Venison Mushroom Meatloaf. Tom McCorkle for The Washington Post

This is my “official” meatloaf recipe, a meaningful designation considering the many variations on the dish I have come up with over the years. Rising above the rest, this is the one I make again and again, the one everyone in my family hopes for when they request meatloaf for dinner. It offers all the homey, familiar, comfort-food appeal you expect, in a way that is refreshingly different and considerably more healthful than a typical recipe, thanks to a few strategic ingredient swaps and additions.

One big difference is the type of meat I use: venison. I started using ground venison one year after my bowhunter husband brought some home, and I was immediately won over by how the lean, rich-tasting meat enhanced the dish. Since then, if venison was unavailable, I used ground bison, which has similar attributes and can be easier to find. Lean ground beef or turkey (I prefer a mix of dark and white meat) works here as well. The key is to use lean meat, as the recipe is designed to be moist and flavorful without relying on beef fat for the job.

Sautéed mushrooms, finely diced so they meld with the ground meat, bring ample moisture, extra savory flavor, and a layer of vegetable nutrition to the mix, as does some finely grated carrot. And quick-cooking oats, a fiber-rich whole grain, instead of the usual breadcrumbs, lock in moisture as they help bind the ingredients together. The oats disappear into the meatloaf as it cooks, so you’d never know they are there.

I season it with layers of savory flavor – onion, garlic, thyme, tomato paste and Worcestershire sauce, each compounding one another – and top with a mustard- and molasses-kissed tomato sauce, which caramelizes to a gorgeous glaze in the oven. It comes out deeply tasty, meaty and tender, yet also lighter than a typical meatloaf, without a trace of greasiness. It’s “officially” the meatloaf of my dreams, made real.

Venison Mushroom Meatloaf

8 servings


Active time: 30 minutes. Total time: 2 hours.

This meatloaf with venison and mushrooms delivers all the familiar cozy appeal you expect from this comfort food, in a refreshingly different and more healthful way than a typical recipe. One big difference is the type of meat used – venison, which is lean and rich-tasting. Ground bison, lean ground beef or turkey (a mix of dark and white meat) work well, too. Finely diced, sauteed mushrooms meld with the ground meat, bringing ample moisture, extra savory flavor and a layer of vegetable nutrition to the mix.

Instead of the usual breadcrumbs, whole-grain oats lock in moisture as well. Seasoned with onion, garlic, thyme, tomato paste and Worcestershire sauce, and topped with a mustard-molasses tomato sauce, the meatloaf is lighter than a traditional version while still delicious, meaty and satisfying.

Storage: Refrigerate for up to 4 days. Rewarm in a 350-degree oven.

Where to buy: Ground venison can be found at butcher shops and specialty shops. Bison can be found at well-stocked supermarkets and butcher shops.



1 tablespoon olive oil

1 small yellow onion (5 ounces), diced

8 ounces mixed mushrooms (any variety), finely diced

1 small carrot, finely grated

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme


1 clove garlic, minced or finely grated

1 1/2 pounds ground venison, bison or lean ground beef

3/4 cup quick-cooking oats

2 large eggs, beaten

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon fine salt


1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

One (8-ounce) can no-salt-added tomato sauce

1 tablespoon unsulphured molasses

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard


Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.


In a large, preferably nonstick, skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the onion and mushrooms and cook until the mushroom liquid evaporates and they begin to brown, about 8 minutes. Add the carrot, tomato paste, thyme and garlic and cook, stirring, until aromatic, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool completely.

In a large bowl, mix together the meat, oats, eggs, Worcestershire sauce, mushroom mixture, salt and pepper until well combined. Transfer the mixture to a 9-by-13-inch baking dish and shape into a loaf about 9 inches long, 5 inches wide and 2 inches high.

In a small bowl, whisk together the tomato sauce, molasses and mustard and pour over the meatloaf.

Bake the meatloaf for 50 to 60 minutes, or until a meat thermometer registers 160 degrees. Remove from the oven and let rest for 15 minutes before slicing into 1-inch slices and serving.

Nutritional Facts (per serving, based on one 1-inch-thick slice) | Calories: 185, Fat: 5 g, Saturated fat: 2 g, Carbohydrates: 14 g, Sodium: 409 mg, Cholesterol: 102 mg, Protein: 22 g, Fiber: 2 g, Sugar: 6 g.

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