Posted by: Erica Retrochef | February 11, 2013

Surprise Meat Loaf

It’s not really magic: Microwave cooking for young people. For the purposes of this recipe attempt, I’m going to pretend I still qualify as a “young person.” Alternatively, I qualify since I cook for three (very) young people.

Just go with it, people.

not really magic

Microwaves became mainstream, then practically universal in the 1980s.  This cookbook is from 1981, when they were still a bit of a novelty.  My family first had one in 1985, and Buzz’s family moved into a house with one also in 1985.  (It was original to the house, which was built in the 1970s, when microwaves were quite unusual.  The first owner of the house was a master electrician, and he did all the wiring and electrical installation himself.  While the house wiring is consequently as sturdy as a restaurant’s, the esthetics are sometimes problematic.  The microwave was shimmed into a space far too large for it, which made replacing it when it wore out unnecessarily challenging.)

When Buzz’s family first moved into the house, they immediately tried making dinner in their amazing microwave.  They made a microwave omelet, which puffed up around the edges while leaving a gaping hole in the center.  In the ten years after that before Buzz left for college, they never again tried to prepare an entree in the microwave.

However, in 1981, a lot of people–especially young people who may not have known how to cook very well–saw the microwave as the answer to their super-quick supper needs.  And so recipes like this one were born.


Surprise Meat Loaf
(6 to 8 servings)

1-1/2 pounds ground beef
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
3/4 cup cracker crumbs
Sliced cheese (about 3)
Hamburger sliced dill pickles

1. Mix together all ingredients, except pickles and cheese, with a fork. To make cracker crumbs, see Fish Fillets, (page 49), step 3.

2. Put half of the meat mixture in a 4×8-inch glass loaf pan.

3. Cover the meat mixture with the slices of cheese to within 1/2 inch of all edges. Top the cheese with the dill pickle slices.

4. Cover with the other half of the meat mixture. Press down around the edges.

5. Cook, covered with wax paper, for 13 to 15 minutes or until the meat in the center is no longer pink.

6. Let stand 10 minutes.


These are fairly conventional meatloaf ingredients.  Only the cheese and pickles are the even the slightest bit unexpected.

mixing bowl

When mixed together, the ingredients look like any other meatloaf preparation.


It was a little gummier than some meatloaf recipes, but not too bad.

loaf pan

We packed half of the meat mixture into our stylish glass loaf pan, which has a (soon-to-appear) fitted lid.


Then we laid down the cheese.  The pan couldn’t really fit three slices of American cheese side by side without them overlapping.  (By the way, they may look at you funny at the deli if you order nothing but three thick slices of American.)


There was just enough room for all the pickles, even if one of them ended up brushing the outside glass.

side view

After we topped off the meat, we could still see the crack between the layers.  Can you spot the pickle bits peering out?


The it went into the microwave, topped not with wax paper, but with the lid of the loaf pan.

grease surprise

Maybe this is what the surprise is supposed to be: you open your microwave after 13 to 15 minutes, and there’s a lovely puddle of grease under your meatloaf.

Or maybe the surprise is that the meatloaf was cooked all the way through.


The meatloaf was adequate, although somewhat bland. The pickles were a nice accent, but the cheese didn’t do a whole lot besides ooze all over the plate.

It was, however, the fastest meatloaf I have ever made, and I was very happy to have made something as solid as meatloaf in under twenty minutes. Even though I grew up with a microwave, I never used it for anything besides leftovers, baked potatoes, or boiling water.

The five-year-old didn’t like the look of it, and he insisted, most fervently, that he didn’t like meatloaf.  We reminded him gently that he actually loved meatloaf, and this one had pickles in it, which he loves even more.  (He asks for pickles in his lunch box every day.)  He dutifully took a bite, then scarfed down his portion before most of us were even half finished and wanted some more.

With his assistance, we finished the whole thing in one sitting.  Nobody disliked it.  With tweaking of spices (and getting rid of the cheese), I would make this again.

And THAT is definitely a surprise!

This 1981 cookbook was featured on Awful Library Books, which should have been a strong hint about the quality of the recipes inside.


  1. Thank you for this. I adore meatloaf and always wondered what would happen if I tried to cook it in the microwave. (Grease or whatever spilling over is not unknown to me, lol, so – plate under dish.)

  2. I wonder if the cheese and pickles prevent the raw-in-the-middle phenomenon by effectively turning this into two thinner layers of meatloaf?

    • I doubt it. The amount of water in the cheese and pickles is not so different from that of the surrounding meat that it’s going to vastly change how the microwaves are absorbed.

  3. I’m just not a fan of cooking in the microwave. I think it changes the texture of foods. Even when I use it to reheat pizza, I hit it 30 seconds, then finish it in the toaster oven.

    To me, even coffee or hot tea done in the microwave is ‘flat’.

    This looks like a good recipe to try. I think it would be good with a sharp cheddar or a pepper jack. And if you added bacon [which is never a bad idea unless you are eating cereal] you would have a bacon cheeseburger meatloaf.

  4. This actually sounds really good to me. It’s kinda like a giant Juicy Lucy. But I’m sad to hear that the cheese didn’t do anything for it.


    well except for the “dining room” which is always too damn hot

    • This is what it takes to get you to comment on my blog? 😉

    • What about the doorknob on the basement workshop? I seem to recall it getting jammed, so that I had to crawl through the furnace to get into the room. 😉

      Your energetic comments are, of course, welcome—here or at my other blog.

      • oh yeah, that was awesome

        Don’t get me wrong, I do read all of these entries, and enjoy them thoroughly, although they just happen not to line up with my tastes/dietary restrictions, most of the time. I’ve been meaning to try the macaroni vegetable casserole though.

  6. It’s not exactly on-topic, but my first thought was that “surprise meat loaf” wasn’t a great name for a recipe. British people have just discovered that several supermarkets have inadvertently been selling “beef” ready-meals that turned out to contain horsemeat instead!

    • You’re right. At a cafeteria, I would definitely stay away from something with a name like “meatloaf surprise.”

  7. Oy, we bought a 1978 townhouse and it had a built-in microwave – fancy-schmancy “modern” thing that it was. The original owners, bless them, gave us the COOKBOOK for it, and it came with a probe for doing roasts.

    It was so ugly – we gleefully yanked it out and sent it away as soon as we could redo the kitchen. I can see someone being excited about doing meatloaf in that old dinosaur, though. It was big enough to roast an entire turkey.

    Pickles and cheese and beef – and you’d actually make it (sans cheese) again!? I do agree that is a surprise!

  8. I’ve done this before, in a pinch. I think that my sister still uses the microwave, exclusively, for a majority of her cooking: including making hamburgers. Yuch! I told her that she needs to go to Confession for that one… BEG for forgiveness!

    There is just something about ‘grey food,’ from the microwave, that’s rather unappealing. That can be cured, to a certain extent. I usually top the meatloaf with several slices of rather thick bacon. It gives it a little bit of a crisp element, not to mention color. You need to take the top off about three-quarters of the way through the process. Otherwise the whole thing is just steamed. You also need to use a larger dish under the meatloaf dish: For obvious reasons.

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