Eating healthy can be wildly difficult when walking through a world of processed and refined foods. Paleo eaters are all about living and sourcing their food as close to Mother Earth as possible. In this modern world, it can be quite the task to eat this way!
It can be difficult for anyone who isn’t comfortable in the kitchen to find ways to get enough protein into their daily grind, but with a few basic skills, you can become as comfortable and proficient in the kitchen as expert Paleo cookers. Here’s a breakdown of what you need to know.
Get Comfortable in the Kitchen
A favorite go-to snack is fruit. Just grab a peach and go, right? Delicious and easy. There are not as many grab-n-go protein sources as naturally occurring as fruit that literally grows on trees.
Leaps and bounds are being made with on-the-go Paleo snacks and meals, but we all know that when you are following a diet that clashes with the standard American one (aka S.A.D. and yeah—it is!), you must arm yourself with a few cooking techniques if you don’t want to only be eating handfuls of nuts and jerky day in and day out. Getting yourself in the kitchen is a surefire way to have quality control over your meals and getting that protein in!
The kicker is that unless you cook full time, you are most likely too busy doing your thing to then come home and labor over the stove. Eating Paleo in this S.A.D. world means you also need to be your own full-time personal chef, and that’s a dealbreaker for many. Finding the time to cook can be super tough but if you are Paleo, or have recently made the switch, there is no way around it: the kitchen must be your new stomping ground, your safe haven, and yes, even your peaceful retreat.
With the right tools and knowledge, it’s totally possible to find a way to love cooking clean, delicious, Paleo meals for yourself. The biggest hurdle for most when digging deep to find their inner-chef-selves, is meat preparation. Between what cuts to buy, how to season, what to put in the marinade, and then the actual cooking, there is a lot going on and so many decisions to make.
Basic Cooking Skills
Getting a few cooking methods under your belt, and understanding the way that certain ingredients act, will empower you to make more efficient meals and more interesting choices in the kitchen. Arming yourself with some basic cooking 101 will enable you to create clean and delicious meals at home with ease, and eventually, some creativity!
Recipes are fantastic, yet they don’t leave you too much room for you to freestyle. Learning cooking methods is where the power lies. A little knowledge can be a game-changer and up your confidence in the kitchen.
So yes, cooking can be intimidating. Which is sort of hilarious because food and shelter used to be pretty much the only things humans had to do! But fear not, even in a modern world, we can relearn the basic skills of preparing meats and proteins.
Here are some of my favorite ways to prepare proteins, and hopefully get your creative juices flowing in the meat department!
Perhaps one of the most basic Paleo foods, it’s easy to fall into a rut with these. Learning multiple ways to properly prepare eggs can add instant variety to your Paleo diet.
Soft Scrambled Eggs
A good soft scramble is like gold in my house! No more overcooked eggs for you. Amazingly, most people overcook their eggs, and when the proper cooking technique is learned, eggs can become quite a delightful favorite.
- Use a cast iron skillet. It distributes heat more evenly, and that’s good! I also love my Green Pans, which are nice and heavy and also distribute heat well.
- Get that fat hot first. Over medium high heat, melt your butter, coconut oil, avocado oil, or whichever high-smoke point fat of choice you like, before adding your eggs.
- Scramble less. Using a heat safe spatula, gently stir and fold, but not too much. Just a few turns of egg around your pan, and you’re good. Let em’ be!
- Cook less. Once you pour your eggs in your hot pan, turn off the heat after a few seconds. Let the residual heat slowly cook your eggs.
To me, perfectly poached eggs are the most elegant of egg preparations. Don’t be intimidated by the title – poaching an egg is actually quite simple.
- Add apple cider vinegar to simmering water to help coagulate the egg white which creates a tidier little poach.
- Using a whisk, create a cyclone before pouring your egg into the simmering water. The swirling water will wrap the egg white around the yolk without too much fuss. This is known as the whirlpool method.
- Crack your eggs separately and one at a time. Crack your egg in a little bowl before sliding it into the simmering water. Helps with the peril that is a shattered eggshell and the eventual hunt to find it. Pouring your egg in, rather than cracking it over your simmering pot of water, also helps with accuracy.
Frittatas are the way to go if you are serving a small army of Paleo humans, plus, they’re just so convenient.
- Crack your eggs separately and one at a time.
- Crack your eggs in a separate bowl. When you eat free-range, pastured eggs, sometimes directly from your own chickens and ducks or someone else’s healthy birds, you may be prone to getting a bad one here and again. Real food goes bad sometimes, because it is real and not treated. But you don’t want one bad egg to ruin your whole dish.
- Use an oven safe pan that distributes heat evenly, like a cast iron skillet or green pan, but with a metal handle so you can not only cook stove top, you can also stick it in the oven.
- Sauté your veggies slightly and pour your beaten eggs over the sauté. After a few seconds, turn off your stovetop and place the entire pan in a preheated oven. Your frittata will cook just enough on the bottom, and will finish evenly and with a nice browned top!
The other white meat! There are a lot of cuts to choose from, and bacon is always a crowd pleaser in the Paleo world. But learning to use the other cuts of pork will step up your Paleo protein game. Here are some preparations that I like, as well as some tricks for you to get your cook on.
One of the more common preparations, tenderloins are versatile and quick to prepare.
- Use a marinade. Tenderloins are, it may not surprise you, tender! They take on marinades super well. Marinate for an hour in the fridge before cooking.
- Make your own marinade. Oil+Acid+Seasonings are the general components for the making of a marinade.
- The tastiest marinades have quite a bit of vinegar or acid to them; using apple cider vinegar or fresh squeezed orange or lime juice is truly delicious.
- Be aware that when using an acid-forward marinade you only need to marinate for one but no more than two hours to avoid denaturing the protein and curing your tenderloin before cooking. You will want to make about ½ cup marinade per pound of tenderloin. Err on the side of making more marinade since cooking down leftover marinade to make a reduction will be delicious as a pour over sauce!
- Sear then roast. After you marinate, sear your tenderloin on the stovetop quickly on all sides to develop a bit of color. After a nice brown caramelization occurs, finish cooking in a preheated 400ºF oven. Line a baking pan with parchment paper and roast your meat until a meat thermometer reads 150ºF as an internal temp.
- Always rest. Let your meat rest about 10-15 minutes before slicing. This goes for all meat. This helps keep your tenderloin juicy and moist. Slicing too early will allow all those tasty juices to escape!
All chops are not created equal. Just as there are different cuts of beef for steaks, there are different cuts of pork chops, too. They taste and cook differently. Ask your butcher for tips on the best cuts of pork chops for your intended cooking method. Here are some general tips and methods for pork chops.
- Brine. To brine is to make a saltwater bath for your meat. This results in a tastier and more tender texture. Your brining liquid can be as simple or as complex as you’d like. Start with a one to twelve ratio of salt to water (something like ¼ cup salt to 3 cups water) and from there feel free to add peppercorns, bay leaf, cinnamon, chili, etc. Simmer your brine until salt has dissolved, cool completely, and pour over your chops. Let brine for two to four hours. Rinse and pat dry. Now you are ready to cook!
- Stuffed chops. Loin chops taste amazing when stuffed. Use a paring knife to create a little pocket in the center of your chop. Stuff with chopped apple, apricots, or even red grapes! Sear stovetop to brown and to trap those juices in, and then finish in the oven.
- Dry well, sear well. Meat sears best when dry. Unless there is sugar content, like orange juice from a marinade, you can’t expect much color from a sear unless you have dried your cut of meat. Color is where the flavor is, so make sure to get a good sear on.
Bacon is the salty goodness that non-Paleo eaters still believe is bad for you. But if it’s bad, we don’t want to be good!
- Stovetop: Lay your bacon into a cold skillet, add only enough water to just cover the bottom of your pan, then turn on the heat. This helps with even cooking, and even eliminate some splatter.
- Baking: Start roasting your bacon in the oven! Lining a sheet pan with parchment paper and laying out your slices not only allows you to prepare more strips at once, but this way all of your slices will cook up more evenly. Plus, no splatter!
- Once your bacon is done cooking, save the leftover fat in a jar. Cooking your veggies in a little bacon fat imparts delicious flavor. Try sauteing Brussels sprouts or mushrooms on the stovetop in a little of your leftover bacon grease.
Grass-fed beef is higher in all the good B vitamins and minerals and lower overall in fat. It has more omega-3 fatty acids than conventional beef, too. So, go grass-fed! Here are the basics of cooking beef to perfection.
People pay top dollar for perfectly cooked steaks in restaurants, but you can learn to prepare five star steaks at home.
- Do not overcook. Hot and quick is your mantra when preparing grass-fed steaks.
In comparison to conventionally treated beef, grass-fed cooks about 30 percent quicker and will continue to cook a bit after you remove your steak from the pan, oven, or grill. So be hot and ready to cook your beef steaks quickly!
- Do a ‘quick-age’ on your steaks. Salt your steak and let sit for about 20 minutes. This will break down connective tissues and create a more tender result for your dining pleasures. You may notice a bit of a weeping. Simply pat dry before cooking.
A good burger is worth it’s weight in gold, right? Nothing is more classic, but you definitely want the get the right cook on, whether it’s burgers, meatballs, or a classic meatloaf.
- Keep it moist. When using ground grass-fed beef, you want to be sure to impart as much moisture as you can.
- Use coconut aminos, a little mustard, homemade applesauce, grated carrot and onion, and a touch of grade B maple syrup to add moisture.
- Form into the desired dish and make yourself some delicious burgers, meatballs, or meatloaf!
Roasts are a great lazy-Sunday meal as they take relatively little effort and cook while you’re doing other things. Anything that you can set-and-forget is great for anyone who doesn’t want a ton of prep time.
- Preheat your oven to 450°F. Season your roast with preferred spices, salt, and pepper.
- Get a good sear on your roast by adding to a preheated hot skillet and browning on all sides.
- Add root veggies to your roast pan and cover with stock, bone broth, or water. Cover tightly.
- Put your covered roast in the oven for 30-45 minutes, then reduce heat to 325°F and continue to cook for four to seven hours. The more time, the better! Even 30 extra minutes will make all the difference in a fall-apart roast. Slow and low is the key.
Beef Bone Broth
Bone broth is a gut-nourishing food that can be consumed by itself or added to soups and stews and other dishes. Making your own is a great way to save time and money.
- Roast beef bones on a baking sheet at 350°F for 20-30 minutes.
- Add beef bones, herbs, and spices (such as peppercorns, fennel, oregano, and thyme) to a large stockpot. Fill with water until bones are covered, with an additional inch of water.
- Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer for 8 to 24 hours. Skim the film off the top every 2-3 hours.
- Strain the broth and store in mason jars in the fridge for up to 2 days, or freeze leftovers.
Lamb is amazing because it is rich, meaty, and smooth with robust flavor. Lamb can be an acquired taste, but really, it’s all in the preparation.
A classic lamb preparation, you’ll want to find these in a nice thick cut for super juicy results.
- No matter the chop, be it loin or rib, choose a thick cut, up to about 1 ½ inches is ideal.
- Adding a good amount of fat and salt will ensure that your lamb is tender.
Trim away any hard, extraneous pieces of fat, but leave the internal marbling intact and the chop whole.
- Lamb chops are best when cooked to medium or even a touch medium-rare. Cook over moderate heat until about 10°F from the desired internal temperature (160°F for medium), and then finish over high heat to get a yummy crispy finish.
- You can get a good cook on a lamb on a grill utilizing cold versus hot spots, or you can go from oven to stovetop.
Rack of Lamb
The show-stopper of the lamb world, this dish looks supremely gourmet and pro.
- Slow cook the rack of lamb in a roasting pan in the oven heated to 200-250°F. Check internal temperature and remove from oven when desired temperature is reached (160°F for medium).
- Sear the rack on a pre-heated stovetop pan over high heat to achieve a decadent crispy crust.
The favorite white meat, chicken is a staple on Paleo diets because it tends to be the most affordable. It can also dry out quickly, so to get a pro cook on your chicken, follow these tips.
Roasting a whole chicken is the ultimate, but it can also be immensely intimidating. Whole chickens are convenient since you can eat once for dinner, again pulled, and then roast the bones and make your own bone broth or stock. Aside from that, it is simple, cozy and even elegant when you need it to be.
- Be sure your chicken is patted very dry.
- Rub coconut oil all over and in all the crevices of your bird.
- Salt and pepper fiercely.
- Optional but tasty: stuff the cavity with herbs, citrus, fennel, apples, onions—you can get really creative here. Be sure to salt the cavity as well.
If you’re jonesing for crispy fried chicken, there’s a Paleo way to do that!
- Make a dredge with coconut flour, dried or shredded coconut, paprika, dried mustard, and salt.
- Dip chicken tenders or sliced breast in dredge then into egg wash (one egg beaten with a squeeze of lemon), then back into dredge.
- Semi-fry on the stovetop in a high heat oil, like coconut or avocado. Boom! Healthier fried chicken! It is crispy and delicious, and very kid-friendly as well.
Making white breast meat tender can be tricky, but it’s completely possible if you add an extra step. While some may balk at adding more cooking time, the juicy, perfect results will be more than worth the effort.
- Thoroughly pound the chicken by placing the breast between plastic wrap, cover with a dishtowel, and then pound the chicken flat with a meat tenderizer or rolling pin.
- Pound until about ¼ inch thick, add salt and pepper, and then sear stovetop until cooked all of the way through. The texture is fantastic and versatile. Sauce it, slice it, dice it—it will all be tender.
If you want the juiciest cuts of chicken, opting for cuts that still have the bones in will result in a result that is moist and delicious.
- Chicken thighs and breasts can both be purchased with the bone in.
- Boneless cuts are more expensive, so this is a budget-saving tip!
- Cooking times may be longer with bones in, but use a meat thermometer to determine when the chicken is done. It needs to reach 165ºF.
- Bone-in chicken has a smoother and more rich texture, so it’s well worth the extra effort.
It’s not that hard to make your own delicious stock. Many store bought versions have MSG and other chemicals or additives, so you’ll not only spend less, but you’ll get more nutritional value.
- Request chicken feet from your butcher if you aren’t raising chickens or don’t have another source.
- Roast the feet along with the rest of your bones for about 30 minutes or so, add to a large stock pot, and cover with water.
- Add chopped onion, carrots, celery, shiitake stems, and if you want to really get creative, kombu and astragalus root as well. Most importantly, a very healthy splash of raw apple cider vinegar.
- Simmer for 12-24 hours, adding garlic and herbs during the last two hours of simmering.
- Periodically skim the foam that rises to the top of your broth and discard, these are impurities and make your broth quite bitter.
- Strain off the broth and use to sip, add to soups, or use as a flavorful cooking liquid instead of using water or store-bought stocks.
Whether it’s Thanksgiving or not, learning how to cook turkey properly will always yield richer, juicier results.
Many people find roasting a whole turkey bit pretty daunting. The fear of it drying out can be intense!
- Spatchcock the whole bird, or ask your butcher to do it for you. A spatchcocked bird roasts wonderfully. It will turn out evenly, browned and moist. It’s a crowd pleaser when roasting a whole bird.
- You can also braise your whole turkey. Tent a whole bird with foil to create the braising effect. Fill your roaster pan with flavorful liquid first, tent, and braise for four to six hours in the oven, or more if your bird is huge. Watch the meat fall off the bone! This kind of turkey will be moist and super tasty to make all of your turkey salad, chili, wraps, and snack dreams come true.
Unlike traditional turkey roasts, when you make something like meatballs you have more control over the moisture content.
- Add chopped onions and garlic, pureed butternut, acorn or kabocha squash, along with unsweetened tomato ketchup, mustards, coconut aminos, etc. to ground turkey before rolling into shape. This will keep your meatball moist and add tons of flavor.
- Experiment with adding superfoods like hemp and chia seeds for an added nutrition boost!
Fish and seafood are an important part of a healthy Paleo diet. Fish tastes best when it is prepared simply.
Perhaps the most common way to eat seafood, fish filets are simple and delicious. Purchasing a whole fish or a large filet that you cut down into smaller portions can save you a significant amount of money.
- Invest in a good, sharp fish knife or dedicate a set of tweezers for plucking out pin bones.
- Use a big plastic cutting board for handling whole or large cuts of fish.
If you don’t want to deal with the skin, ask your seafood counter to remove it for you.
- Cut filets into your desired portion sizes.
- Heat your preferred cooking fat in a pan and then sear the filet on each side for three minutes, or until the filet flakes apart easily with a fork.
It sounds fancy, but really it is just fish atop some veggies in a parchment paper. It yields a delicious, one-dish meal that will quickly become a favorite.
- Start with a square of parchment. On one side lay down some batons of zucchini, carrot, or sliced brussel sprouts.
- Salt your sliced veggies and drizzle with a touch of avocado or coconut oil.
- Next, place a few ounces of a filet (salmon, halibut, whatever your pleasure may be) atop your veggies.
- Add a touch more salt and a slice of lemon along with some herbage.
- Fold the other half of parchment over and tightly roll all of the edges together to create a pouch.
- Place onto a sheet pan and bake in a preheated oven at 350ºF for about 10-15 minutes. Serve and enjoy!
A great way to prepare unfussy fish dishes are to make fish scraps into patties.
- Add a rough chop of raw fish to a food processor, along with some onion, garlic, lime, cilantro, and salt.
- Pulse until just incorporated, and working about ¼ cup of your fish cake mix at a time, form into a patty.
- Place in the fridge between parchment paper and chill overnight to help the patties maintain their shape during cooking.
- These are best cooked stove top, in a skillet. Add some coconut oil and get the fat hot first. Add patties and sear on each side for about three minutes.
- Change up the flavor profiles. Capers and lemon or curry paste with basil and mint, you can really get creative here, with endless possibilities.
Game Meat and Offal
If you are willing to explore, you might just surprise yourself! While new Paleo eaters can be turned off to game meats or offal (organs), these are highly nutritious options that actually don’t taste as “weird” as most expect.
Duck breasts are a great way to break into the pheasant and waterfowl market. They have a poultry-like taste and produce a delicious fat that can be used for roasting vegetables or other dishes!
- Choose a breast that has a nice healthy fat cap on the top.
- After rinsing, pat your duck breast very dry and score the top with a sharp knife.
Salt the fat layer well.
- Let your pan heat up before cooking. Over medium-low heat, cook your breast fat side down, slowly rendering the skin.
- Pour off the fat (save for later use) as you go.
- Once the skin is rendered, completely golden and crispy, flip the duck breast and finish cooking from the other side.
- Serve with sweet potato fries or any other favorite Paleo side dish!
If you come across some rabbit meat, ask your butcher to grind for you. Rabbit makes lovely ragout and a fantastic meatball!
- Brown your ground rabbit and add onion, red bell pepper, garlic, tomatoes, and some unsweetened tomato paste.
- Once you have sautéed for about 15 minutes or so, take some of the tomatoes and blend with a little bone broth or water. Add back to pan.
- Simmer for 45 minutes or so. Season well and use as a sauce over zucchini noodles!
Perhaps the most daunting of offals, liver gets a bad reputation for being only food that your grandmother would eat. Chicken livers have the most delicate flavor of all livers, and taste similar to ground beef, with a smoother texture.
- Saute chicken livers with onions, cherries, apples, quince, currant, and aromatic spices.
- Blend in a food processor with butter or ghee, and you have yourself a homemade pate!
Elk, Bison, and Deer
Start by adding game meat to dishes like stews and chili. One pot meals tend to have a lot of room for other flavors, lots of veggies, and are usually fairly forgiving when it comes to experimenting with recipes!
- If the flavor of game is too much for you, try trimming away any excess fat or brining.
- You can also pair with ground beef, turkey, or chicken in a chili dish to temper the game flavor and provide the comfort of an expected meat.
- Start with a basic chili or stew, like this bison chili.
The Bottom Line
Even if you’re not a professional chef, you can learn to prep and cook meat in delicious ways that will tantalize your palate and take your Paleo diet to the next level.