Meatloaf is a family favorite meal in many homes (mine included) for its delicious flavor and for how well it stores as a make-ahead dinner. Some people like the traditional beef meatloaf, while others venture out to try turkey meatloaf or even something more exotic, like elk or venison.
No matter what kind of meatloaf you like, keeping it in the freezer is a great way to have this quick dinner on hand no matter how crazy your week gets.
You can freeze meatloaf before or after cooking. Once frozen, meatloaf will keep in the freezer for up to six months. Meatloaf is easy to freeze raw when you want to prep a lot of meals at one time or pre-cooked to make reheating fast and easy when you want to eat it.
Either way, make sure to store your frozen meatloaf in an airtight container, preferably one that you can put right in the oven to make preparing it a breeze.
Can You Freeze Meatloaf?
Meatloaf is one of the best foods to store before cooking. In fact, storing raw meatloaf in the fridge overnight or the freezer for a longer period of time can actually let the flavors meld and result in even tastier meatloaf.
When getting ready for a particularly busy period with my family, I like to prepare multiple dishes of meatloaf and freeze them raw to make dinner easier. You can also freeze meatloaf after cooking it so that all you need to do is reheat it when it is time to eat. Meatloaf freezes well either way.
Freezing meatloaf is one of my go-to ways to meal-prep for busy weeknight dinners. It is just as easy to prepare a large batch of meatloaf mixture as it is to prepare a single batch, so why not take care of a future meal all in one day’s work?
Tip: Prepare a double batch of meatloaf and separate it into two loaf pans. I like to use one metal loaf pan to cook meatloaf for dinner right away and a disposable metal loaf pan to store a meatloaf for later.
If you have the space, you can even triple or quadruple your meatloaf recipe to stock your freezer.
The Best Way To Freeze Meatloaf
Before you put anything in your freezer, you need to decide if you will be freezing your meatloaf cooked or uncooked. If you are freezing leftovers, chances are you have already prepared and cooked the meatloaf. If you are doing meal prep, you may have to decide how and when you plan to eat the meatloaf.
How To Freeze Meatloaf Before Cooking
Start by preparing the meatloaf mixture in a large bowl. The steps to freeze uncooked meatloaf remain the same no matter which type of meat you use. Just make sure that it has been handled safely before you use it in meatloaf.
This means that if the meat itself was previously frozen, that it has been defrosted in the fridge before going into your meatloaf. You can mix in other ingredients like eggs, bread crumbs, and seasonings to give it the signature taste and texture of meatloaf.
Shape the meatloaf mixture into a loaf. You can do this by filling a loaf pan and pressing it into that shape. Place some plastic wrap in the bottom of the pan first, then wrap the meatloaf mixture in the plastic wrap before transferring it to the freezer.
Once the meatloaf is frozen solid, you can remove it (still wrapped in the plastic wrap) and store it in an airtight container or bag. This method works well and doesn’t take up a lot of space. Because the meatloaf is raw, you should not reuse the plastic wrap or bag after you are done.
If you have disposable metal loaf pans (commonly found in the baking aisle of the supermarket), this is my go-to way to store and freeze uncooked meatloaf. You can press the meatloaf mixture into the pan, then cover the top with plastic wrap or foil. This cuts down on waste and makes it easy to cook the raw meatloaf at dinnertime.
Make sure to press it against the meatloaf mixture to minimize its exposure to air in the freezer.
I like to freeze meatloaf raw, but this is entirely a personal preference. I find that the outside remains crispier (one of my favorite parts of meatloaf) when I freeze it raw, then cook it and eat it right away, instead of reheating already-cooked meatloaf.
How To Freeze Meatloaf After Cooking
Sometimes you want meatloaf that can be prepared quickly. This is where pre-cooked meatloaf comes in handy.
Prepare and cook your meatloaf just like you would if you were planning to eat it that night for dinner. If you are making meatloaf for dinner, it is especially efficient to make an extra loaf, throw both loaves in the oven, and store the extra cooked meatloaf in the freezer for another day.
After the meatloaf has finished cooking, make sure to let it completely cool. The importance of this step cannot be overstated. Putting meatloaf (or any dish) in the freezer while it is still hot will result in condensation. This creates freezer burn, which will ruin your meal.
Freeze your cooled meatloaf in a freezer-safe plastic container or bag. Just like wrapping a raw meatloaf in plastic wrap before freezing, you can also use this method to preserve pre-cooked meatloaf. The focus, in this case, should be on reducing the air that can reach the meatloaf to keep it fresh and moist.
Cover it with plastic wrap or aluminum foil and pop it in the freezer.
I also like to cook and freeze meatloaf in a disposable metal loaf pan. This makes it easy to store the meatloaf and reheat it when I’m ready to eat it. You can put the meatloaf right back into the oven to reheat. Just make sure not to put a metal pan in the microwave.
If you have smaller pieces of leftover meatloaf from a meal that you want to freeze, transfer it to a freezer-safe plastic storage container or heavy-duty plastic bag. Press as much of the air out as you can. You can also cover the meatloaf in foil or plastic wrap, pressing close against the food.
Air also creates freezer burn, which is why you want to eliminate as much as possible when you freeze any food.
Is It Best To Freeze Meatloaf Cooked Or Uncooked?
You can freeze meatloaf cooked or uncooked safely. Neither way is better when it comes to food safety.
There are a few pros and cons to each method, however, when it comes to taste and ease.
Freezing raw meatloaf uncooked is faster to prepare initially but does require more time after you defrost it and are ready to eat. You should make sure that the raw meatloaf is completely covered to prevent any juices or pieces from spilling and potentially contaminating other items in your freezer.
Freezing uncooked meatloaf and cooking it right before you actually eat it often keeps the inside of the meatloaf moister and the outside crust crispier.
Depending on your schedule, you may want to spend the time upfront by letting it cook before freezing to save time on busy weeknights. Cooking your meatloaf before freezing results in less time to get dinner on the table but it can become dry when it is reheated if you aren’t careful.
Reheating cooked meatloaf can be done in the oven or the microwave. This can significantly reduce the amount of time that it takes to get a tasty dinner on the table.
One of the best ways to determine what is the best way to freeze your meatloaf is to ask yourself these questions.
- Will I have time to cook it when I want to eat it?
- Do I have time now to cook it?
- Do I want the moistest meatloaf possible when eating?
- Do I want the fastest meatloaf possible when ready to eat?
If you’re not sure, you can always double your recipe to make and freeze one of each, cooked and uncooked. That way you are always ready for a delicious meal!
Make-Ahead Meatloaf Meal
Meatloaf makes a fantastic make-ahead meal. If you want to turn your meatloaf into a meal, consider one of these ways to boost the dish.
- Make mashed sweet potatoes along with your meatloaf. They can be frozen in another container. You can even add a spoonful or two to your meatloaf mixture to sneak vegetables in for picky eaters and to keep the meatloaf moist. This is my family’s favorite way to eat meatloaf.
- If you have vegetables in your meatloaf, chop extras to have on hand. Some of my favorites include broccoli (small florets in the meatloaf and larger florets for roasting alongside), cauliflower (same preparation), and carrots.
- Make extra sauce to go on the top of your meatloaf. You can freeze it in a separate airtight container. Before cooking or reheating your meatloaf, slather the top with the sauce. This will add moisture and flavor to your meatloaf. A ketchup and brown sugar mixture is a popular choice.
Defrosting And Cooking Meatloaf
Get your meatloaf ready to cook or eat by defrosting it overnight. If you froze uncooked meatloaf, letting it defrost in the refrigerator for 24 hours will make sure that it is in the best shape to go into the oven.
If it is still frozen in the center, you may need to adjust your cooking time. To make sure your food is safe, it should be cooked all the way through.
If you cooked your meatloaf before freezing it, you will be putting it in the oven to reheat it rather than cook it. This goes much faster, one of the benefits of cooking your meatloaf ahead of time.
You can also slice it and reheat it in the microwave, although the crust may lose some of its crispiness.
Tip: Make sure to remove any plastic wrap from the meatloaf before cooking or reheating it. Look on the bottom of the meatloaf, since small pieces may get stuck. This is one reason that I like to freeze meatloaf in a disposable metal loaf pan rather than wrap the entire thing in plastic wrap.
Either way, putting extra sauce on the top of your meatloaf is a great way to keep it moist and add an extra oomph of flavor. There are many flavors that work well with meatloaf (one of the reasons it is so popular).
Ketchup, barbecue sauce, and a mixture of both with brown sugar added are all great choices for a classic meatloaf taste.
Storing Meatloaf Properly
You can keep meatloaf in the fridge or the freezer. Just make sure to use an airtight container to keep the meatloaf fresh. Allowing extra air to get to the meatloaf will result in freezer burn and dried-out meatloaf.
Another key component of storing meatloaf is knowing what to do with extra sauce. You can slather some on top of the meatloaf before storing to add extra moisture. It should be completely cool before you do this, whether you store the meatloaf in the refrigerator or the freezer.
Meatloaf is one of my family’s favorite meals for its delicious taste and one of my favorite ways to prepare an easy weeknight dinner. Making and freezing extra meatloaf (cooked or uncooked) can save time and turn a potentially chaotic family meal into one that everyone enjoys.
Just make sure to follow the best tips to keep your meatloaf from getting freezer burn and storing it in a way that is easy to defrost and heat.
Katie is an experienced writer, who wrote for big magazines like The Spruce. She is also a mom of three (Sebastian, Lincoln, and Hannah). In her spare time, she likes to read, day hike, and explore hidden gems around her home in North Carolina. You can connect with Katie on Instagram @katiebwriter or her website, www.katiemelynnbegley.com.