Gochujang-glazed Turkey Meatloaf
I'm a creature of habit and tradition, which means my Thanksgiving spread looks pretty much the same year after year. So it doesn't come naturally to me to try to think of new and unique recipes for this site when turkey season rolls around, but somehow I've still managed to amass a commendable amount of grilling inspiration for the holiday. When considering new options this year, I realized that I had failed to consider something fairly obvious up to this point—turkey meatloaf. So I got to crafting an all-American flavored turkey meatloaf and then paused and had a thought...what if I were to glaze it with a gochujang based sauce instead of the standard sweet ketchup? I had a good hunch that I was on to something, went with it, and came out with a pretty glorious gochujang-glazed turkey meatloaf.
I'm a big fan of buldak, or fire chicken, which has a spicy sauce thanks to a large presence of the fermented pepper paste gochujang, but also good complexity with a background sweetness that makes it something extra-delicious in my book. So I used that as the inspiration for this glaze, starting it off with Sprite along with ketchup and a couple sugars for sweetness to provide a little balance to the gochujang and gochugaru that bring the heat. I built the extra complexity out with the pretty standard bearers of soy sauce and rice vinegar. After being simmered until thickened, the resulting sauce was unmistakably Korean in influence, but has some of that barbecue profile that's present in a standard meatlof glaze as well.
For the meatloaf, I borrowed from experiences I had making Japanese tsukune and miso chicken skewers to develop both a complementary flavor profile and a meat mixture that would hold together when grilled. This had me adding garlic, ginger, soy sauce, and sesame oil as the primary seasonings, then egg and panko breadcrumbs are essential to get ground turkey to hold up and keep its shape when cooking.
To get a picture perfect meatloaf form, I employed a loaf pan, which I lined with parchment paper first to make sure turning out the loaf is a piece of cake. I actually prepared this meatloaf a day prior to grilling, so once I firmly pushed all the turkey into the pan, I covered it and let it sit in the fridge overnight. This could have helped with getting a pretty firm loaf the next day, but it felt like I could have also turned out the meat right away and everything would have been just fine.
Of course, you need something for the meatloaf to rest on while it cooks, and wood planks are an excellent choice for that. Not only are they often perfect meatloaf dimensions, they also help provide a little extra woodsy flavor that may not be entirely noticeable, but is there. One thing you have to be concerned about when using planks though is making sure they don't overly scorch or catch fire. A good insurance policy for avoiding that happening is to soak the planks for about an hour before grilling.
You also want to situate the planked meatloaf on the cool side of a two-zone fire. With the plank safely away from the searing hot coals, there's much less of a chance of it going up in flames. Once I had my meatloaf on the grill, I covered it and let it cook for about 15 minutes in order for the outside to set and dry out enough that it would retain its shape without issue when being brushed with the glaze.
I applied a coat of glaze about every 10 to 15 minutes from there on until the turkey was done. The final cooking time clocked in a little under an hour, which meant this loaf got a total of three brushings of glaze.
I checked doneness with my handy Thermapen. I was looking for between 150—155*F in the center of the meatloaf. Yes, this is a little shy of the FDA recommended 165°F, but when you account for carryover cooking along with the resting time before serving, those combine to be enough for any potential bacteria to be killed. Plus I want my meatloaf to be juicy, and once you get to 165°F or beyond, the meat will be drier.
Unlike a traditional beef and pork meatloaf mix, this turkey version had a much finer texture, which made each piece more dense, but that didn't mean it was less juicy. The meat was pretty great—nice and moist with a decreeable generic Asian tilt thanks to the sharpness of the garlic and ginger, plus the toasty sesame flavor. It only was identifiably Korean tasting when you got pieces of the exterior where the presence of gochujang was strong, but not overly spicy thanks to all the sweeteners in there too. This ended up landing the meatloaf with a pretty good balance between the American norm and its Korean-tilt, but mostly is was just delicious. I had made two loafs this day for a large crowd and was hoping to have a couple slices left, because I had the thought that this would be even better in a sandwich. And it was, but that's a story for next time...
Gochujang-glazed Turkey Meatloaf
- Yield 6 servings
- Prep 30 Minutes
- Cook 1 Hour
- Total 1 Hour 30 Minutes
- For the Glaze
- 1/2 cup Sprite
- 1/3 cup ketchup
- 2 tablespoons gochujang (Korean chili paste)
- 2 tablespoons Korean rice syrup
- 4 teaspoons soy sauce
- 4 teaspoons rice vinegar
- 2 teaspoons dark brown sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon gochugaru (Korean chili powder)
- For the Meatloaf
- 2lbs ground turkey
- 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
- 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 1/4 cup finely chopped scallions
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon finely minced garlic (about 3 medium cloves)
- 1 tablespoon finely minced ginger
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon gochugaru (Korean chili powder)
- To make the glaze: In a medium saucepan, whisk together Sprite, ketchup, gochujang, rice syrup, soy sauce, vinegar, brown sugar, and gochugaru. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, reduce to a simmer, and cook, stirring occasionally, until reduced to a medium syrupy consistency, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
- To make the meatloaf: Place turkey, breadcrumbs, eggs, scallions, soy sauce, garlic, ginger, sesame oil, salt, and gochugaru in a large bowl. Mix with hands until thoroughly combined. Line a loaf pan with wax or parchment paper. Pour out meatloaf mixture into pan and press down, forming a loaf. Turn loaf out wood plank and remove pan and paper.
- Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and arrange the coals on one side of the charcoal grate and place wood chunk directly on top of coals. Set cooking grate in place, cover gill and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Place planked meatloaf on cool side of grill, cover and cook for 15 minutes.
- Brush meatloaf all over with glaze, cover, and continue to cook until an instant read thermometer registers 155 degrees when inserted into middle of meatloaf, about 40-60 minutes more, brushing with additional glaze two more times during cooking. Remove from grill and let rest for 10 to 15 minutes. Slice and serve immediately.