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

It’s Not So Offal

MDA’s Quick Guide to Purchasing, Preparing and Eating Organ Meats

Everything but the Squeal, Thrift Cuts, Hunting Ethics… it would seem that in recent months we’ve spent a good deal of time talking about the benefits of feasting on the entire animal, but we’ve kind of side-stepped the fact that eating the whole animal also means eating the organs.

To some, organ meats are ho-hum foods of childhood, but to others, offal is an undiscovered – and somewhat stomach turning – culinary territory. Now, we’re not suggesting that everyone needs to eat organ meat in order to be perfectly Primal. Instead we’re endorsing offal as Primal food that has both fiscal and health benefits. Take a gander and let everyone know what you think in the comment boards!


Possibly the most common organ meat consumed in the U.S., liver was once regarded as a meal for the affluent and was even named one of the Eight Delicacies in The Li-Chi, a handbook of rituals published during China’s Han era. So why should you be eating it? According to those in the know, liver is an excellent source of high quality protein; contains an abundance of vitamin A and several B vitamins; is an excellent source of folic acid and iron; is the number one food source of copper; and contains CoQ10, which is important for cardiovascular function.

There really aren’t too many animals where liver is off limits – bar the polar bear, but there aren’t too many arctic explorers among us. In the U.S., the most frequently consumed types are beef, veal, goat, lamb, bison, buffalo, chicken, geese, or duck liver. When selecting liver for consumption, it is preferable to select one from a young animal as it is the mildest and most tender. How to know that you’re making a good choice? Many swear that the younger the animal, the paler the liver. Also, look for livers that have no slimy or dry patches and are relatively odor free.

To prepare a whole liver you’ll need to first rinse it and pat dry with a damp cloth. Next, with a sharp knife, remove any exposed veins, ducts or connective tissue then use your fingers to peel away the thin outer membrane and presto, the liver is now ready to eat! Sound too gruesome? A reputable butcher can usually take care of this for you! When preparing, it should be noted that liver should be cooked until it is light pink – cooking too much can cause it to toughen.


Kidney beans might be a no-no on the Primal eating plan, but kidneys? They’re a-ok. Kidneys are most frequently available in beef, lamb and pork form and are generally sold trimmed, with the central strip of hard white fat and the outer membrane removed. We recommend that you ease into eating kidneys by first purchasing beef kidneys, which have a milder flavor and are also the easiest – and least expensive – variety.

When shopping for kidneys, look for those that are deep red in color – except for veal, which can take on a tan-cast – are plump and glossy with no bruised or discolored areas and no strong odor. To prepare, rinse the organs in cold water and, for a milder taste, soak in chilled water with a teaspoon of salt to each quart of water for one to two hours. From there, the kidney can be broiled, sautéed or braised.


Talk about eating your heart out – depending on the size of the animal the heart is yielded from, the heart could weigh as much as 3 lbs. Because it is a muscle meat, heart is very similar to steak, roasts and ground beef, but is typically less expensive (we blame the “ick” factor for that!) and actually has a higher protein content. In addition, heart is an excellent source of a number of nutrients, including thiamin, folate, selenium, phosphorus, zinc, CoQ10 and several of the B vitamins. In addition, beef heart contains amino acids that are thought to improve metabolism and compounds that promote the production of collagen and elastin (thin and wrinkle free? Sign us up!)

When selecting a heart, look for one that is a deep reddish brown color and has a layer of fat near its top. Culinary experts universally recommend that you purchase only high quality organs. Some experts suggest that hearts from grass-fed animals can keep longer, are better in color, smell better and taste better than organs procured from other animals. As with most organ meats, hearts are pretty delicate during the cooking process, so you’ll want to be sure to cook it slowly and serve it medium rare.


Sweet and bread? Sounds like a recipe for a carb overload, but in actuality, “sweetbreads” refers to the thymus and – depending on who you talk to – the pancreas glands of a calf or young cow, lamb or pig. In general, sweetbreads are pinkish-white in color, with those from the heart or belly taking on a round, plump appearance and those from the throat appearing more elongated and cylindrical.

In terms of taste, sweetbreads are…uhhh, sweet tasting (as opposed to the savory flavor of most meats), but they are by no means doughy! The “bread” part of the name comes from an old English word meaning flesh. The following is a delicious recipe from for sweetbreads and bacon that includes some solid tips for preparing the sweetbread for consumption: Sweetbreads and Bacon.


If you’ve made it this far in the article, then chances are you aren’t going to be grossed out by the concept of eating tongue. In general, beef and veal tongues are the most commonly consumed, with both sharing a grainy, firm texture and a pinkish-grey color.

Tongue can be stewed, boiled or poached and is often pickled, or served roasted like roast beef. Before final prepping and serving the skin of the tongue is usually removed.


Type “eating brain” into a Google search engine and you find far more entries about zombies and brain, and the benefits of eating fish to boost brain power than you do for recipes that include actual brain. If you do dig deep (in a totally non-zombie sense), however, you’ll learn that brain has a delicate, crumbly texture and is popular in dishes from many different parts of the world, including French and Indian cuisine.

It should be noted, however, that brain can in some cases contain prions, a unique type of protein that has been linked to the development of mad cow disease. If you’re not perturbed by these warnings, check out this simple recipe for scrambled eggs and calf brains.


Saving the best for last? You betcha! Tripe is generally defined as the stomach lining of sheep, goats, pig and deer. In the case of beef, tripe generally only refers to the first three portions of the cows stomach. Sound disgusting? Perhaps. But long ago, the dish was so revered that it was said to have spurred a tiff between between William the Conqueror and Phillip I, the King of France.

Since there is an obvious “ick” factor associated with eating another being’s stomach, you’ll want to take steps to ensure that the tripe that you eat is thoroughly cleaned. In most cases, a butcher will also remove any extra fat and bleach it for you so that it looks more appetizing, but it will be up to you to boil it so that the lining – the edible part – is fully cooked. Since the lining has somewhat of a rubbery texture, you’ll want to cook it for at least 2-3 hours to make it tender. From there, you can use it in salad, as an ingredient in soups, casseroles or stews, or as a main dish all by itself.

What do you think, readers? Did you grow up on this stuff? Old hat? Or does even the word “tripe” make you queasy? (Or maybe both?) Voice your opinion in the comment board!

t0fugurl, ulterior epicure, stu spivack, Toasty Ken, Nick Bair, perago89, gogogadgetscott, La Blageur a Paris, KitLKat, avlxyz Flickr Photos (CC)

Further Reading:

A Visual Guide to Antioxidants

Cheap Meat Round II: “Thrift Cuts”

A Visual Guide to Peppers

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. I love the organs!! In Mexico we eat them all the time. We do not waste anything from any animal. Yummy!! By the way Mark, I was thinking of all my friends and family in Mexico (I´m in Canada now) and how they should go primal. You have a lot of amazing info here but it´s all in English! Will there ever be a version in Spanish? Just so you know, you would have millions of latin followers. I hope you can consider it.

    Lila wrote on March 8th, 2013
  2. After living in Thailand for 2 years, I want to get back into eating organ meats. I used to have chicken hearts and some kind of pig organ every morning for breakfast with a little sticky rice and green beans. Truth be told I didn’t know they were organ meats until someone told me but by then my morning meal was so habitual that it didn’t gross me out. Try to imagine the meats as another kind of animal (ex. your eating chicken hearts… “wow crocodile sure does taste interesting!!”)

    JJ wrote on March 11th, 2013
  3. Hey, great article! I love organ meats of all sorts, as much if not more than I like the muscle meats. I buy organs when I can from grassfed or naturally raised animals, and I always save and eat all the organs from my own chickens, ducks, and rabbits when I slaughter.

    The part about lighter colored livers being from younger animals, though…? I’m not sure that’s accurate. Definitely not the case with chickens in my years of raising and slaughtering them; fresh livers from young poultry are uniformly dark and firm, while livers from OLDER birds (spent layers and cocks typically three years old or older) are usually lighter brown, sometimes slightly uneven or mottled in coloration. I do not save or eat those livers. A dark, deep reddish-brown color and firm texture has always been to me the sign of a healthy, fresh liver from a young animal.

    Cheers, and happy dining!

    Sky wrote on May 7th, 2013
  4. Except for the brain, I have been eating these all my life. I actually made liver(from bison, which we bought from Sprouts Market) and onions for dinner last night, my first time to cook it myself and it actually turned out pretty good if I may say so. I just marinated it with Braggs liquid amino, lemon, salt and pepper for an hour or so and then fried them.

    Lee wrote on June 19th, 2013
  5. Starting off with liver and kidney

    Hmmm, the two most toxic organs possible as they both act as filters for toxins.

    Considering how much our animals are pumped with anti-biotics, be prepared to have a huge amount of chemicals in these two.

    The liver stores the toxins that the kidney cannot dispose. I would not touch liver if it was from anything other than a NEWBORN animal.

    Carly wrote on July 5th, 2013
  6. I grew up eating heart, lightly floured, salted a peppered and gently fried. Mother fixed beef tongue by boiling it in the deep well in the stove, with lots of garlic, celery onions and salt & pepper. When the tongue was done she put it on a cutting board, let it cool slightly then stripped the skin off. Meanwhile she boiled potatoes in the liquid that was left from the tongue, tossed a salad and sliced the tongue from tip to the back of the tongue. She served the smallest tenderest portions at the table and saved the bigger back slices for sandwiches the next day. YUM!!
    She fixed liver the standard way at the time fried with bacon and onions but we kids didn’t ever really like it so she finally stopped. As a teen I bought kidneys and cooked them once for dinner. The family was fine with them. At the time they instructed you to boil them gently in salted water to remove the “piss”. The only thing I didn’t like about them at the time was the smell while they went through that process.
    Mother also fried us chicken gizzards once in a while. A real treat.
    My dad and mom were raised on the above plus brains, head cheese, cheek meat, sweetbreads, fresh eggs, and a daily dose of cod liver oil.
    I’d like to get back to organ meats and offal again adding a few things that I’ve never tried.

    Ludona H. Smith wrote on August 14th, 2013
  7. All those organs you listed are frequent fare here in the Philippines!

    Rick Emerson Ong wrote on September 12th, 2013
  8. You can also make liver into pate. Heart is really delicious and one of the best parts. Kidneys are good, too. I use the lungs, too. The dog and cat love them. I use it for pate or also ground up with rice.

    Meat Lover wrote on September 22nd, 2013
  9. My kids love ox heart either cooked in a bolognese style sauce or into a casserole. They don’t know it’s heart it’s very steak-like :D:D

    Not primal I know, but son loves it in a tomatoe-y sauce (in slow cooker) wrapped in tortilla

    So cheap! love it.

    Louise wrote on October 4th, 2013
  10. I eat organ mean. only the brain gave me some icky feeling, don’t know if i will ever warm up to it. i have not eaten the sweetbread before, maybe i will try it some day. Nice article and enlightening.

    Ejiro wrote on November 27th, 2013
  11. Found this a long time after its original posting.Some memories about organ meats….As a boy, loved steak and kidney (still do ) ; loved lambs brains (can’t do ) ;didn’t like liver till a Kiwi guy cooked it for me with bacon, onions and mushrooms- delish! Worked in a butcher’s after school and on weekends during high school – made lots of mince meat. If it was too fatty and pale I would run it through again with lots of beef hearts to make it redder. My granny used to make potted meat,which was a combination of ox tongue,ox tail and pig cheek, cooked slowly then put into a tin like meatloaf to set,then eaten cold in slices.My dad loved this..She also cooked him tripe and onions a lot ( probably to nudge him to marry her daughter ! It worked ! )

    Mr B wrote on February 8th, 2014
  12. Does anyone know where I can get grass fed bison, cow, or lamb brain online or through mail? Thank you very much

    Lucas wrote on February 15th, 2014
  13. Sorry, I don’t eat any of the above. :(

    Aqiyl Aniys wrote on February 25th, 2014
  14. You lost me at brains and tripe. Liver, heart, kidneys.. totally willing to try. Sweetbreads? Eh.. maybe.

    Sarah wrote on March 19th, 2014
  15. I’m really trying to force myself to try new things during my current 21 day challenge but this article is making the hard boiled eggs I just ate threaten to come back up… I could really use some recipes for beginners. Any suggestions?

    Liza wrote on March 20th, 2014
  16. Where can you get organic organs? I’m pretty sure Walmart won’t have any…

    Sarah wrote on March 21st, 2014
  17. my mother cooked beef heart stuffed with oysters,superb
    unfortunatley Ive lost the recipe.Any one no of it

    joe moran wrote on April 21st, 2014
  18. I’m glad MDA got me into eating organ meat. I also eat more marrow and gristle/collagen/gelatin now.
    Liver is now a regular part of my diet. I’ve had beef, pork, chicken, and cod liver that I can remember and be sure of at the moment, and maybe sardine liver – there are some organs in there I can’t identify. I like pork liver pate the most so far.
    I’ve had beef kidney a couple times. It doesn’t taste much different from regular beef muscle except it had a weird, slightly spaghetti taste to it. Maybe it’s because the cows were grain-fed and some grain constituents built up in their kidneys. Then again the grain-fed beef liver I had never tasted of grain and the likely soy- and corn-fed pork liver I had didn’t taste like those.
    I’ve had chicken hearts, which were pretty good.
    The offal I’m really eager to try is brain. I’m excited for it. I think I’ll ask my dad to try to get some if he goes to the butcher any time soon since I’ll be living with him for about the next two weeks, or after I get my next paycheck (“disability” – hah! – playcheck) at the end of the month / start of next month I’ll go to a butcher and then cook some up in the shelter kitchen, and seriously gross out some of the people there. I’ll probably eat a little bit raw in front of them.

    Animanarchy wrote on June 24th, 2014
  19. Hi
    Was hoping to read something about tendon…in Hungary they eat a lot of veal tendon, crumbed and fried and it’s delicious. I was googling around to learn more about the nutrition factor but of course, funnily enough, most sites talk about it as dog food! :(

    Claudia wrote on February 19th, 2015
  20. I absolutely love tripe, my mother cooks it in soup and when I visited South Africa they cooked it in a type of stewed dish served with a starchy accompaniment similar to mash potatoes. It was the heavenly. Not too keen on any other offal meat except chicken liver pate, yummy.

    Nicky wrote on March 12th, 2015
  21. I eat offal all the time…….you get used to it and actually start liking it.

    I have beef liver and tongue in my freezer for next week……eat heart all the time.

    tickyul wrote on July 18th, 2015
  22. Liver is delicious, IMO. I used to always stop at Shoney’s for grilled liver and onions, until they took it off the menu and replaced it with the same stuff that everyone else has on their menus. No reason now to stop at Shoney’s

    Anyway, beef liver or chicken liver either one – fry it up in some oil and have some onions frying along side. I may have to have it for dinner tomorrow now that you have me thinking about it.

    grisly atoms wrote on November 1st, 2015

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