Cracker Barrel’s Classic Meatloaf Recipe has onions, bell peppers, cheddar cheese, buttery Ritz crackers, and the best meatloaf glaze for topping! Make this old fashioned comfort food at home and serve it with buttery biscuits or mashed potatoes!
Cracker Barrel Meatloaf
I’ve got a secret: Not all meatloaf is created equal. Just because you’ve had meatloaf in the past that you may not have enjoyed, doesn’t mean you should it out forever. A few simple changes, and you’ve got a completely different texture and flavor!
What makes this Cracker Barrel meatloaf recipe unique are the tender vegetables that are included in the mix, cheddar cheese, and using Ritz Crackers instead of breadcrumbs.
While meatloaf is undoubtedly easy to make, there are lots of questions that can arise when you actually get down to it.
- How do you make sure it’s tender, moist, and not dry?
- Do you use a loaf pan or are other methods better?
- How do you drain the grease?
- What kind of meat is best?
- How do you know when it’s done?
Let’s go over everything you need to know!
See the bottom of this post for ingredient quantities and full instructions.
- Canola Oil
- Bell Pepper
- 80% Lean Ground Beef- (or a 3 meat combo, see notes in recipe card.)
- Ritz crackers
- Sharp cheddar cheese
- Whole milk
- Black pepper
For the Topping:
- Brown sugar
- Yellow Mustard
- Don’t overwork the meat. This can ruin the tender consistency of the meat and cause it to become tough.
- Place it over a few slices of fresh bread before baking. The bread will act as a sponge and soak up excess grease. OR, use this loaf pan to lift it out and drain the grease.
- 325-350°F is an ideal baking temperature for tender results. Higher temps will dry out the meat.
- Pull it from the oven once it hits 155°.
- Let it rest for 15 minutes before you slice in. The internal temperature will increase 8-10° more during this time.
- Use a meat thermometer to ensure the middle is 160°F before you slice in.
Loaf Pan or No Loaf Pan for Meatloaf?
Some people swear that using a loaf pan is the wrong way to go, theorizing is that it creates steam and makes the meat more dense.
Others say LOAF pan all the way.
I’ve done it both ways, here is my vote: USE A LOAF PAN.
#1. It keeps it from falling apart. Unless you have a binder that can hold the loaf together, like the bacon does in The Pioneer Woman’s meatloaf recipe, it’s very likely the meat won’t hold it’s shape and you’ll end up with a big blob of meat on a baking sheet. (I say this from experience.)
#2. The heat circulating around the loaf pan is necessary for it to cook. Otherwise, it takes so long that it inevitably becomes dry.
PRO TIP: This loaf pan allows you to lift the loaf from the pan easily without disrupting its shape, and it allows excess grease to drain out.
The Best Meat to Use
- 80% lean ground beef is a good choice. Leaner meats tend to dry out.
- A combination of ground beef, pork, and veal will also give you very tender and flavorful results. You’d use an equal amount of each.
PRO TIP: Some grocery stores have this meat combination already packaged up in the meat section, specifically for making meatloaf and/or meatballs.
A Perfect Freezer Food
Meatloaf is great for freezing either after it’s been baked and cooled, or when it’s still raw in the loaf pan. Wrap it tightly in foil and freeze it for up to 3 months.
Reheating after it’s been baked: Let the loaf defrost in the fridge overnight. Wrap it in fresh foil and bake at 350°F until heated through, 20-30 minutes. You may want to make some extra sauce topping to add to it.
You can also slice it and microwave individual slices.
Heating up frozen/unbaked Meatloaf: Let the loaf defrost in the fridge overnight. From there, bake it according to recipe instructions as if you had just made it. (Bake at 350°F for 30 minutes, brush with topping, bake for 30-40 more minutes.)
What to Serve with Meatloaf
- Creamy Mashed Potatoes with Brown Gravy
- Twice Baked Potato Casserole
- Skillet Potatoes
- Roasted Carrots or Green Beans
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Cracker Barrel Meatloaf (Copycat)
- ½ tablespoon canola oil
- ½ cup yellow onion, finely diced
- 1/2 cup bell pepper, finely diced
- 2 pounds 80% lean ground beef, See Note 1
- 1 1/2 sleeves of crushed Ritz crackers, 32 count, equal to one cup crushed
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated, See Note 2
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1/4 tsp. black pepper
For the Topping:
- 1/2-3/4 cup ketchup
- 2 tbsp. brown sugar
- 1 tsp. yellow mustard
- Preheat oven 350 degrees F.
- Optional: Sautee the diced peppers and onions in a small pan with the canola oil until softened, about 5 minutes. This gives them a more subtle flavor and texture.
- Crush the Ritz crackers so that they resemble fine breadcrumbs. You can do this by hand or with a food processor.
- In a large bowl mix the eggs, cracker crumbs, onion, bell pepper, cheese, milk, salt and black pepper.
- Add ground beef and mix until just combined. Don't overwork the meat, we want tender results.
- Form it in a loaf and place it into a loaf pan. Not using a loaf pan can result in the loaf falling apart. It also takes much longer to cook, which causes it to dry out.
- Bake for 30 minutes.
- Combine the topping ingredients while it bakes and set aside.
- Remove the meatloaf and brush the on the topping. Bake for an additional 30-40 minutes. (Pull it once it reaches 155 degrees.)
- Let it rest for 15 minutes in the loaf pan prior to slicing in. It will increase 8-10 degrees in temperature during this time. Slicing in too early also causes the juices to leak out. Ensure the middle is 160 degrees before you slice it.
- Serve with creamy mashed potatoes and enjoy!
Note 2: Place the meatloaf over a few slices of fresh bread, the bread will act as a sponge and soak up any excess grease.
Note 3: This loaf pan allows you to lift the loaf from the pan easily and allow excess grease to drain out.
Note 4: Meatloaf can take 15-20 minutes longer to cook through if you're baking at a higher altitude.
Serving Suggestion: This meatloaf is perfect with a side of my Smooth & Creamy Homemade Mashed Potatoes.