toppings like bacon strips, glaze or gravy. Ingredients with a high fat content can become greasy when thawed, and fats can pick up off-flavors in freezing. Glazes may become stickier than desired or soak into the meat surface before freezing is complete. Wheat-flour gravies can separate during freezing.
Shaping the Loaf
Meatloaf in shapes of even thickness freezes and thaws more evenly. Especially if you plan to cook frozen meatloaf without thawing, even shaping makes it easier to assure cooking all the way through. An even shape is of less concern when the meatloaf is headed straight for the oven rather than the freezer.
Whether raw or frozen, meatloaf can be stored at 0 degrees Fahrenheit for 3 to 4 months. If your refrigerator freezer operates above 0 degrees F or if you open it frequently, place frozen meatloaf close to the back of the freezer, where it is not subject to frequent temperature fluctuations.
Freezer to Oven
If you wish to thaw meatloaf before baking, place it in the refrigerator the night before you plan to cook it for safe, gradual overnight thawing. You can then bake it according to your original recipe directions, usually for about 1 hour at 350 degrees F. If you prefer to bake meatloaf frozen, allow 1 1/2 to 2 times as much baking time at 350 F. In either case, determine doneness with an instant-read meat thermometer. Your beef or pork meatloaf is done when the internal temperature reads 160 F. Meatloaves made of ground chicken or turkey should be cooked to 165 F. The exact cooking time of unthawed meatloaf depends on freezer temperature and the thickness of the meatloaf. A thermometer is your only completely reliable guide for doneness.
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Janet Beal has written for various websites, covering a variety of topics, including gardening, home, child development and cultural issues. Her work has appeared on early childhood education and consumer education websites. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from Harvard University and a Master of Science in early childhood education from the College of New Rochelle.