Alison Miksch/Southern Living

This humble pantry staple will take your dish from good to great.

Ask a Southerner to name her top 5 comfort foods and it is a safe bet that meatloaf will rank high on that list. Like other favorite homestyle meals, meatloaf is not a fancy dish and easily adapts to whatever ingredients you have on hand. You may use crumbled biscuits as a binder to make a meatloaf on one occasion, and oatmeal as a binder the next time. Sautéed carrots and onions are tasty stirred into the mix, but go ahead and toss in those leftover baby sweet peas for added color and nutrition. It may seem as if you simply can’t mess up Grandma’s recipe for meatloaf, but there are a few tricks to making one even better than ever. The one ingredient that your meatloaf may be missing, and the one thing that will take it from good to great and will have your family wanting meatloaf for weeknight suppers and Sunday dinners, is a simple condiment found in every pantry, ketchup. Read on for more tips on how to make your meatloaf marvelous, but don't forget the ketchup glaze.

How To Make a Meatloaf

A Good Meatloaf Needs Fat

Super lean meat, like ground chicken or ground turkey, has little fat content, which means the meat can easily dry out. When making a meatloaf use a blend of beef, pork, veal or lamb. If you prefer the leaner chicken or turkey, however, opt for the more flavorful dark meat portions and add some ground pork to the mix. The fattier pork will keep the meatloaf tender and moist.

Cook the Vegetables

Vegetables will add both flavor and texture, but most cooks prefer to sauté them first instead of using crunchy raw vegetables. Whether you use a mirepoix, the classic blend of onion, carrot, celery, and herbs, or a mix of whatever vegetables and herbs your garden is serving up at the moment, sautéing them with a little olive oil will tenderize the vegetables, release their flavors, and add moisture to the meat.

Don’t Skimp on the Seasoning

Meatloaf without seasoning can be a little bland, so don’t forget the salt and pepper. If you have a favorite BBQ rub or seasoning blend, add that as well. Since it can be hard to judge the amount of seasoning that you really need (you can’t really see the seasoning in a meatloaf mixture like you can on top of a steak), some home cooks season the meat, form a small meatball, and microwave it just until it is safe to taste test. This way they can add more seasoning to the entire mixture if needed.

Remember to Soak the Bread

Bread and eggs work to bind the meat mixture together, and they are as important to the meatloaf as the vegetables and seasonings. But don’t just stir in dry bread, as that will pilfer some of the moisture away from the meat. For a really moist meatloaf, soak the bread in milk until it becomes thick and mushy before blending the mixture together. You can use crumbled white sandwich bread, hot dog buns, biscuits, saltine crackers, and even oatmeal.

Add Ketchup, the Secret Ingredient

Meatloaf purists love to gild their creation with a glaze of ketchup. When baked, this common condiment becomes a silky, richly tomato-y, and caramelized coating that pairs perfectly with the satisfying, deep taste of the meatloaf. Try your favorite BBQ sauce if you aren’t a big fan of ketchup. Either one will infuse the meat with additional flavor and protect it from drying out.

WATCH: How To Make Old-Fashioned Meatloaf

Let it Rest

It is best to let a baked meatloaf rest about 5 minutes before cutting into it, giving the juices time to redistribute and settle down.  If you slice the loaf too quickly, the tasty juices run out, leaving the meatloaf dry.