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Add smoked meatloaf to outdoor cooking roster

So I was skeptical about meatloaf prepared on a pellet smoker.

Burgers, sure. Maybe even skewered meatballs. But ground meat reshaped into a relatively large piece of protein seemed precarious. Wouldn’t it fall apart? Would it cook all the way through?

As usual, my husband brushed aside any such trepidation. He’d looked up a meatloaf recipe online, and the method is upheld by pellet smoker aficionados.

And true to our experience with cooking on a pellet smoker, featured in my most recent food section column, dishes really do come out moister but more toothsome in texture than in a conventional oven. I’m a fan of crusty, crunchy exteriors on many meat items, and meatloaf is no exception. But that usually only occurs on the top of ground meat baked in a loaf pan. Yes, you could form meatloaf on a sheet pan and bake it, but adding wood smoke aligns the dish more closely with the widespread American affection for burgers.

Give this recipe a try as the season for outdoor cooking ramps up. Courtesy of Tribune News Service, it was tested using half an 18-pound bag of Kingsford briquettes, minion method stacking, 3 large applewood chunks and 1 large hickory chunk. For more on how to arrange briquettes and wood in your cooking vessel, consult videos widely available online.

Smoked Meatloaf

2 cups chopped bread, from a French loaf

1/2 cup of buttermilk

2 cups combined finely diced onions, celery and bell peppers

2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely diced

1 tablespoon oil

1 to 2 eggs

2 to 3 tablespoons favorite barbecue rub

1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

Salt and pepper

1 pound ground beef

1 pound ground pork

1 pound ground sausage

Ketchup, as needed

Start up smoker before making meatloaf mixture. Get temperature in the 225- to 275-degree range.

Soak the bread pieces in the buttermilk.

Saute the vegetables and garlic in the oil until soft. Mix sauteed vegetables, soaked bread, the eggs, barbecue rub, Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper with the meat. Use clean hands to gently mix. Form into a loaf in a pre-sprayed loaf pan. There will be some extra to make a mini loaf patty to pre-taste in a skillet, if desired.

Pat meat mixture into loaf pan nice and tight, to pan’s top. The more it’s packed in, the better it will hold its shape. Run a butter knife along sides and turn loaf pan upside down onto a tray for transferring to smoker.

Carefully place loaf on smoker grate. (If you are nervous about loaf falling apart when putting it on smoker grate, you can put it on a broiler pan and cook on that. Holes in a broiler pan still allow smoke to penetrate). Insert a thermometer into loaf and leave it. Smoke until internal temperature reaches 150 F, usually 2 to 4 hours. Baste with ketchup. Pull meatloaf off smoker when it reaches 160 F.

Makes 10 servings.

Tribune News Service photo