June 18, 2014 by Jason Rice MD
Since the beginning, mini meatloaves have been a recurring dish on this blog. Anything that can be made in a smaller size is always a hit with little eaters, and meatloaf offers an excellent vehicle to pack in healthy ingredients and tons of flavor. With the string of grilling and smoking posts over the last few months, I figured it was time to take the mini meatloaves out to the grill. They got a nice kiss of smoke from some applewood chunks, and I didn’t heat up the house firing up the oven. That’s a win-win for sure.
I made these on a standard Weber kettle grill, but they could very easily be done on a gas grill as well. You could even add some smoke with a smoker box and some wood chips. This post will primarily focus on making the meatloaves on a charcoal grill, but I will note any changes for gas grill cooking as well. So, let’s make some meatloaf!
- 1 lb ground chicken
- 1 medium sweet onion, diced
- 4-5 large white mushrooms, diced
- 6 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 handful of baby spinach, finely chopped
- grated parmesan cheese
- 1 whole egg
- worchestershire sauce
- Old Bay seasoning (or any BBQ rub)
- salt and pepper
- olive oil
You’ll notice I don’t have specific quantities listed for several of the ingredients. I don’t typically measure the ingredients for meatloaf, and I didn’t really do a good job of estimating how much I used. Instead, I took more pictures than usual to illustrate quantities. I think this may be more useful, and no one likes measuring things anyway.
Place the chicken in a large bowl, and cover with several shakes of worchestershire sauce. Just shake the bottle until you’ve covered all of the meat, but not so much that you have the chicken swimming. Then sprinkle the meat with enough Old Bay to cover the top, as pictured below.
Next dice the onion and mushrooms, and add them to the bowl as well. There’s no special size for the dice (even though I am aware that there are technical rules on these things). My only suggestion is that you don’t want big pieces as they won’t cook as thoroughly, and they will make the meatloaf fall apart more easily.
Next up is the spinach. Finely chopping leaves can be tricky. I like to roll the spinach up tightly and slice it into thin ribbons first.
Then, turn your cutting board ninety degrees and slice the ribbons into tiny pieces. If you have a lot of big pieces left, just keep alternating directions with your knife until you’re happy with the size of the spinach bits.
Add the spinach and the garlic to the bowl. Cover with the grated parmesan. I won’t try to guess how much I used, but I go by the “cover everything” method used earlier with the spice mix. Then add the egg and a drizzle of olive oil. Add a little salt and fresh cracked pepper as well.
There’s no bread crumbs in this meatloaf because the mushroom serves to hold the moisture and the parmesan and egg help bind the meat together. Bread crumbs are just filler anyway, and we don’t want that. Work the meatloaf mixture together gently until the ingredients are fairly evenly distributed.
I didn’t feel like torching my muffin tin on the grill to make my standard meatloaf muffins. Instead, I made little foil trays to set my meatloaves into on the grill. Each tray was made by folding aluminum foil into a small rimmed pan about the size of an average smartphone.
Then I divided the meat into four equal portions and made freeform meatloaves in each tray.
I set the the meatloaves back in the fridge to let the flavors mingle, and I went outside to prep the grill. I used about a 3/4 of a large charcoal chimney filled with all-natural hardwood charcoal briquettes. I used two paraffin charcoal started cubes to light the chimney. If you haven’t tried these for lighting your charcoal, I highly recommend them.
Then I placed the chimney on top of the lit cubes and waited for the coals to ignite. This is an excellent time to take a walk around the block with the little ones, which is exactly what I did. (something, something, fire safety, something, never leave your grill unattended.)
Once the coals are lit and hot, set up the grill for indirect cooking by placing the coals on one side of the grill. (If you are using a gas grill, light the burners on one side of your grill to preheat. If you are going to add smoke, fill your smoker box with soaked wood chips and place over the lit burners. The remaining steps are all the same for gas and charcoal grills.)
Add two chunks of your favorite wood to the coals. I chose applewood. I think the milder flavor of a fruit wood worked well with the flavors in the meatloaves, but pecan, hickory or even mesquite would all work just fine.
Cover the grill, and give the wood a few minutes to start smoldering. You’ll know the wood is ready when you can smell the aromatic smoke wafting out of the grill. Then place the meatloaves on the opposite side from the coals (or the unlit side of a gas grill).
I used my dual probe thermometer to monitor the heat inside the grill as well as the internal temperature of the meatloaves. Initially, the grill was close to 450 degrees, but it ultimately settled in around 415.
I let the meatloaves cook until the internal temperature hit about 180-185. The foil pan keeps the juices from burning off, so even cooking them well beyond the recommended 165 yielded juicy results. I recommend using an instant read thermometer to check for doneness, but as a rough gauge, these meatloaves smoked/roasted for about 25 minutes with my set-up.
The meatloaves came off the grill and were rested for about ten minutes while I quickly sauteed some more baby spinach in butter with a little salt and pepper.
The meatloaves had a nice kiss of smoke without overwhelming the flavor of the meat or the other seasonings. They had a crispy crust on the outside with a perfect juicy center.
The sauteed spinach balanced the meat perfectly, and no additional sides were needed.
Our little guy tore into his meatloaf, dipped in a little molasses-based BBQ sauce, and he even asked for seconds. This is a great meal when trying to spend some family time outside, because once the prep is done, there’s no peeking, turning or flipping. The meat just sits on the grill until it’s done, leaving you free to relax and spend time with family and friends while dinner cooks. Enjoy!