Top view of a meatloaf pan full of meatloaf

Meatloaf Pans: Are They Worth It? What Can I Use Instead?

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(Confession time) My kitchen is full of tools, gadgets, and thingamabobs… but there’s one specialty tool my arsenal lacks: a meatloaf pan. To be clear, this isn’t because they aren’t useful. If meatloaf is part of your regular recipe repertoire, a meatloaf pan is probably a good investment.

My reason for not having one is purely personal. My husband loves meatloaf, but I’m not a fan of mashing up raw meat and eggs with my hands (ew!) I figure if I have a designated pan for meatloaf, it’ll make its way into our dinner rotation more often than I’d like.

Part of being a good cook is knowing how to cook for others AND yourself, though. And since my husband likes it so much, I’ve still made meatloaf plenty of times (albeit not in a meatloaf pan).

So whether you came here looking for information about meatloaf pans or in search of alternatives you probably have lying around your kitchen already, stick around! I’ve got you. 

What Is A Meatloaf Pan?

A meatloaf pan is pretty much the same as a standard loaf pan, with a few key differences.

The most important feature that sets a meatloaf pan apart from its loaf pan cousins is drainage. Meatloaf pans typically have a tray insert that elevates the loaf off the bottom of the pan so the excess oil drips off during the cooking process.

Without that insert, there’s a chance your dish will turn out more grease bomb than meatloaf. It also keeps the meatloaf from sticking to the pan too much. Almost all drainage trays have handles, which makes it easier to remove the meatloaf after it’s baked.

The second important feature that makes a meatloaf pan a meatloaf pan is structural integrity. 

Obviously, a meatloaf is a lot heavier and denser than an angel food cake or a loaf of banana bread. So it warrants something with a little more heft than your standard loaf pans

All differences aside, I should note that you can totally make a meatloaf in a standard loaf pan. You’ll just have to do a little more work to keep your loaf of meat from sticking.  

Meatloaf Pan Sizes

The average meatloaf recipe is sized for a 9×5 rectangular pan. At this size and shape, you can rest assured the meatloaf will cook evenly all the way through without the sides being burnt. I use these loaf pans that come with lids!

That’s not to say if you have a smaller loaf pan that you’d like to use, your meatloaf won’t cook evenly. You’ll just have to adjust the volume of your recipe accordingly (or be okay with having leftover meatloaf mixture at the end) and monitor it closely while it’s in the oven. 

And as we’ll touch on later, there are plenty of other methods for cooking a meatloaf that diverge from the stereotypical loaf shape. 

Top view of a meatloaf pan full of meatloaf.

What Is The Best Material For A Meatloaf Pan?

If you’re dead set on that iconic loaf shape, you’ll want to take extra care to pick the right material for your meatloaf. Not all substances have the heat retention and responsiveness necessary for a nice, even cook. 

Here are the four most common materials used for meatloaf pans and what you should know about each.  

Glass

Of these materials, glass definitely isn’t the quickest at heating up. But when it gets there, you can count on it to retain heat evenly. It also makes it easy to monitor your meatloaf as it cooks (but don’t swap that meat thermometer for your eyeballs!)

It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: if you go the glass pan route, make sure it’s oven-safe! You don’t want to have to clean meat-covered glass shards out of your oven later on.

This Pyrex glass meatloaf pan is made for meatloaf. Or the Anchor Hocking brand comes in a set of three for about the same price.

Silicone

Even though it’ll save you some scrubbing later, I don’t really recommend silicone baking pans for meatloaf. The main reason for that is its lack of solid structure. 

It might be handy to be able to just pop out that loaf of pumpkin bread onto a cooling rack when it’s done, but meatloaf is a much different undertaking than baked goods are. Meatloaf is just too heavy to hold its shape in a silicone pan. 

If you really want to go the silicone route, I did find a meatloaf pan (made of nonstick metal) with a silicone drain tray on amazon that might be the best of both worlds. I haven’t tried this personally, but the 4.3/5 star rating is pretty solid.

Cast Iron

Cast iron is in the same world as glass: slow to heat, but boy, if it isn’t even when it does! Its ability to retain heat is virtually unmatched, and it has the added bonus of being much more durable than glass and silicone. You can’t go wrong with a Lodge cast iron piece, but I do really like the look of this Camp Chef cast iron loaf pan.

However, it does require the most care of any meatloaf pan material. Make sure all cast iron is properly seasoned before you try to cook a meatloaf in it. Also, keep in mind you won’t be able to soak off any burnt-on bits when it’s all said and done. 

Metal

Like all the other materials I mentioned, metal has pros and cons. What those pros and cons actually are depends on the type of metal in question. Stainless steel loaf pans are heavy enough to keep the meatloaf’s shape perfect, and they heat relatively well, but not very evenly.

The heat responsiveness of stainless steel can’t touch that of aluminum. But, not so fast….aluminum is far from being the perfect meatloaf pan material. Aluminum has nothing on stainless steel in the durability department.

If you want the best of both worlds, I’d recommend looking for a cladded stainless steel meatloaf pan. With layers of both aluminum and stainless steel, you’ll get both the sound structure and heat responsiveness you’ll need to make your next meatloaf a success. 

What Do You Put In The Bottom Of A Meatloaf Pan?

You don’t have to put anything in the bottom of your meatloaf pan, I often don’t. But, there are a few things you can put in the bottom of a meatloaf pan to make your life a little bit easier. 

The first one, we already touched on: a drainage tray. If you buy a meatloaf pan, this will just come along with the pan. You can also get one separately for a loaf pan you already have. Since they usually have handles, a drainage tray will make it much easier to get your meatloaf out of the pan.

If you decide to go without the drainage tray, you can also line a loaf pan with parchment paper before you put your mixture in. If it extends beyond the edges of the pan all you have to do is give it a tug when it’s done and it’s out. And if you only have a lower-quality pan to work with, parchment paper will help it heat up more evenly.

Lining your pan with parchment is also an awesome cheat code for cleaning it later. Just use a little degreaser (if it’s not cast iron, that is), give it a rinse, and you’ll be done!

PS: Change your life and pick up some precut parchment paper sheets.

Side view of a glass meatloaf pan full of meatloaf.

Are Meatloaf Pans Worth It?

Everyone should have a loaf pan, one-half of the meatloaf pan equation, hands down. Not just for meatloaf, but for everything else you can make in a loaf pan: quick bread, loaf cakes, mini lasagnas, even ice cream!

But as far as the drainage tray goes, I would say it depends on your cooking habits. 

If you like making meatloaf, and absolutely must have that loaf shape, go for it! 

If you’re like me and only make meatloaf at someone else’s request, then you can probably get by with an alternative method. 

What Can I Use If I Don’t Have A Loaf Pan For Meatloaf? 

The Sheet Pan Meatloaf Technique

Making meatloaf on a sheet pan is a great alternative to going the classic loaf pan route.

And this method shouldn’t just be a contingency plan for the loaf pan-less. It’s a fabulous way to make meatloaf in general! Cooking a 5-inch thick loaf is time-consuming with a lot of room for error, whereas cooking meatloaf in a sheet pan is much easier to get right. 

And the best part is, it’s adaptable. 

If you only have a few people to feed, you can shape the meatloaf into several small, manageable mini loaves on the sheet pan. (Bonus: you won’t feel obligated to have meatloaf sandwiches for lunch every day for the next week.)

If you only have a few people to feed, you can shape the meatloaf into several small, manageable mini loaves on the sheet pan. (Bonus: you won’t feel obligated to have meatloaf sandwiches for lunch every day for the next week.)

I’ve seen people add veggies and diced potatoes to their sheet pan to make a one pan meal, but haven’t personally tried it yet only because meatloaf goes with mashed potatoes (and peas!) in my mind. Does anyone else have dedicated sides for main dishes or is that a personal quirk?

If you’re feeding a whole bunch of folks, just spread out the meatloaf mixture in a layer of the pan from edge to edge.

Small meatloaves on a sheet pan.

The Muffin Pan Meatloaf Technique

Making meatloaf on a muffin pan is my personal go-to option. I love it for several key reasons:

  • The meatloaf muffins cook faster.
  • You end up with more edges, arguably the best part of the meatloaf
  • The pre-portioned muffins make dinner portions and leftovers/meal prep super easy.
  • With individual servings, you can experiment with different toppings or glazes on each muffin.

Meatloaf muffins (known as “hamburger cupcakes”) are even a hit with my nephews who turn their noses up at a slice of traditional meatloaf.

I currently use a Wilton muffin pan, but because it is nonstick I’ve had my eye on replacing it with this Caraway ceramic muffin pan* or this Lodge cast iron muffin pan. I just can’t decide between them!

*Caraway even makes a naturally nonstick ceramic meatloaf pan.

Meatloaf in a muffin pan with a ketchup glaze

Do I Need To Spray My Meatloaf Pan?

Usually, yes- it’s a good idea to grease your meatloaf pan so you can get it back out of the pan when it’s done. 

Compared to the ingredients in baked goods, ground meat doesn’t bind together very well, even with the addition of eggs. To offset that and get it out in one piece, you’ll need to make sure to cook your meatloaf on the smoothest surface possible.

If you used parchment paper, though, you don’t need to grease your pan. The meatloaf should just come right out when you pull the paper out. Yet another advantage to using parchment paper for meatloaf: no additional grease necessary!

Meatloaf in a muffin pan.

What Is The Best Pan To Cook A Meatloaf In? My Final Thoughts

While they do make pan sets made specifically for meatloaf, I think they’re really only worth the extra spend if you make meatloaf regularly and have a particular fondness for it in a traditional loaf shape. 

Even as someone whose husband requests the occasional meatloaf, I’ve been able to make it work without a dedicated meatloaf pan this whole time. For the every now and then meatloaf maker, parchment paper is your friend! 

About Author

TiaGoodnight

Hey! I'm Tia, and I started this site to bring you the best information on all things kitchen so you can enjoy and elevate your everyday life.

I love trying new techniques and tools, living for the thrill of pulling off a new skill. On weekends you'll find me at the local farmer's markets or hosting friends and family for an evening of yard or card games and delicious food.

If you're looking for honest, real-world advice on all things kitchen and cooking, you're in the right place!