This crockpot meatloaf recipe with sweet and tangy glaze makes a delicious family dinner with little effort. The slow cooker’s steamy environment gently cooks the beef and yields tender, juicy slices.
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Typically I cook meatloaf in the oven to brown the surface, but you might be surprised that you can also prepare it in the slow cooker too. The prolonged gentle heat and steamy enclosed environment ensure super juicy pieces. I used my classic method for this recipe and adapted it for a 6-quart Crockpot.
My family and readers rave about the barbecue glaze, so I made sure to include it too. It’s sweet and tangy and creates a nice crust that clings onto each slice. Meatloaf is the perfect meal to feed a family, and if you’re lucky, you may even have leftovers to reheat for lunch the next day.
The key to juicy meat
A panade is a fancy culinary term for a starchy bread and liquid mixture. I combine flaky dried Japanese breadcrumbs called panko with chicken stock and egg. I prefer the larger granules and irregular shapes because they don’t allow the meat to shrink and compact during cooking. You can use traditional fine bread crumbs, but the texture will be denser unless you use a homemade version to control the crumb size.
The bread will absorb the liquid in just a few minutes, creating a spongy, mushy paste. When the starches cook in the meatloaf, it will turn into a solid gel, binding moisture and preventing the beef proteins from packing so tightly together—no more dry meat.
Cook the vegetables
Minced onions, celery, and garlic add a wonderful earthy flavor to the dish. The vegetables contain a lot of water, so make sure to cook them first. Typically I like to saute them to enhance the natural sweetness of the alliums.
However, if you don’t feel like turning on the stove, you can use the microwave instead. It cuts the time in half. In just 4 minutes, the vegetables will be soft, and most of the moisture evaporated. Be sure to cool the mixture down first, you don’t want to combine hot ingredients with the raw beef, or it will start to cook it.
I recommend using 85% lean ground beef. It has just the right amount of meat for texture and fat to baste to keep the mixture flavorful and juicy. You can go as low as 80% lean meat, which will be tasty but shrink more in size.
A 90% lean ground beef from the sirloin cut will have a strong beefy taste. Be aware that the texture will have more chew with less fat but hold its shape well. Alternatively, if you don’t eat red meat, you can try my turkey meatloaf recipe.
Season the meat
To add dimension to ground beef, I use a variety of seasonings and umami-packed ingredients. I like fresh or dried thyme, parsley, paprika, salt, and pepper help to boost aroma and savory taste. To bump up the beefy flavor, tomato paste, soy sauce, and Worcester sauce have natural glutamates, a type of amino acid that enhances the flavor of the meat.
Mixing and shaping the loaf
When combining all the ingredients, it’s important not to overmix the meat. When the beef is ground down, sticky soluble proteins are released. The more mixed the beef, the tighter it gets packed together and squeezes out the moisture. You don’t want tough and rubbery slices, just enough to evenly combine and shape.
No need to grab a loaf pan. Add the meatloaf to the slow cooker and form it similarly with a domed shape. I target a 9-inch long and 4-inch wide loaf to create big slices that cook evenly. It should be about 2-inches tall.
Make a glaze
Here’s my quick and easy glaze to make a flavorful barbecue-style sauce. It’s a combination of pure maple syrup, tomato paste, apple cider vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper. That’s it!
If you like a more robust allium flavor, you can add some onion and garlic powder. Just a tip, you can double the recipe if you want a lot of extra sauce to serve on the side. My kids always ask for more.
How to cook meatloaf in a slow cooker
I use a 6-quart oval Crockpot for cooking the meatloaf. To make it easy to remove the meat, make a double-layer foil sling. A 12-by-9-inch rectangle is suitable for holding the meat with edges to lower and then lifting it out of the pot.
Add some of the glaze on the top and sides. This will flavor the meat as it cooks and makes a moisture barrier, so the surface doesn’t dry out. Save the extra glaze to add on top later.
I recommend cooking the meatloaf on the low setting to prevent the edges from drying out and give it plenty of time to cook through. It will take 2 ½ to 3 hours. I find around 2 hours 45 minutes to be the sweet spot.
Don’t constantly open the lid! You’ll lose the steam generated to cook the meat, and it will take longer to finish.
Testing for doneness
This is not a juicy burger with a warm center, so we want the meat cooked through to well done. Use an instant-read thermometer. It’s ready when it registers between 155 to 160ºF (68 to 71ºC).
The meat should be brown throughout, but let it rest for at least 15 minutes for slicing. This duration helps the juices redistribute, meat firm up, and starches to gel so that it’s easier to cut.
Serve this with
Frequently asked questions
Yes, you can use equal ground pork or veal ratios with the beef. Ground turkey or chicken is another option. Look for 93% lean meat. It will taste very dry if there is minimal fat. Check at 2 hours of cooking on low setting for poultry as it might be done faster.
Yes! It’s safe to cook ground beef in the slow cooker. Just watch as the meat changes from pink to brown. Use an instant-read thermometer to check for doneness. For beef, it’s ready when it reaches between 155 to 160ºF (68 to 71ºC).
You can skip this step for convenience, but the result won’t have a flavorful crust. If desired, you can shape the meatloaf, broil it on a foil-lined sheet pan until the surface is brown then add it to the slow cooker to finish cooking.
To make a flavorful crust
Cooking meatloaf in the slow cooker doesn’t brown the surface like the oven method. If you want, you can brush the glaze on top after it’s done cooking and broil until the glaze lightly browns and forms a flavorful crust. This process caramelizes the maple syrup, creating a deeper molasses flavor. You only need a few minutes, so keep a close eye on the oven so it doesn’t burn from the sugars in the sauce.
- 2 large eggs
- ½ cup unsalted chicken broth, or stock, or beef broth/stock
- 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
- 1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for greasing
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- ¾ cup minced yellow onion
- ½ cup chopped celery
- 2 pounds ground beef, 85% to 90% lean
- 2 ounces parmesan cheese, finely grated, about 1 cup
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
- 2 teaspoons soy sauce
- 1 ½ teaspoon worcestershire sauce
- 1 teaspoon paprika, sweet or smoked
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- ½ teaspoon chopped fresh thyme, or dried
- ⅓ cup pure maple syrup
- ¼ cup tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- ½ teaspoon worcestershire sauce
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- Fold a double-layer piece of aluminum foil into a 12 by 9-inch sling. Set aside.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs and chicken broth. Add breadcrumbs, whisk to combine, and allow to absorb all of the moisture.
- In a microwave-safe bowl, combine olive oil, onion, celery, and garlic. Heat on high power until tender, about 4 minutes, stirring halfway through. Add more time, if needed, in 30-second intervals. Alternatively, saute vegetables in a medium skillet over high heat, about 6 to 8 minutes. Cool the mixture in the refrigerator for 5 minutes.
- In a large bowl, add the ground beef, Parmesan cheese, breadcrumb mixture, cooled vegetables, tomato paste, parsley, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, paprika, salt, pepper, and thyme.
- Use your hands to gently mix the ingredients until combined, about 1 minute, being careful not to overmix.
- Shape the meat into a 9 by 4-inch domed loaf, about 2-inches tall. Place it in the center of the foil sling. Then grab the edges and carefully transfer it to a 6-quart slow cooker.
- To make the glaze: In a small bowl, whisk together maple syrup, ¼ cup tomato paste, apple cider vinegar, ½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper.
- Add 3 tablespoons of the glaze to a bowl. Brush over the top and sides of the meatloaf. Reserve the remaining sauce to use for topping later.
- Cover and cook until the internal temperature reaches 155 to 160ºF (68 to 71ºC), 2 ½ to 3 ½ hours on low setting. It takes about 2 hours and 45 minutes in a crockpot.
- Carefully remove the meatloaf using the sling, draining the juices into the pot. Transfer to a cutting board. Rest for at least 15 minutes before slicing.
- Brush the top with the remaining glaze or serve on the side. Cut into even-sized pieces. If not serving immediately, transfer to a cleaned slow cooker, cover, and keep on the warm setting for up to 1 hour.
- Breadcrumbs: You can use traditional breadcrumbs, but the texture will be slightly denser.
- Storage: Cool completely and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. It’s easier to reheat sliced pieces.
- Extra sauce: Double the glaze for more sauce to serve on the side.
- Broil (optional): To caramelize the crust, broil the meatloaf on a foil-lined baking sheet. Set the oven rack 6-inches away from the broiler element. Heat the oven to broil on high. Brush the top and sides of the meatloaf with the remaining glaze. Broil until the surface lightly browns, about 5 to 7 minutes. Keep a close eye on the oven as it could burn!
Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000-calorie diet. All nutritional information is based on estimated third-party calculations. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods, and portion sizes per household.
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