The secret to an outstanding air fryer meatloaf is all about the temperature! If you air fry at too high of a temperature, the outside will become dark and dry. Too low of a temperature and dinner takes forever!
After testing over 6 different techniques, I've found the "secret sauce." Through a combination of well balanced ingredients and the correct air frying temperature, this air fryer meatloaf is fantastic and ready in under an hour!
Making a great tasting meatloaf is 100% about the ingredients and a good balance of spices, so feel free to use your favorite meatloaf recipe and use the times and temps in this recipe as a guide or, if you want to try a new meatloaf recipe, give this air fryer version a try!
Frequently Asked Questions
This recipe uses 1 pound of ground beef, but you can absolutely use 2 pounds of ground beef and double the other ingredients. In order to achieve the same great outcome as in this recipe, I would keep the air fryer temperature the same and cook for an additional 15-20 minutes.
You shouldn't need to double the timing because, once meat reaches a certain internal temperature, the internal temperature rises more quickly. The best way to know if your meatloaf is done is by checking with an instant read thermometer to make sure the internal temperature reaches 165℉/74℃. I usually take my meatloaf out once it reaches 160℉/71℃ to account for carry-over cooking which will bring the meatloaf up by 5-15°.
The shape and temperature of your meatloaf will also play a role in how long it takes to cook, so I always recommend cooking to temperature and not time.
Yes, you can. However, you will need to increase the timing a bit because the loaf pan will need to heat up before transferring that heat to the meatloaf and cooking it. The amount of time will depend on the type of pan used. Silicone is the poorest conductor of heat, so it will take longer than using metal or glass pans.
Putting the meatloaf mixture into a pan (if it doesn't have holes) will not allow for the grease to drain off, so your meatloaf will have a slightly different texture. Always make sure the pan you use is rated for the temperature you plan on using to cook your meatloaf. Most oven rated pans will work fine in your air fryer.
That is a personal preference. You can certainly cover it with aluminum foil or a silicone cover for the first 20 minutes and then uncover it, but I left mine uncovered and cooked at a lower temperature to get a nice crust on the outside which trapped in the juices quicker resulting in a moist meatloaf that was easy to cut and didn't crumble.
Yes, you can make up meatloaf ahead of time and freeze it before cooking or cook it and freeze for leftovers down the road. Wrapping uncooked meatloaf in plastic wrap before placing it in an airtight container will help prevent ice crystals from forming. If you want to freeze after cooking, make sure your meatloaf is cold before wrapping and freezing.
Ingredients & Substitutions
I used 80/20 ground beef in this recipe, but you can use lean ground beef if you prefer. You may want to add an extra egg or another liquid for moisture. You can also use ground turkey, ground pork, or a combination of ground meat to make your own version of meatloaf.
When using lean meat, I suggest adding in some vegetables for added moisture, things like grated zucchini or carrots. Riced cauliflower or broccoli work great and you can't even taste them! Seasonings also may need to be adjusted and the easiest way to check to see if your meatloaf is flavorful enough is to make the meatloaf mixture and take about a half an ounce or so, form a small patty and cook it in a skillet so you can adjust the seasonings in the meatloaf mix if needed.
Breadcrumbs & Egg
The breadcrumbs and egg are used to hold the meatloaf together and make it much easier to slice.
You can substitute the egg with a little milk if you are using breadcrumbs. This combination will work fine. If you are skipping the breadcrumbs or using a different alternative, you may want to use either a Tablespoon of mayonnaise or ½ of a Tablespoon of olive oil in place of the egg.
You can use gluten free breadcrumbs in this recipe or use oatmeal instead of the breadcrumbs. Crushed crackers or even tortilla chips will work fine in place of the breadcrumbs.
For low carb or keto alternatives to the breadcrumbs, you can use crushed pork rinds or almond flour or simply skip it altogether. The pork rinds and almond flour aren't going to work as well as the breadcrumbs to hold the meatloaf together because they don't absorb the juices as well, which is why breadcrumbs work as a binder so well. Personally, if I were making a low carb version, I would simply skip the breadcrumbs and not replace them with anything.
The seasonings you use are completely up to you. I used a basic blend of salt, pepper, basil, onion powder, garlic powder, and Worcestershire sauce. I also added a touch of apple liquid smoke to the ground beef mixture and in the glaze for the top of the meatloaf.
There are so many different varieties of meatloaf that you can make. The possibilities are endless. When adding liquid type of ingredients, like BBQ sauce just make sure your ground beef mixture isn't too wet. You can add more breadcrumbs if it is.
Many people use different vegetables, like cut up onion or bell pepper to their meatloaf. While these make great flavor additions, they also can make your meatloaf fall apart due to moisture content and having larger dices of the vegetable that prevents the meat from holding together. If you want to make a meatloaf that is great for slicing and holds together, but you want the added flavor of some vegetables, consider using grated onion or peppers instead of diced.
When developing your own flavor combination with spices and liquids, I recommend taking a little bit of the mixture and cooking it to taste for balance before cooking your meatloaf. This way you can adjust the seasonings as needed. Often times when I am creating a new meatloaf or meatball recipe, I will do this several times before getting the seasonings where I want them to be.
Variations of a Classic Meatloaf Recipe
There are so many different ways to make meatloaf that I like to think of the basic ingredients as a canvas where you can add flavors and textures to create your own masterpiece. Here are some suggestions for taking a traditional meatloaf recipe and adding various flavors and textures.
Mini meatloaves can be made by separating the meatloaf mixture into smaller, single serving size meatloaves. These are great for making ahead and freezing to be cooked later. You will be able to get about six 4-ounce meatloaves out of this recipe. Due to the smaller size, the cook time will be less. My suggestion is to increase the air fryer temperature to around 350℉/175℃ and cook for 15-20 minutes if the meatloaf is thawed. If you are cooking from frozen, lower the temp to 300℉/150℃ and cook for about 30 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 165℉/74℃. If your air fryer can go lower than 300℉/150℃, you can certainly set the temp lower. If the meatloaf is not done and you notice the outside getting too brown, cover it for the remaining time.
Sweet & Spicy Meatloaf can be made by adding grape jelly and chili sauce along with salt and pepper, egg and breadcrumbs. Adjust the breadcrumbs based on how much of the chili sauce and grape jelly you use. Then I would glaze the meatloaf with equal amounts warm grape jelly and chili sauce to create a meatloaf that is like those delicious meatball appetizers!
BBQ meatloaf can be made by adding your favorite BBQ sauce and a little liquid smoke to the combination of ground beef, eggs, seasonings, and breadcrumbs. Then glaze with barbecue sauce towards the end.
Cheesy meatloaf is one of my favorites and you can easily adapt this Ninja Foodi recipe for Cheesy Meatloaf and use your air fryer to cook it instead of pressure cooking it.
Italian-style Meatloaf can be made by adding Italian spices and some parmesan cheese to the meat mixture and glazing with a delicious marinara sauce.
Popular Side Dishes to Serve with Meatloaf
Meatloaf is the ultimate comfort food and it deserves to be paired with delicious and comforting side dishes. Here are some of my favorites!
Mashed Potatoes! Whether you like creamy and smooth mashed potatoes or thick and chunky, these recipes will not disappoint! If you want to keep things low carb or keto, you must try the cauliflower mash! It's amazing.
Other Potato Side Dishes that are GREAT with meatloaf!
Pasta & rice side dishes that go great with meatloaf!
Vegetable side dishes and other great choices for a meatloaf dinner!
Tips for Making Air Fryer Meatloaf
Temperature of meat mixture
When making an air fryer meatloaf, the temperature of the meat mixture makes a difference in the cooking time. You can certainly make your meatloaf up ahead of time, but make sure to bring it out about 60 minutes before cooking to allow it warm up some before air frying.
This will ensure that it cooks all the way through before the outside gets too done.
If you are mixing and making your meatloaf right before cooking, bring the ground beef out and let it sit in a mixing bowl for at least 30 minutes (but not more than 2 hours) before mixing. When the ground beef is closer to room temperature, the ingredients will incorporate better and you will disperse seasonings throughout the meat for the most flavorful meatloaf.
It is also a good idea to let all the other ingredients that are refrigerated come closer to room temperature before mixing. It makes mixing it all together easier.
Mixing and Forming the Meatloaf
The best tool to mix meatloaf mixture with is your hands. Make sure they are clean and use a mixing bowl that is big enough to hold all the ingredients and give you room to mix it well.
When mixing the meat mixture, you want to make sure you get all the added ingredients dispersed throughout the meat so you don't have pockets of seasonings in certain areas and none in others.
Forming the meatloaf is more than just shaping it before cooking. If you want a meatloaf that will hold together for slicing, you need to work with the mixture long enough that it compacts together.
If you don't have a well formed and smooth surface to your meat mixture before air frying, it tends to split in places or fall apart when you cut it. This is important even if you are using a loaf pan to cook your meatloaf in.
To compact the ground beef mixture, I form a ball and then pass it back and forth between my hands. This is best shown in video form, so here is a quick video showing the process.
After compacting the meatloaf, you want to form it into the shape you want. There is no right or wrong way to do this, but the shape will affect cooking time. The larger the circumference, the longer it will take to cook.
Your meatloaf will also shrink lengthwise and rise up in the middle, so make sure to form it longer and shorter than you want the finished meatloaf to be.
Preheating the Air Fryer
I suggest preheating your air fryer on the hottest setting with the air fryer basket or whatever cooking surface you are using inside the air fryer. This will help prevent the meatloaf from sticking because it will sear immediately when you place it in the basket or on the cooking surface before any juices have a chance to come out of the meat mixture.
Cook to Temperature and not Time
With all types of cooking, time is less important than final temperature. There are so many variables involved with cooking that recipe times should only be used as a guide and not a definite.
For example, if your ingredients are colder or the shape of your meatloaf is different, you will need to adjust the timing. In the video demonstration of this recipe, the meatloaf was done in 30 minutes instead of 45 minutes. This was probably because the meatloaf split a little in the middle and perhaps my ingredients were warmer to start with.
The best way to measure if your meatloaf is done is with a meat thermometer, like a probe style. You can insert it before air frying and leave it in throughout the cooking process. My favorite probe style thermometer is by Pampered Chef and the reason I like it so much is because it also converts to an instant read. So, you essentially get 2 types of thermometer in one. If you are interested in checking it out, here is the link: Pampered Chef dual thermometer.
You can also use an instant read thermometer, but try to not check the temp too many times because once you remove the thermometer, you will leak juices from that hole.
The internal temperature of meatloaf should reach 165℉/74℃. It is fine to remove it 5-10 degrees earlier if you prefer, because carryover cooking will occur while it rests and bring it up to a safe temperature.
Let the Meatloaf Rest
Perhaps one of the most important things to remember when making any kind of meatloaf is to let it rest.
I let mine rest a full 10 minutes before slicing and this helps lock in the juices to keep it moister and it allows for easier slicing. A meatloaf right out of the oven tends to fall apart when sliced. Let it rest!
Adjustments Needed for Various Style Air Fryers
All air fryers are not the same and they do not cook the same. It's important to get to know how your air fryer cooks and make recipe adjustments accordingly.
A temperature setting in one air fryer might be too low or too high in another air fryer. This is why I always recommend checking on your food several times during the cooking process. That way you can make adjustments as you go and have perfect results every time!
Air Fryers come in a few basic styles, the most common being the basket or drawer style. They also come in oven style and then there are the combination air fryers/pressure cookers like the Ninja Foodi Pressure Cooker & Air Crisper or the Instant Pot Duo Crisp.
No matter what style of air fryer you have, you can successfully make this recipe. Based on working with different style of air fryers, these are my recommendations based on air fryer style.
Basket Style Air Fryers: I would not make any changes to the recipe UNLESS you know your air fryer doesn't cook as fast as others. In that case, try increasing your temperature to 325℉/165℃ at the beginning and check on the progress as it cooks.
Oven Style Air Fryers: If your oven-style air fryer has a fast preheat (mine says it's heated in 90 seconds), I would not pay attention to that. For the best results, preheat on the hottest setting for a full 10 minutes. Depending on how big your oven air fryer is, I suggest increasing the temperature by 25-50°. For example, in the Ninja Foodi Digital Air Fry Oven (AKA the flip oven), I would set the temp around 325℉/165℃ to start. In a larger air fry oven, like the Ninja Foodi XL Oven, I would increase by 50°F and monitor how it is cooking. Remember, you can always lower the temperature or even increase it as the air fryer meatloaf is cooking.
Grill Air Fryers: I have the Ninja Foodi Indoor Grill and in my experience, it cooks about the same as the Ninja Foodi Pressure Cooker & Air Crisper. I let the grill preheat on the hottest AC setting until it prompted me to "add food," so this may not be a full 10 minutes, but it worked great.
Ninja Foodi Pressure Cooker & Air Crisper or Instant Pot Duo Crisp: In my experience, these air fryer combo appliances work the same as a basket style air fryer and I would preheat (with the basket in the appliance) for a full 10 minutes on the hottest setting (broil/grill in the Ninja Foodi). Then follow the recipe temperature.
Air Fryer Meatloaf
- Air Fryer
- 2 Tablespoons brown sugar
- 2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- ½ Tablespoon dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon apple liquid smoke optional
- Combine the ground beef with the seasoning blend, worchestire sauce, eggs, breadcrumbs, and liquid smoke in a medium size mixing bowl. All the meatloaf mixture to sit at room temp for at least 30 minutes.
- Preheat your air fryer on the hottest setting for 10 minutes. Make sure the basket or cooking surface is inside the air fryer. On the Ninja Foodi Pressure Cooker & Air Crisper, this is the broil (or grill) setting.
- Mix the glaze ingredients in a small bowl and set aside
- While the air fryer is preheating, compact your meatloaf mixture by throwing it back and forth between your hands for about 3 minutes. You want to compress the meat so your meatloaf holds together when slicing. Look for a smooth surface on the outside of your meatloaf and that is a good indicator that it is compacted enough.
- Form your meatloaf. I like to make an oblong shape that is about 8" long and about 3-4" high. The shape you make will affect cooking time, so if you have a larger circumference, it will take longer to cook.
- Place the meatloaf into the air fryer (no loaf pan needed) and select the air fry setting on 300°F/150°C and set the time for 50 minutes. Allow the meatloaf to air fry for 30 minutes without opening the air fryer, then take an internal temperature to determine how much longer it needs. In my test recipes, it has taken about 45 minutes. However, one time my meatloaf split in the middle and it only took 30 minutes.
- About the time the internal temperature reaches 140℉/60℃ is the time you want to start applying the glaze. I like to apply a thin layer every 3-5 minutes until the meatloaf reaches an internal temperature of around 160-165℉/71-74℃ and then remove your meatloaf and let it rest for a full 10 minutes.
- Slice & Serve.
ABOUT THE RECIPE AUTHOR, LOUISE LONG
Louise is a full-time recipe creator and food blogger @ The Salted Pepper. She has over 30 years of experience with cooking and recipe development. She owned a restaurant for several years and was a full-time RN until retiring to blog full-time.
Louise has several very active Facebook groups that help people with the basics of cooking and getting the most out of the Ninja Foodi.
Seeing the need for easy, delicious, and high quality recipes, she is focusing all of her efforts creating recipes specifically for the Ninja Foodi. Her recipes are easy for the home cook to follow and provide step-by-step instructions.
Louise is also a YouTube creator and you can find most of her recipes in video format on The Salted Pepper YouTube channel.
She is very responsive to messages and eager to help in any way she can.
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