Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
5 Feb

Is Gently Cooked Food Better for You?

steak3As Primal eaters, you have no doubt been the recipient of many an email populated with scary studies about the association of meat consumption with various degenerative diseases like cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. Heck, a new one just came out that I’m sure I’ll be receiving dozens of times in my inbox (turns out controlling for body weight negates the links!). And though most of them can be explained by the “healthy user effect,” the failure to control for other variables, and the processed meat versus unprocessed meat dichotomy, a few do appear to suggest a link between certain diseases and eating meat that’s been cooked a certain way:

  • One study found that people who prefer their red meat well done are 8.8 times more likely to get colorectal cancer than people who prefer their red meat rare.
  • Another study found that well done meat seems to increase the risk of pancreatic cancer.
  • And a recent review of several different studies found that consumption of well-done meat is associated with elevated cancer risk in humans.

Cooking isn’t bad, of course. It makes food taste better, gives us access to a wider range of foods – like starches – that would otherwise be fairly indigestible, kills food-borne pathogens, improves the texture of foods (meat becomes more tender, fat renders, vegetables soften), and increases the calories we can extract from food.

But there’s a dark side to cooking. Depending on the methods and ingredients you use and the temperature you apply, cooking can create carcinogenic and toxic compounds, and oxidized fats – and these may be involved in some of the diseases studied. It may not be the meat itself, but how we treat the meat. So – what compounds should we be worrying about?

Heterocyclic Amines

When meat is directly exposed to high temperature, the amino acids, sugars, and creatine within it react to form heterocyclic amines (HCA). In animal studies, HCAs are mutagenic – they provoke harmful DNA mutations, can change gene expression, and cause cancer. Epidemiological studies link HCA intake in humans to many of these same cancers (including cancer of the prostatepancreas, and colon). Caution appears to be warranted.

Advanced Glycation Endproducts

When steak is browned, when sugar is caramelized, or when you get a nice crust going on that roast, you’re creating advanced glycation endproducts via the Maillard reaction. Most AGEs actually form endogenously, inside our bodies, but dietary AGEs appear to have some negative effects of their own. Dietary AGEs have been shown to drain a person’s antioxidant stores, opening them up to an inflammatory cascade that includes insulin resistance and, potentially, diabetes, while low-AGE diets can increase insulin sensitivity in humans.

Oxidized Lipids

Polyunsaturated fatty acids in meat (or in the seed oils used to marinade the meat) can become oxidized when exposed to high heat. When eaten, these oxidized fats are incorporated into circulating lipids, thus increasing the risk of atherosclerosis.

The easiest way to minimize your exposure to heat-related toxins is to emphasize gentle cooking methods and de-emphasize higher heat methods.

More abrasive cooking methods include:

Minimize those.

Gentler cooking methods include:

  • Steaming
  • Poaching
  • Boiling
  • Braising
  • Simmering
  • Baking
  • Pressure cooking
  • Crockpottin’

Emphasize those, because they all limit the formation of HCAs, AGEs, and oxidized lipids. They’ll take you most of the way, but there are other variables to tweak (or at least be aware of) for greater protection:

Cooking temperature - Most studies indicate that 300 ºF, or 150 ºC, results in minimal HCA formation, even when pan-frying; 400 ºF is when the carcinogens really start accumulating quickly. As for AGEs, watch for browning. That’s the Maillard reaction, and it’s a good basic indicator of AGE formation.

Creatine content of the meat - The more creatine in the meat, the more HCA will be formed. That’s why grilled salmon has more HCA than grilled burger, and it’s why the mid-90s trend of post-workout creatine monohydrate pancakes resulted in an exponential spike in cancer deaths among weight lifters (ok, that’s not true).

Saturation of the fat - The more saturated the fat you use to cook, the more resistant it is to oxidation from heat exposure. Highly saturated coconut oil bests mostly polyunsaturated sunflower oil, for example. Same goes for the fat in the meat; ruminant fat is more resistant to oxidation than chicken fat.

Antioxidant content of the fat - Some fats come with antioxidants that increase their resistance to heat. Even though it contains ample amounts of polyunsaturated fat, sesame oil is quite resistant to heat because of the antioxidants it bears. Extra virgin olive oil and red palm oil are other examples of good fats high in antioxidants.

Antioxidant content of the meat - Pastured animals allowed to eat fresh grass, wild forage and herbs will effectively produce antioxidant-infused meat with greater oxidative stability than animals raised on concentrated feed.

Protective foods consumed with the meal - Certain foods seem to mitigate or even negate the harmful effects of heat-related toxins. Interestingly, many of them appear to confirm the healthfulness of certain cultural traditions.

Pretty much any plant food you eat with your meat, especially the colorful ones, will have a favorable impact on carcinogen formation, lipid oxidation, or mutagenicity. Blueberries, beets, salad greens, carrots, tomatoes, apple slices, spices – it’s hard to go wrong. They certainly won’t hurt.

Marinades - Almost uniformly, marinating your meat will reduce the formation of toxic compounds like HCA and AGE, even if you grill it or pan-fry it. Use a quality antioxidant rich fat, like olive oil; an acidic medium, like citrus juice or vinegar; and some antioxidant rich flavorings, like herbs, peppers, garlic, ginger, and spices like turmeric or cayenne and you’ll probably produce a marinade capable of inhibiting toxin formation. Maybe not completely, maybe a few AGEs or HCAs will slip through, but anything is better than just throwing it on the grill or in the pan naked and dry. For some ideas that will surely help make your meats healthier and more delicious, try some Primal marinades.

The ingredients of the marinade matter. Sugar, for example, will increase the formation of heterocyclic amines, especially when combined with soy sauce. Does that mean any marinade that includes anything sweet is out? No. Using honeycitrus juices, and other whole food sweeteners all appear to reduce HCA formation, most likely because of the presence of other bioactive compounds (phytonutrients and other antioxidants) in the sweeteners. Even brown sugar seems to inhibit HCAs more than table sugar (though not as much as honey). Soy sauce and sugar may even be acceptable components of a marinade just so long as you include something protective like ginger and garlic, as one study found that teriyaki sauce (which contains soy sauce, sugar, garlic, and ginger) reduced HCA formation when used as a marinade. In that same study, Kraft honey BBQ sauce increased HCA formation, probably because it’s mostly high fructose corn syrup.

In other words, it’s not as simple as saying “this ingredient increases the risk” because other ingredients can counter or mitigate the effect. A good general rule when making marinades: the more herbs and spices you use, the more protective (and better-tasting) your marinade.

Okay, with all that info out of the way, how do we make sense of it? What are some ground rules we can hew to?

Use liquid whenever possible. Water, stock, coffee, wine, even a bit of citrus juice will help reduce the formation of harmful compounds. Generally, any cooking method is made more gentle with the addition of liquid.

Keep the temperature low when applying direct heat. Stir-frying, pan-frying, grilling – try to keep the temperature on medium-low to medium.

Learn to love rare to medium-rare meat and avoid medium well to well-done meat. Most epidemiological studies linking cooked meat to cancer only find positive associations with well-done meat. Besides, well-done steak is a culinary travesty and you should already avoid it on principle. Even when pan-frying or grilling, it’s usually only the well-done burgers that form lots of carcinogens.

Marinate, marinate, marinate. Plan ahead so that you can soak your meat in some antioxidant rich medium or another. Even ten to fifteen minutes before cooking can be effective.

If you don’t have time to marinate your meat, apply spices and herbs to the surface before cooking. Add some chopped garlic and ginger (or even garlic powder and ginger powder) to your steaks, some minced thyme and rosemary to your lamb, and cumin and turmeric to your chicken – or use them all at once! Even black pepper can help. When preparing ground meat, mix the spices and herbs directly into the meat, not just on the surface of your formed burgers.

Drink wine, eat broccoli, have espresso, and eat other mitigatory foods alongside your meat. Luckily, people on a Primal eating plan aren’t just downing charred steak and nothing else. They’re eating plenty of plants, too.

Regularly make complex curries, tagines, goulashes, and other stews, which incorporate all the protective elements in one tasty package: liquid, spices/herbs, low temperature, gentle cooking.

As much as I love a good braised meat, I won’t deny the deliciousness of a seared steak or crispy sweet potatoes. Here are a couple cooking tricks I’ve developed over the years that should reduce toxin formation while allowing you to enjoy crispy, browned foods.

Searing a steak or cooking a stir fry? Add a bit of lemon or orange juice mixed with spices and herbs when you turn the meat. The juice and herb mixture will provide moisture and help protect the surface of the meat in contact with the pan, you’ll still get some decent browning on one side, and once the meat’s done, you can let the juice reduce down into a sauce. (Extra tip: add half a cup of really gelatinous bone broth to the liquid to make the reduction even richer.) Will this eliminate HCA formation or completely inhibit lipid oxidation? Probably not, but it’s way better than just charring the meat dry.

When making any starchy root dish that involves applying high heat to obtain a crispy exterior, start with pre-cooked tubers. So, if you’re doing fries, cook the potatoes the day before and keep them in the fridge. Peel them, slice them into the fry shape of your choice, and lightly sauté each side in a stable cooking fat like ghee or coconut oil (or ghee and coconut oil!) over medium heat. Since you don’t have to worry about cooking the interior and it only takes a couple minutes to get a nice crust on each side, your cooking time is reduced by about 80% and the temperature needed is far lower as well. Fewer carcinogens and less lipid oxidation.

Ultimately, healthy eating is about striking a balance. You can sear your steaks and live long - just don’t do so exclusively or eschew healthy plant foods alongside them. You can throw some chicken thighs on the grill – but to mitigate the risks, just make sure they’re marinated.

Let’s hear from you. How do you cook most of your foods? Are you a fan of gentle cooking? Got any good tips for minimizing harm while maximizing taste?

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. No mention of sous-vide?

    Dave wrote on February 5th, 2014
    • I was thinking the same thing! I’m about to have for lunch a steak I cooked sous-vide yesterday. I don’t mind that it doesn’t have a “crust” on it, it still tastes delicious, cooked to a perfect medium rare at 131 degrees. This has to be the LEAST abrasive way to cook.

      Jim B. wrote on February 5th, 2014
      • I’ve seen sous vide on iron chef America but I am unclear on exactly how it works – does it require special equipment or could you just dimmer it on the stovetop in a pot of water?

        Lunasma wrote on February 5th, 2014
        • Make that simmer

          Lunasma wrote on February 5th, 2014
        • It involves equipment costing at least $350.

          Roy wrote on February 5th, 2014
        • You can find temp controllers for your crockpot for ~$100 or build your own for ~$50. It’s a really easy build if you have such advanced tools as a screwdriver and wire strippers.

          MMW wrote on February 5th, 2014
        • It doesn’t have to be expensive. My husband built a sous-vide controller that has a thermometer and cycles power on and off to our (analog) crockpot. Instead of a vacuum sealer, we use ziploc freezer bags. We don’t use it that often, but it’s great for making bone broth and it’s a lot of fun to add another way to cook meat (and even eggs!).

          phenocopy wrote on February 5th, 2014
        • Dr. Weezil wrote on February 5th, 2014
        • I just use a large stock pot and a digital thermometer. I also have a vacuum sealer (under $100), but Ziploc sells a hand-pump vacuum sealer that’s just ziploc baggies with a valve built in and a little plastic syringe to suck the air out of the bag. Basically, you just need to be able to hold the water temp. steady for long enough to cook the meat to the desired temp. You wouldn’t want to try the long cooking times needed for tough cuts like short ribs or shoulder without more advanced equipment, because if you don’t get the temperature right, the risk of bacterial contamination grows considerably (some of the techniques call for 24-hours or more.) A decent sized steak only requires about 45-60 minutes at 135F or so. Pretty easy to achieve without expensive equipment.

          Mantonat wrote on February 6th, 2014
        • In the book The 4 Hour Chef, Tim Ferris explains how to do it without the expensive sous vide oven. I haven’t tried it yet, but I want to.

          Amy wrote on February 6th, 2014
      • I have never had a sous-vide steak that didn’t have a nice sear on it because what I do after cooking it with my immersion circulator, is take a blow torch and form a nice crust with it. Also the perfect time to season.

        Selleck wrote on February 5th, 2014
    • Any worries cooking your food in plastic?

      Zach rusk wrote on February 5th, 2014
  2. Thanks. Very helpful, as usual.

    Harry Mossman wrote on February 5th, 2014
    • With (controlled) diabetes and tendency to have kidney stones, figuring out what to eat can be very frustrating. I do pan fry/stir fry a lot. Fortunately, I nearly always use lots of herbs and spices, and cook meat medium rare.

      Harry Mossman wrote on February 5th, 2014
  3. Glad you wrote about this! It would be great to hear a little more information about high cooking temperatures for plants, as well (as you allude to towards the end).

    Michele wrote on February 5th, 2014
    • Yes,please tell us if plants are the same! For myself, i love my meat and fish rare but i prefer onions (and some other vegetables) almost “brown”

      Sheere wrote on February 5th, 2014
      • Heat tends to degrade fiber, antioxidants, and other properties. When it comes to onions – raw onions can have an antiplatelet effect similar to that of aspirin but that effect is lost when heat is applied.

        Matt YLBody wrote on February 7th, 2014
  4. Those studies are 11 (10 in the review) observational epidemiology and not worth looking at because of possible confounding variables (people who eat well-done meat may have other behaviors that cause those problems), and the other 1 was retrospective and not controlled, using self-reporting which is usually inaccurate. Let’s see controlled studies over time before we drive ourselves nuts.

    Yossi Mandel wrote on February 5th, 2014
    • So what is ‘wrong’ with people who eat well done meat. Quite a generalization I think

      Karyn wrote on February 5th, 2014
    • My thoughts exactly! If the studies were based on individuals eating a healthy organic based diet with free range meet that would mean something to me. In addition, using olive oil as a marinade to help reduce the HCA formation is completely contradictory. Olive oil is very reactive to heat, in the form of oxidation.

      They have found charred animal bones in the fire pits of our ancestral relatives thousands of years old. I have never bought the above argument, as the evidence is sketchy at best.

      Gary wrote on February 6th, 2014
      • I meant “meat” haha.

        Gary wrote on February 6th, 2014
  5. I never considered the antioxidant value of the oil when considering how good it would be under heat. I always just thought the more saturated the more stable but once again Mother Nature can’t just give us an A=B answer!

    Groktimus Primal wrote on February 5th, 2014
  6. I don’t see a specific reference to roasting — is it considered the same as baking? I suppose the “not too brown” rule holds.

    Martha wrote on February 5th, 2014
    • I have “The Grassfed Gourmet Cookbook” which has fantastic recipes for cooking meat correctly and healthily. I just put a 4 lb. chuck roast steak in the oven at 170 degrees for 6 hours. Low and slow. Also, american indians would have pots of stews going low and slow for days on end.

      Nocona wrote on February 5th, 2014
    • Wouldn’t roasting be the equivalent of braising?

      Stacie wrote on February 5th, 2014
      • Braising is cooking in liquid, roasting is baking in dry heat. Your typical Thanksgiving turkey is roasted (and sometimes basted), but never braised.

        Allison wrote on February 5th, 2014
    • Yes, roasting and baking are the same thing. For some reason, we call it roasting when it’s meat or coffee beans, and baking when it’s bread or potatoes.

      Mantonat wrote on February 6th, 2014
      • I had the understanding that roasting is cooking with dry heat 400F and above, while baking is cooking below 400F.

        Erin wrote on February 8th, 2014
  7. Well I just give up. There doesn’t seem to be much I can eat that I can stand.

    Karyn wrote on February 5th, 2014
    • I totally feel you on this one. If I now have to worry about how I’m cooking the limited items this may be too much. Boiled anything is blech to me.

      How exactly should a person cook the root vegetables? I like to fry mine in bacon fat but sounds like that’s out now. What about my broiled chicken wings that give me the taste of the grill? Sounds like that’s out. And I will never ever eat bloody beef. I just can’t.

      Parson H wrote on February 5th, 2014
      • I grew up in the midwest where we did NOT eat rare meat – it was DONE! I can’t eat even medium well which is probably out too.

        Thanks for feeling like I do! :)

        Karyn wrote on February 5th, 2014
      • It’s not blood…it’s water and myoglobin which is just a protein

        http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2010/04/the-red-juice-in-raw-red-meat-is-not-blood/

        So what is that red liquid you are seeing in red meat? Red meats, such as beef, are composed of quite a bit of water. This water, mixed with a protein called myoglobin, ends up comprising most of that red liquid.

        In fact, red meat is distinguished from white meat primarily based on the levels of myoglobin in the meat. The more myoglobin, the redder the meat. Thus most animals, such as mammals, with a high amount of myoglobin, are considered “red meat”, while animals with low levels of myoglobin, like most poultry, or no myoglobin, like some sea-life, are considered “white meat”.

        Myoglobin is a protein, that stores oxygen in muscle cells, very similar to its cousin, hemoglobin, that stores oxygen in red blood cells. This is necessary for muscles which need immediate oxygen for energy during frequent, continual usage. Myoglobin is highly pigmented, specifically red; so the more myoglobin, the redder the meat will look and the darker it will get when you cook it.

        This darkening effect of the meat when you cook it is also due to the myoglobin; or more specifically, the charge of the iron atom in myoglobin. When the meat is cooked, the iron atom moves from a +2 oxidation state to a +3 oxidation state, having lost an electron. The technical details aren’t important here, though if you want them, read the “Bonus factoids” section, but the bottom line is that this ends up causing the meat to turn from pinkish-red to brown.

        heather wrote on February 5th, 2014
        • Interesting, thanks!

          tkm wrote on February 5th, 2014
        • I like my meat ‘crawling off the plate’ rare. Carpaccio is almost as good as caviar…to die for!

          Nocona wrote on February 5th, 2014
        • It never occurred to me (but should have) that my erstwhile assumption that red juice = blood makes no sense given that chickens and fishes have blood too and their meat doesn’t have red juice. Duh. Thanks for the fascinating info!

          Julie wrote on February 5th, 2014
        • Great info.
          I personally think that the red meat is not good to eat.

          Rich Amor wrote on February 6th, 2014
      • The bacon fat ought to be fine, it’s fairly high in saturated fats. Per the article above, “The more saturated the fat you use to cook, the more resistant it is to oxidation from heat exposure.”

        There were several things mentioned in the article that mitigate or negate the risks associated with meat well done / cooked at high temps.

        Then there is always the 80/20 principle, there are several articles about that on this site. And if you’ve not already read it, or even if you have, you may want to check out the article “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” also on this site.

        b2curious wrote on February 5th, 2014
      • Steam sauté, or just lightly steam your veggies. Onions are good this way too, but not as good as when they’re caramelized. Roasted with fat of your choice. 300-350, rinsed but not dried veggies, thumb-sized fat of choice, your favourite herbs, sal, pepper, whole garlic cloves. All into a glass roasting ( or old cake) pan, cover with foil. Damp veggies steam under the foil. Last 10 mins, remove cover and let brown up a little. Eat!

        Check out Melissa Joulwan’s site, The Clothes Make the Girl. She rocks the kitchen…and the workouts….and her writing is fun and well crafted. She’s a very real person.

        Another blog to source veggies, and all sorts of delicious recipes, is Michelle Tam’s Nomnom Paleo. She’s a hard working married mom of two elementary aged boys….and absolutely slays any kitchen demons you might have. Plus, she’s an über-entertaining writer.

        Good luck.

        Catherine wrote on February 5th, 2014
    • I hear ya sister!

      InLikeFlynn wrote on February 5th, 2014
    • 248 out of 62581 people is less < 0.5% . The study group was between the ages of 55-74….and I seriously doubt any of those people harbor a Paleo lifestyle.

      Although I enjoy the medium rare "setting"…under my broiler, I will not eat wild game unless it's done. That's just what I was always taught.

      I wouldn't read into this study too much. It just don't seem logical to me.

      Hmmmm, where does jerky fit into this?

      Ben wrote on February 5th, 2014
      • You hush up! Don’t even imagine that people in that age group don’t embrace a Paleo lifestyle! My husband and I fall inside that group (around the middle of it, in fact), and we definitely embrace Paleo as do quite a few of our peers.So please, don’t write us off!

        Vicki wrote on February 5th, 2014
        • Agreed. I bet even more people are Paleo in the older age groups due to all the damage done by years of CW poisoning.

          Nocona wrote on February 5th, 2014
        • +1 — pushing 70 in a couple of months here!

          PrimalGrandma wrote on February 5th, 2014
        • Right there with you as far as the age group. Have a lot of cohorts converting.

          bamboo wrote on February 5th, 2014
        • My apologies, I didn’t intend to seem like I was “writing anyone off”. That study was started before Paleo was as main stream as it is now and the likelihood of the participants being Paleo is slim.

          Ben wrote on February 5th, 2014
        • Most likely, the overwhelming majority of folks in the study groups will NOT maintain anything other than a “typical” diet. Weeding out the extraneous variables of all the other “stuff” (be that good, bad etc) would be extremely hard to control. To be perfect, you’d have to eat JUST meat over/under cooked – but that is not exactly long term health sustaining. I have not read the parameters of the study either. ALSO think – what have these participants been eating BEFORE the study (and for years beforehand). Were they already more, or less, likely to have cancer risks? In terms of diet, study outcomes are very difficult to quantify because real causation can be very difficult to prove.
          Personally, I would not get too wound up about it all. BALANCE! Get rid of all that processed shit and you are probably more likely to have more health benefits anyway!

          Michelle wrote on February 5th, 2014
        • We are withih that age group also. We have friends who eat primal.

          Annakay wrote on February 6th, 2014
        • I’m 66 and have been eating/living Paleo for 10 years. I do think there are fewer in the older group, but there are still a bunch of us. I have no health problems and I feel great!

          James wrote on February 6th, 2014
        • Gotta say Vicki – You don’t look over 55 in your pic! That’s Primal for you! ;-)

          WelshGrok wrote on February 7th, 2014
    • … just… wow.

      Vince G wrote on February 5th, 2014
      • Uh… I think the comment was referring to the people in the study group, not that age group as a whole. Very valid point, too.

        Malandro wrote on February 5th, 2014
    • If you like your meat done well with worrying about this, do your normal grilling, frying broiling etc. After you have it browned pop it in an oven at low for 10-15 min until cooked all the way. That is how I turn my beloved rare steaks into well done for family members and the taste has been well received.

      YvonneJean wrote on February 5th, 2014
    • Karyn,
      I concur. I am getting extremely frustrated with all these problems that seem to be tied to meat. Makes me wonder if the Vegans have it right after all. When I get to the point to where I feel I am on the right track and doing the right thing, some other article comes along that frightens me about something we are doing to food that can make us sick. I just started on the paleo journey, for about a month now, and can’t find a happy medium.

      Tiff wrote on April 3rd, 2014
  8. I’ve heard a lot of chefs and restaurant owners mention that they use their best cuts of meat for rare and medium rare orders, and their oldest and least-desirable cuts for well done.

    Yet another important reason to go for medium rare or rare!

    Josh Frey wrote on February 5th, 2014
  9. My wife and I, since watching our carbs, learned long ago that cooking vegetables frequently increases thier net carb count (sometimes substantially).

    As a result, we eat more of our veggies raw, or barely cooked :)

    Dr. Mike Tremba wrote on February 5th, 2014
  10. I eat my grass fed ground beef raw

    charles grashow wrote on February 5th, 2014
    • Cook it with a flashlight

      BFBVince wrote on February 5th, 2014
      • lol!

        mh wrote on February 6th, 2014
  11. cut it’s horns off, wipe it’s @rse and walk it past the fire….done!

    Mikey UK wrote on February 5th, 2014
    • mos def

      Julie wrote on February 5th, 2014
    • !! Cracking up

      Allison wrote on February 5th, 2014
    • Ok. That’s awesome!

      Catherine wrote on February 5th, 2014
  12. So, how many of the gentler cooking methods did Grok use?

    brd wrote on February 5th, 2014
    • I’d guess Grok ate a lot of stuff raw.

      Dave wrote on February 5th, 2014
    • Grok totally used sous vide to gently poach everything…

      Paleo Bon Rurgundy wrote on February 5th, 2014
    • Undoubtedly bbq, as in very slow cooking over a very long time, wrapped in leaves and cooked underground with coals for a whole day (that’s right, not just Hawaiian’s do it), for special occasions. Or simply tied over a fire and left to smoke for hours and/or days, one of the ways for a small family to make a large kill last for several days or even several weeks (that’s right, not all hg’s are communal eaters, and in fact most aren’t 100% of the time). Also boiling. But if you ask me only bones should be boiled. Lucky for us moderns braising is a possibility.

      Giovanni wrote on February 5th, 2014
  13. I heard a great lecture on this a few years ago at the National Lipid Association meetings, which, while it makes sense on one level, turns the nutritional world upside down. The idea as I understand it is that cooking at high temps induces oxidation of food to free radicals that are potentially carcinogenic and atherogenic. The better way to cook from this perspective is to steam food, boil, etc… As a physician and Clinical Lipidologist who strongly favors following a Paleo equivalent diet, I find this data fascinating but troubling as far as living this lifestyle. Foods taste so much better grilled or broiled!

    Eric Bush, MD wrote on February 5th, 2014
  14. Interesting ideas. I’ve heard this before, but I always wondered how “gentle” the cooking methods were for Grok. Did he gently simmer his meat or use a pressure cooker or crockpot? More likely he threw the meat on the fire (or suspended it on a stick or spit or whatever) and charred/roasted it until it was done to his liking. If this cooking method really is tempting fate, wouldn’t we have died off long ago? How could we have thrived if these cooking methods were that bad?

    Or maybe I’m missing something obvious.

    Kathy from Maine wrote on February 5th, 2014
    • My thoughts too!

      Karyn wrote on February 5th, 2014
    • I think what we’re missing, which isn’t too obvious, is that Grok’s best way to preserve food was to cook it, since he couldn’t store all his deer steaks in the deep freeze and throw one on a fire at a time. Instead I’d think they’d tie a carcass above the campfire for constant low heat, turn it and throw on some wood every now and then, and the family/tribe would munch off of it for days. This is what you see in any depiction of some sort of ancient camp or even a medieval kitchen. The modern kitchen equivalent would be something like a crock pot.

      Carsten wrote on February 5th, 2014
      • And Grok may have been healthier if he cooked a different way. Many Primal/Paleo doodes get very hung up on replicating what our ancestors did. There may have been better ways. I was surprised (and very sad) to see smoke cooking on the rough list. That’s often very low heat, e.g., the 225F that I smoke brisket, ribs, and pork shoulders. I pray that is healthy!

        Aztec wrote on February 6th, 2014
    • I’d guess they laid a lot out to dry naturally into a jerky to preserve it for later consumption, if possible, while cooking a lot of the organs and what have you immediately. But, this is just a guess.

      Stacie wrote on February 5th, 2014
    • I believe that grok and cohorts ate in spurts, fasting when no food sources were available and overindulging when available. This was probably cultural and varied among groups.. Me.. I just take a trip to South America in the Amazon, feel very warm and come back totally revitalized.. the shock or change of lifestyle helps it seems.. Our lifestyle is more set, and we have to prod ourselves to ensure we have that spontaneity that brings health benefits..

      John wrote on February 5th, 2014
  15. I grill a mountain of chicken every Sunday and use that for lunches throughout the week.

    If cooking on open flames is wrong, I don’t want to be right. (One wonders whether Grok took the time to poach or use a crockpot.)

    Michael wrote on February 5th, 2014
    • Ha Ha Michael – I don’t want to be right either!

      Karyn wrote on February 5th, 2014
    • You can still grill on an open flame. Just don’t let the flame touch the meat. Get a hot mound of coals going and then form them into a circle with the center open. Put the meat on the grill over the center of the circle and when the fat drips off the meat the flames wont touch the meat. It’s called indirect heat cooking.

      Larry wrote on February 5th, 2014
      • Like BBQ, firebox on one side and meat/smoke chamber on the other

        TNCaveman wrote on February 5th, 2014
      • Youcan also buy a Holland Grill. It has a large iron plate above the burners, they gaurantee no flareups. The hottest my natural gas grill gets is about 310 degrees. Also check out Ted Slankers grass fed meat site, he tells you how to grill his steaks, which is to cook medium rare and he either opens the lid on his grill when the temperatue gets up to about 275 or he turns it down. One ofthe Holland Grill slogans is if your lookin your not cookin.

        Dennis Critchfield wrote on February 5th, 2014
  16. Well, I put this in the 80/20 rule meaning I do ‘follow’ a mostly primal way of life up until it drives me crazy (just as with anything else in my life). So, fortunately for me, I prefer natural foods to over processed agricultural products but I also prefer a nice seared and crusted steak at rare to medium rare (good apparently), so I will take my chances on the possible harm for the pleasure of steak cooked to my liking (with plenty of green and red veggies usually and with a glass of Bordeaux!).

    JBuck wrote on February 5th, 2014
  17. So in this case, I should be glad I like my steak to come out mooing ;)

    Paige wrote on February 5th, 2014
  18. I grew up on sirloin tartar.

    You take ground sirloin, add a raw eggyolk, olive oil, maggi or tamari seasoning, a little minced onion and – this is optional – anchovis.

    Very few things taste better.

    paleocrushmom wrote on February 5th, 2014
    • This comment section needs a ‘like’ button. Tartar is good stuff. The local hippy grocer here had yak meat for a while. It had a much nicer flavor raw. Bison is the same way.

      His Dudeness wrote on February 5th, 2014
  19. The ‘bonus factoids’ from the link I posted above in the comments are pretty interesting:

    Bonus Facts:
    It is possible for meat to remain pinkish-red all through the cooking if it has been exposed to nitrites. It is even possible for packagers, through artificial means, to keep the meat looking pink, even after it has spoiled, by binding a molecule of carbon monoxide to produce metmyoglobin. Consumers associate pink meat with “fresh”, so this increases sales, even though the pink color has little to do with the freshness of meat.

    Pigs are often considered “white meat”, even though their muscles contain a lot more myoglobin than most other white meat animals. This however, is a much lower concentrate of myoglobin than other “red meat”, such as cows, due to the fact that pigs are lazy and mostly just lay around all day. So depending on who you talk to, pigs can be considered white meat or red meat; they more or less sit in between the two classifications.

    Chickens and Turkeys are generally considered white meat, however due to the fact that both use their legs extensively, their leg muscles contain a significant amount of myoglobin which causes their meat to turn dark when cooked; so in some sense they contain both red and white meat. Wild poultry, which tend to fly a lot more, tend to only contain “dark” meat, which contains a higher amount of myoglobin due to the muscles needing more oxygen from frequent, continual usage.

    White meat is made up of “fast fibers” that are used for quick bursts of activity. These muscles get energy from glyocogen which, like myoglobin, is stored in the muscles.

    Fish are primarily white meat due to the fact that they don’t ever need their muscles to support themselves and thus need much less myoglobin or sometimes none at all in a few cases; they float, so their muscle usage is much less than say a 1000 pound cow who walks around a lot and must deal with gravity. Typically, the only red meat you’ll find on a fish is around their fins and tail, which are used almost constantly.

    Some fish, such as sharks and tuna, have red meat because they are fast swimmers and are migratory and thus almost always moving; they use their muscles extensively and so they contain a lot more myoglobin than most other sea-life.

    For contrast, the white meat from chickens is made up of about .05% myoglobin with their thighs having about .2% myoglobin; pork and veal contain about .2% myoglobin; non-veal beef contains about 1%-2% of myoglobin, depending on age and muscle use.

    The USDA considers all meats obtained from livestock to be “red” because they contain more myoglobin than chicken or fish.

    Beef meat that is vacuum sealed, thus not exposed to oxygen, tends to be more of a purple shade. Once the meat is exposed to oxygen, it will gradually turn red over a span of 10-20 minutes as the myoglobin absorbs the oxygen.
    Beef stored in the refrigerator for more than 5 days will start to turn brown due to chemical changes in the myoglobin. This doesn’t necessarily mean it has gone bad, though with this length of unfrozen storage, it may have. Best to use your nose to tell for sure, not your eyes.

    Before you cook the red meat, the iron atom’s oxidation level is +2 and is bound to a dioxygen molecule (O2) with a red color; as you cook it, this iron loses an electron and goes to a +3 oxidation level, and now coordinates with a water molecule (H2O). This process ends up turning the meat brown.

    heather wrote on February 5th, 2014
    • “Factoid” means “a non-truth.”

      Dr. Weezil wrote on February 5th, 2014
    • Whoever wrote this “factoid” doesn’t know hogs! They are not lazy by nature. As a pork producer whose animals are outside in large, natural(dirt and grass)pens I can assure you they don’t just lay around.

      Donna wrote on February 5th, 2014
      • Agreed! Hogs do like to run and frolic, and they are surprisingly fast, especially if I bring over a big bucket of apples/strawberries/other goodies. Then they lounge around for an hour or so.

        Mine like to burrow under hay and then walk around with haystacks on their backs too. They kind of look like piggy scarecrows. For the most part, it’s the younger ones that run around in short bursts and then laze. My big breeding boar is way too big for that nonsense, so he mostly just lounges all day.

        Awestra wrote on February 5th, 2014
      • And meat from well-raised, non-factory hogs is quite dark compared to the pale varieties that come on styrofoam trays at the average grocery store. “The other white meat” was a marketing technique used to sell selectively bred hogs with very light meat to consumers who had been scared away from eating red meat by the same government that subsidized “the other white meat” in the first place.

        Mantonat wrote on February 6th, 2014
  20. Hmm…this seems in conflict with eating “primal” weren’t our ancestors eating their meats over an open fire probably on a stick of some sort? Or am I misinformed and they ate everything raw???

    I still feel that our biggest problem is in the food itself and what it’s being fed or nourished with….rather than the way it is cooked. I think of primal more of getting back to nature’s way of nourishing things and utilizing our local organic farms and dairies and love that you are always encouraging people to utilize these markets.

    Karen wrote on February 5th, 2014
  21. Just bought me a slow cooker, it’s perfect for avoiding all those AGE’s etc. The food is gorgeous and so simple to do. People out there, go ahead have your grills, but just do what you can in other ways to minimise the problems, Use the right oils/fats when frying, marinade your meat before grilling, drink your wine and coffee etc etc and enjoy. Live long and prosper. xx

    Liz wrote on February 5th, 2014
    • okay thanks! think I’ll be dusting off the crockpot.. always like it..

      John wrote on February 5th, 2014
  22. Didn’t Grok live off of meat thrown into the open fire without any marination whatsoever?

    Growing Grok wrote on February 5th, 2014
    • I see a lot of comments about Grok that assume that early humans burnt the crap out of everything. Actually, it’s likely they ate a lot of stuff raw, and some dried. They also cooked in embers, wrapping food in leaves, and in water, using hot stones or pots, as well as over a fire. It’s good to take a little time to learn about early humans in all their varieties, understanding that a lot of what we believe is based on evidence interpreted in the light of present human practices.

      dmunro wrote on February 5th, 2014
  23. I’ve always preferred a crispy brown outside- whether on my medium rare steak or my roasted broccoli. crispy fat is so much tastier than slimey fat! it does seem strange that this desire, which I assume to be universal/evolutionary, could be so detrimental.

    adina wrote on February 5th, 2014
  24. so.. looks like stew, crockpots/slow cookers are ideal..
    sounds right..
    only concern for crockpots.. is their glaze full of lead or other niceties..

    John wrote on February 5th, 2014
  25. I cook my larger cuts and whole birds in the oven, on a broiler pan, wrapped in tinfoil (with paper liner between foil & meat–foil wraps pan and all), with water in the bottom of the broiler pan, at 350 for 2-3 hours, depending on size of meat cut or bird being cooked. Rabbits usually take 2.5 hours. Small chickens 2 hours. Smoked pork picnic shoulder roasts take 3 hours. An 11-lb. turkey (unstuffed) took 3 hours.

    When done, I have a chunk of meat suitable for “pulling”, and a pan full of drippings suitable for soups, stews, and meat-flavored gelatin for adding to my cat’s food. Meat falls off the bone, so all I have to do is fish out the bones–no carving needed!

    Wenchypoo wrote on February 5th, 2014
    • Thanks for putting that part about the paper between the foil and the meat. I do that too so the metal doesn’t leach into the food.

      2Rae wrote on February 5th, 2014
      • The metal won’t leach at standard cooking temperatures. The problem arises when cooking with an acid (lemon, tomato juice, etc.), this will extract aluminum from the foil or pan (if using a scratched non-stick pan).

        Mihnea wrote on February 6th, 2014
  26. unsavoury thought of the day.. is cooking food just a form of predigesting our food.. making it easier to digest/ process..

    John wrote on February 5th, 2014
    • Yes. Micheal Pollan, “Cooked”.

      Giovanni wrote on February 5th, 2014
      • thanks! sounds like an interesting read..

        John wrote on February 5th, 2014
  27. Maillard reaction is worth every % point of increased risk. Guess I’ll keep eating veggies to combat it or drink more wine.

    Keep it simple wrote on February 5th, 2014
    • yeah, seriously. I have so few vices at this point–not giving up browning or carmelizing!!

      tkm wrote on February 5th, 2014
  28. Most foods can be baked at about 375 degrees. The heat is indirect and therefore fairly gentle. I’ve baked everything from eggs to pot roast to fresh asparagus with good results. Even steak can be given a quick, light sear and then oven-roasted until medium rare. it doesn’t need to be blasted by an open fire and covered with char to taste good.

    Shary wrote on February 5th, 2014
  29. Well, I can’t give up grilled meat. I’ll dress is up with a protective coating of marinade and eat it with cancer negating veg & herbs & call it good.

    Colleen wrote on February 5th, 2014
  30. Some people are just so negative, e.g. “now what am I going to eat…”

    Information is information, but it’s what you do with it that counts. I think Mark is simply communicating that there are ways to protect your meat and yourself. How hard is marinating meat, really? Maybe don’t eat grilled meat for breakfast, lunch and dinner – mix it up! I’m not going to stop grilling (or other abrasive methods), but I might use a plank for salmon, more marinades instead of rubs or grill on the weekend when I have wine or chocolate. No all or nothing for me, just educated culinary goodness.

    Kim wrote on February 5th, 2014
    • Did not think for a minute I was being negative. Just a bit depressed because there really does NOT seem to be much I can eat. Hence the ‘giving up’ remark. Walk in my shoes before you name call

      Karyn wrote on February 5th, 2014
      • Allergies? ‘Cause the list of whole foods is pretty long…

        Bill C wrote on February 5th, 2014
  31. The BEST marinade I’ve ever found just happens to have all of the stuff listed above that prevents the carcinogens from forming…well…keeps MOST of them at bay:
    ¼ cup coconut aminos
    ¼ cup Honey
    2 Tablespoons Balsamic Vinegar
    2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
    2 cloves Minced Garlic (optional)
    Black Pepper
    Kosher Salt

    I use it for every steak I make now…flank, ribeye, everything. I don’t have a grill, so I broil it until it has a few crunchies on top. I was freaked out by this article until I read that I’ve totally minimized my exposure by marinating! :D

    Tara Pantera wrote on February 5th, 2014
    • Tara – that sounds VERY good. Please tell me what coconut aminos are.

      Karyn wrote on February 5th, 2014
    • Found out what coconut aminos are. Don’t have this and am having a ‘seared’ steak for dinner. So I do have coconut oil and I substituted that for the olive oil and aminos. The marinade smells GREAT and my steak is marinating as we speak. Thank you for the recipe.

      Karyn wrote on February 5th, 2014
  32. :-) Mark, I appreciate your touches of humor and whimsy! you don’t harangue, you amuse and educate!

    tess wrote on February 5th, 2014
    • +1

      Sharon wrote on February 6th, 2014
  33. The other major balance to strike is cooking and prep time. I have three jobs right now. Time is very limited. What are some of the best ways to prepare excellent, primal meals with limited prep time?

    Kevin Grokman wrote on February 5th, 2014
    • Take some time to save some time. That is, on a weekend afternoon or whenever you have a hour, prepare all your veggies. Wash, spin, trim, chop, dice . . . Keep all the tender ones in containers lined with absorbent cloth (or paper towel) and all the sturdy ones in bags in the fridge. Then for the rest of the week, it’s grab and go for salads, lunches, stir fries, steaming . . .

      For meat, I cook in volume on Sunday and have lots left for the week. This week, we had pork roast on Sunday, pork roast slices with sautéed apples and onions on Monday, chopped pork roast in our salads for lunches for two days, pork stir fry the next night and enough left to put in the freezer for another quick meal. Yum. I do the same with chicken.

      It sounds time consuming but it actually saves so much time. And it also takes away the temptation to just “grab something” because there isn’t time to cook.

      Crock pot!! Toss your protein of choice in there with handfuls of chopped veggies and set it on low for the day. You can’t really go wrong. Experiment!

      Hope something here helps.

      Ravey wrote on February 6th, 2014
    • A crock pot is great for hot meals when you’re short on time. You can leave them on when you’re not home and have a nice meal waiting for you. There are tons of great recipes for cooking in crock pots that don’t involve much prep time.Google “paleo crock pot recipes” and a bunch will come up.

      Mantonat wrote on February 6th, 2014
  34. True pastured, fully grassfed meat should never be cooked at high temps and cooks quicker anyway.

    Kelly wrote on February 5th, 2014
  35. Probably good to temper the meat – bring it up to room temp. – before cooking.

    Roy wrote on February 5th, 2014
  36. as long as you are following a somewhat primal lifestyle, ie eating a lot of veggies and healthy fats, avoiding sugar and processed foods, getting some exercise, and not eating charred meat at every meal, those times you do decide to grill or broil a steak will probably only increase your chance of getting cancer by about .001% anyways. not a big deal

    Shawn wrote on February 5th, 2014
    • Great thoughts Shawn. This is exactly the way I eat and I eat charred meat 2 or 3 times a week – yes week, not day. So I guess I am doing better than I thought as I suspect most people here are doing.

      Karyn wrote on February 5th, 2014
    • +1

      I believe this article is approaching the point of diminishing returns. It also seems like the comments section has become a contest of who likes the rarest steak! Everyone trying to “out primal” each other…

      Just do what you can… I think that’s the main point.

      Sean wrote on February 6th, 2014
  37. I seriously doubt Grok really gave a crap about how his meat was cooked – once he figured out how tasty it was he just did it. Probably burned it a few times if he had to scramble up a tree to avoid a passing predator. The reality of scientific study is this: people who do research for a living have to continual find things to research so they can stay employed. We have now over-analyzed everything to the point that insecure people are incapable of making their own decisions. The primal/paleo way of eating is supposed to be simple: eat meat, veggies, spices, and healthy fats. Don’t get yourselves all bunged up over what some lab-rat decides to study in order to get their share of the research grant pie.

    Jane P wrote on February 5th, 2014
    • It is precisely this kind of ignorant comment that gives Paleo folks a bad name. Assuming early humans were ignorant fools who were just content with throwing meat on a flame, and then leaping to the conclusion that somehow that lifestyle is ideal for you is idiotic.

      If you prefer to live in ignorance, then go ahead, nobody will stop you. Your hypothetical “Grok” never existed, but if the fantasy of his image helps you more than the reality of this world, feel free to engage in it.

      ZenBowman wrote on February 5th, 2014
      • Exactly! Early humans were just humans after all! It doesn’t mean they always made the right, healthy choice for themselves. We as a species probably starting harming ourselves from the Paleolithic age whenever we got the chance and continued to do so up until today. It’s also naïve to think they were completely disease-free.

        Katerina wrote on February 6th, 2014
  38. Thanks for the article Mark.

    I am having a hard time reconciling the suggested cooking methods with the way our ancestors cooked meat.

    Given that fire was “domesticated” by the genus Homo around 1.5 million years ago and that cooked/burned food had a critical role in the development in our energetically expensive brain, it would make sense to argue that our species should be well adapted to handle the potential drawbacks of burned meat…

    Jorge wrote on February 5th, 2014
    • The nutrients in cooked meat are more bio-available than in raw meat, but the nutrients in burned or charred meat are destroyed. There’s no reason to think that paleolithic humans burned their food. Most meat cooking techniques exhibited by current humans that live in neolithic-like societies involve slow cooking over low heat or smoking/drying over even lower heat. Also, the meats they’re generally cooking are very lean, so you don’t have flare-ups and charred fat like many modern grillers experience. Meals involving meat in these cultures is fairly uncommon and the meat is often cooked buried in pits with coals or hot stones, or sometimes meat – small game for example – is set directly on coals after the fire has died down. Generally there’s a layer between the food and the heat, such as leaves, wet bark, or hide. They also don’t generally cook using extra fat.

      Mantonat wrote on February 6th, 2014
      • Mantonat maybe the term “burned” was not the appropriate one, but it seems to me that coking food in or near an open flame and in the presence of smoke must have been extremely common, particularly in the early stages of fire domestication where refined cooking techniques where probably unknown and, for all intents and purposes, not really needed (an open flame did the job and the food tasted great, so why change the method)

        The sophisticated cooking methods you talk about seem suited for certain environments where fuel was scarce (burying food in leaves over hot stones or coals is common in the south american Andes for example). So I wonder on what basis do you say that cooking with simple fires in Palaeolithic cultures was generally uncommon.

        Also, the idea that our ancestors ate lean animal products is not accurate, as they ate offal which is very rich in fat and the intra abdominal fat per se. Kurt Harris has an excellent post about this, I encourage you to check it out.

        Jorge wrote on February 6th, 2014
        • I based my comments on what I’ve read about or have seen in documentaries about current hunter-gatherer or minimally contacted societies (in the Amazon, Angola, New Guinea, etc.). Their lifestyles and diets have remained virtually unchanged for millennia. As a practical matter, cooking over an open fire is the least practical and inconvenient method. Open fire is the shortest part of the life of a fire pit, whereas coals can stay at cooking temperatures for hours or even days with minimal tending. Without metal implements, cooking meat over open flames is also impractical – cooking sticks burn easily, meat chars on the exterior while remaining raw inside, someone has to stand there with a stick and meat and risk possible burns and smoke inhalation. Primitive cultures are not made up of dumb individuals, They lack modern metal tools but, like paleolithic humans, learned how to make useful tools from stone, animal parts, plant matter, etc. Unless we are talking about the earliest ancestors of humans, their knowledge of the use of fire was quite advanced – it was part of their daily lives. Fast-cooking meat over open flames was probably only done when no other options were available, like when a group was on the move or when catastrophic events prevented setting up fire pits. Certainly food was exposed to smoke (although low cooking coals don’t emit much smoke) and probably a certain amount of wood ash ended up being consumed along with cooked meats and vegetables, but the evolution of humans and the proper cooking of food went hand in hand. Charring the exterior while leaving the interior raw would not have made nutrients much more bio-available than just eating food raw.

          Certainly, offal and internal fat were consumed as sources of nutrients, but what I said was that they weren’t generally cooking with added fat (meaning the stuff that the article mentioned would become harmful under high heat). And there’s no arguing the fact that wild game is far leaner than domestic sources of meat, even in pre-industrial societies.

          Either way, humans basically evolved cooking on fires built with wood or other combustible available resources. They certainly weren’t sitting around worrying about oxidation or carcinogens. However they cooked their food, it helped humans evolve.

          Mantonat wrote on February 6th, 2014
        • This is an interesting discussion on a subject I often wonder about. Both Jorge and Mantonat make good points. I do think it’s reasonable to assume that the average Groks new more about fire art than one might tend to assume. Knowing that slow-cooking makes for tenderer meat, I tend to think Grok would have known it. Combined with Mantonat’s true observations about practical fires being mostly coals, I would be willing to wager that statistically–and therefore evolutionarily–the meat would be slow-cooked over coals with less smoke and no direct flame charring the exterior surface.

          Again, really interesting discussion that might assist in re-thinking the particulars of fire cooking.

          Hale wrote on February 12th, 2014
  39. Oh, and I hate to break it to ya – but no diet or lifestyle choice is going to allow you to live forever. Sorry, you just don’t get out of life alive. Live long, drop dead!

    Jane P wrote on February 5th, 2014
    • Well, I’m going to at least try to live forever, we’ll see how far I get. :-)

      2Rae wrote on February 5th, 2014
  40. I wonder how smoking at 200-250 plays with this? Seems like it would be fairly low risk compared to by comparison, brushing steaks with acid and spices and grilling over high heat, but I’m not sure.

    There hasn’t just been a ton of research on BBQ like this, correct?

    Clay wrote on February 5th, 2014

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