8 Kitchen Hacks Every Primal Cook Should Know

8 Kitchen Hacks Every Primal Cook Should Know finalA big part of the Primal Blueprint 21-Day Challenge happens in your kitchen, which is a good thing. Preparing your own meals is the best way to ensure you’re eating real food that your body needs to thrive. It takes the guesswork out of what is or isn’t Primal in a world of ready-made meals. But if you don’t approach cooking 3+ meals a day with a strategy, you’ll start feeling like you’ll never get out of the kitchen, which isn’t such a good thing.

A collection of Primal recipes right at your fingertips definitely helps. But if you really want Primal cooking to be easy, convenient, and manageable in the long haul, then what you need most are some kitchen hacks that every Primal cook should know.

1. How to Cook With a Cast Iron Skillet

If you’re going to invest in one new piece of cooking equipment, buy a cast iron skillet. Cast iron is a safe, indestructible cooking surface that puts a crispy sear on meat like no other. It can go from the stovetop, to the oven, and even on the hot grates of a grill (the last option makes for awesome burgers, because allowing them to bask in the glory of their own fat, rather than dry up while the precious drippings fall beneath the open grating, is just brilliant).

Cast iron pans cook best when really hot. So heat up the pan, add some fat, and throw in whatever you’re cooking, be it meat or vegetable. Cast iron retains heat well even when cold food is added, so expect ingredients to cook a little faster than usual. Finish cooking on the stovetop, put the pan in a pre-heated oven to finish cooking meat all the way through, or cook vegetables until tender.

To season your new cast iron pan (which helps create a fairly non-stick surface), heat the pan up on the stovetop until it’s really hot, then rub a little neutral-flavored oil, coconut oil, or lard into it and let it cool. Do this several times before you initially cook with it and after each time you wash it. It’s fine to wash a cast iron pan with water and a little bit of soap if necessary—just make sure to dry it immediately and don’t use a metal scouring pad.

2. How to Cook Large Cuts of Meat

Meat FinalA large cut of meat is a gift that keeps on giving. Cook it at the beginning of the week and you’ll have meals for days. Slice off meat for breakfast, add it to salads for lunch, or reheat the meat with vegetables for dinner.

Be it beef (chuck roast, round roast, brisket), pork (shoulder/butt), or lamb (shoulder or shank), the following 3 steps can be used to cook large, and therefore less expensive, cuts of meat.

  • Season liberally and bring up to room temperature. Season the meat and set it out 1 hour before you plan to cook it—meat at room temperature cooks more evenly than cold meat right out of the fridge. You can use your favorite spice rub, but salt and pepper are just fine.
  • Sear. Searing the outside of the meat in a hot cast iron skillet or heavy pan will give you a delicious, crispy crust that’s always tasty (this step is optional if you’re short on time.)
  • Put on low, slow heat and add a little moisture. Tougher cuts of meat become juicy and tender when cooked for a long time at low heat. To shorten the cooking time, cut larger cuts into 2 to 4 smaller pieces before cooking it.

Oven: Set the oven to 300 F. Put the meat in a baking dish that it fits snugly into. Add enough stock (or a combination of wine and stock) so the liquid comes halfway up the side of the meat. Throw in a chopped onion, a few garlic cloves and a bay leaf. Cover with a lid. Cook for 2 to 4 hours until you can pull the meat apart easily with a fork. If the meat is still tough when you check it, cook it longer.

Slow cooker: Set your slow cooker to low. Put in the meat, add ½ cup stock, plus a chopped onion and a few garlic cloves. Cook for 6 to 8 hours until the meat is tender.

Strain the cooking liquid into a pot after removing the cooked meat. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer to thicken into a sauce.

3. How to Love Lamb

If you always buy beef, pork or chicken and avoid lamb because you’re not exactly sure what to do with it, here’s a simple idea: Use lamb in your next stir fry. Or stew. Or chili. Easier yet, shape ground lamb into meatballs or burgers.

To enjoy lamb, you don’t have to get super-fancy or spend tons of money on expensive cuts. Just treat it like any other type of meat. Lamb loves herbs and spices, so break out the cumin, coriander, paprika, cayenne, curry powder, cilantro, rosemary and parsley.

4. How to Cook Fish Perfectly

Fish finalFish is a great alternative staple to land roaming creatures, especially if you get a wild caught variety packed with anti-inflammatory omega-3s. But you won’t want to make it part of your Primal menu if it’s bland, rubbery or dry. So next time you buy fish, choose a fillet with the skin on and try this simple cooking method for a perfect texture every time (it works for skinless fish too, but that skin is worth keeping on!)

Pat the fish dry. Better yet, uncover the fish in the refrigerator 1 to 2 hours before cooking so it air dries. Wet fish sticks to pans and grills, and wet skin won’t get as crispy.

Season fish generously with salt and pepper.

Use a stainless steel or cast iron skillet and get it really hot. Right when the pan is about to start smoking, add a tablespoon or two of oil/fat–enough for a thin coating on the bottom of the pan. Lard works well for frying fish, or a combination of butter and olive oil.

Get the oil/fat hot, too. When the oil is hot and shimmering, add the fish skin-side down (watch out for oil splatters).

Use a long, wide spatula to press the fillet flat against the hot pan as it cooks. But don’t move the fillet around! Cook until the fish is opaque, with just a thin layer on the very top that remains uncooked. Quickly and confidently slide the spatula under the fish and flip it over. If the fillet is ready to be flipped, it will release easily from the pan. Cook it just 1 minute more. Err on the side of taking fish off heat sooner rather than later. Remember, it will continue to cook a little once it’s out of the pan.

5. How to Eat More Seaweed

Seaweed finalSeaweed is a potent source of important minerals that you’re probably missing out on. Some cultures consider seaweed a staple food, but in the United States it’s mostly just served with sushi. If you’re not packing nori full of rice anymore, then how else can you regularly eat what is essentially one of nature’s best multivitamins?

Sure, you can sauté dulse as a side for eggs or blend it with olives for a salty tapenade. You can buy bags of mixed seaweed, wakame or alaria and add it to regular salads and coleslaw. You can even use nori as a wrap for meat or eggs, or bake it in the oven to make your own seaweed snacks.

But the easiest way to bring seaweed into your life is to keep kombu in your pantry, since its formidable constitution helps it stay fresh forever. Whenever a pot of stock or soup is simmering, throw a piece of kombu in it. It’s one of the easiest ways to add nutrients to a dish without adding strong flavor (just remember to remove the strip of kombu before serving the soup.)

6. How to Replace Rice and Pasta

The great thing about replacing traditional rice and pasta with Primal “noodles” is that it doubles as an easy way to add a vegetable to your meal.

Cauliflower is the most common substitute for rice. Throw steamed cauliflower in the food processor and process until it’s chopped into rice-sized bits. Or, process raw cauliflower into small bits, toss with olive oil and salt, and bake in a thin layer on a large rimmed sheet pan for 20 to 30 minutes until brown and crispy.

In place of noodles, spaghetti squash and thinly sliced zucchini can be tossed with your favorite pasta sauce. Or, invest in a Spiralizer to turn just about any vegetable into noodles. Craving baked pasta? Try celery root lasagna.

Or, just skip noodles all together and simply dig into a bowl of hearty meat sauce.

7. How to Eat Sandwiches Without Bread

True, sandwiches are convenient for lunch. But putting your favorite sandwich in a bowl, minus the bread, is just as easy. Add lettuce, and you’ve got a great salad. Turkey, tomato, bacon and avocado over greens is a fantastic lunch. Who needs the bread? Keeping a bottle of olive oil and vinegar in your desk at work makes dressing the salad easy (or, if you don’t feel like prepping, stashing away one of PRIMAL KITCHEN™’s avocado oil based dressings will do the trick).

Then, there’s the Primal Egg McMuffin, Guacamole-stuffed Southwest Burgers, and Portabella Chorizo Burgers. All delicious, and all served without bread.

8. How to Say Goodbye to Chips (and Other Salty, Crunchy Junk Food)

CabbageChips finalPotato and corn chips have two things going for them: they’re salty and they’re crunchy. But the potato and corn part, plus many other questionable junk food ingredients (like industrial seed oils), not so great. Luckily, crunch and salt are easy to re-create with other real foods.

When a chip craving hits hard, steer yourself out of the junk food aisle and towards the meat section. Why? Because meat laden snacks like these chicken skin chips are as light, airy, crunchy and salty as any grain based chip you’ve ever had. (Also, the meat section has bacon, one of nature’s crunchiest, saltiest Primal favorites). If you’re not in a meaty mood, vegetable chips are also great for crispy, salty snacking. You’ve got your kale chips, cabbage chips, zucchini chips, and the list goes on.

A handful of nuts can also be a satiating and nutrient rich snack. Or, you could really go for it with a batch of Primal Bacon Trail Mix. Beef jerky, olives, spicy pickled green beans…all of them are snacks that will satisfy your cravings for crunchy and/or salty things.

So how’s that for a start? Are you ready to give some of these tips a try? Have you already tried some out, but want to give them a second go? Head over to your pantry or grocer today and start experimenting with some of these Primal hacks for your next meal.

Prefer listening to reading? Get an audio recording of this blog post, and subscribe to the Primal Blueprint Podcast on iTunes for instant access to all past, present and future episodes here.


About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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52 thoughts on “8 Kitchen Hacks Every Primal Cook Should Know”

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  1. What is your take on potato chips cooked in coconut oil? I see these in stores (Jackson’s Finest I believe), and they’re really good. I know potatoes aren’t great, but I wonder if the coconut oil is a good choice compared to vegetable oils. Thanks!

    1. Well of course chips or fries made with coconut oil or lard are way better than those made with various vegetable oils, in flavor as well as nutrition. 🙂

      (That being said, I mostly consider the whole bunch too greasy and too salty.)

    2. The issue is with self control usually. That combo of salt, fat, carbs, and crunch so conveniently packaged can result in overconsumption very easily. There are tricks around it highlighted in woks such as Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink. Also, some people are too carv sensitive in general to be eating potatoes regularly.
      Organic coconut oil potato chips are on my good food list currently though 🙂

  2. Love seaweed, use cast Iron every day, no problem giving up chips, pasta or bread, love cooking fish. Cooking big hunks of meat was an issue after being a vegetarian for over 30 years, but I’m managing. But I just can’t do the lamb thing. Something about the smell.

    1. The smell is from the fat. If you get leaner cuts or trim the fat, it won’t be as strong. But I suppose if you’re going to do that, you may as well stick with beef.

    2. Hmm, lamb… For me it’s more of an ingrained dislike of eating a baby animal. Once in a while I’ll order a rack of lamb in a restaurant, but not. very. often. I don’t eat veal either.

      1. I wish it was possible to buy mutton. I love gamey meat and I bet it would be great but it’s completely unavailable here.

      2. If it helps, Shary, lamb meat is not from a tiny baby lamb. They’re about a year old when sold for meat. I know a family that raises lamb and have helped during lambing season. They are really cute when they’re brand new, but by the time they’re big enough to butcher, they just look like sheep.

      3. Hi Shaya, lamb meat does not come from tiny lambs. Relative to other animals (UK figures here) : we slaughter chickens when they are 42 days old, lamb at five to six months, pigs at five months and rose veal at six to eight months. Lambs are also generally reared outdoors and kept with their mothers until weaned.

      4. I hate to burst your bubble but your beef and chicken are probably no older than your lamb.

        Commercial meat relies on speed of production to turn a profit so most commercial meats are from very young animals, it’s just down to linguistic history that we call it lamb.

  3. Just found a cool griddle cast iron skillet…Oops, I used steel wool on it. Thanks for the suggestions.

    1. Don’t worry about scouring it once in a while. Just heat it up and re-grease it afterward.

  4. Lamb is absolutely the best domestic meat out there. It has a good, strong meaty flavor, but is tender. I just wish American lamb was more affordable, as I prefer it to Australian or New Zealand lamb. The flavor of lamb fat or wild game takes some getting used to, but you begin to crave it after a while. I much prefer the stronger flavors that stand up to fresh herbs and spices.

  5. Thanks for a great article, Mark. Your tips should help new cooks considerably. It’s pretty daunting to try to be primal if you don’t know how to make a real meal. I’ve been cooking for years and frequently do one-pot dinners by roasting a variety of veggies with a large cut of meat. Add a salad and dinner is complete with minimal effort. I do have a crockpot but rarely use it. I find that the flavors taste fresher when foods are oven-roasted.

  6. Everyone in my family loves lamb in a tagine, with cauliflower couscous. Beef stew with marrow bones is great at this time of year and chicken ‘noodle’ soup (chicken leg meat and Savoy cabbage in chicken stock) goes down a treat. All easy to make plenty of too!

  7. Huge fan of lamb and my crock pot churns out killer corned beef, pot roast and the like. I do like to dutch oven my salmon with sliced lemon, salt & pepper, capers and dill. I will take on the cast iron skillet as I have never used one – that should be fun. For sandwiches, I substitute Napa Cabbage leaves – they are big, sturdy leaves without being too dominating taste wise – you can load one leaf with everything you’d put in a typical sandwich and cup it or wrap it. Works like a charm.

  8. Just picked up a pork butt. It is going in the crock pot tomorrow. Yum.
    My sister is a big fan of lamb. She buys a whole lamb from a local farm every year. it is so good when she cooks it.

  9. Diane Sanfilippo has a great flatbread recipe in one of her books. Basically sweet potato, coconut flour, gelatin, & eggs. So I guess that still may be a little “carby” for some, but it’s really nice to make a batch & whip out my own “buns” when everyone else is having a burger & I’d like to just pick it up for once & be part of the finger food club. Also great for packing “sandwiches.”
    No, we don’t make it all the time, but so nice & easy to whip up when we feel like it!

  10. What’s so “not great” about potatoes? Sure, commercial potato chips are cooked in nasty oils, but you CAN make them at home with olive oil, or bacon fat… And potatoes are good food.

    1. I agree! I thought it was only if you are sensitive to nightshade that you should avoid.

    2. I agree. I never gave up on white potatoes when going Paleo. I grew up on meat and potatoes and have never had a problem with them, although I don’t eat them to excess and usually don’t eat potato chips.

  11. Lamb can be really simple and it has so much flavor. I cooked some lamb chops under the broiler with just some salt and pepper and the taste was incredible.

  12. My cast iron pot seems to absorb water, so after I wash it I put it back on the stove and heat it for a minute to drive all the water out. Then I coat it with a coconut-based vegetable fat, leave it to cool, and put it away. It has lasted me many years.

  13. Invest in a good food processor, it’ll be your best friend!
    Apart from the normal uses of the s-blade: nut meal, nut butter, primal doughs, mayo, etc. I use my mandolin attachment to slice seared roasts very thinly for salads, or to slice anything thinly, rather than taking a while to slice it by hand. The grater attachment works great for grating cheese and toppings for my primal-friendly pizza.
    Then everything but the base goes in the dishwasher! It is a god-send for someone strapped for time having to cook supplies for 3 meals a day plus bake primal goodies for a fiance with a sweet-tooth.

    Definitely recommend an immersion blender, too, if you don’t have one. Cheap investment and it makes stirring batter and blending liquids/very soft solids a breeze.

    Odd use for a cast iron pan: I flatten chicken breasts with it. Very effective.

  14. Cast iron is a great way to get ***too much*** iron. Source: Journal of American Dietetic Association July 1986

    1. My wife won’t eat the foods I cook in my cast iron skillet, since she has the hema chroma tosis thingy.

      1. I have an enameled cast iron Dutch oven I cook with almost every day. Great way to get the heat stability of cast iron cooking without absorbing the extra iron.

    2. Isn’t that true only for non-seasoned cast iron? I would think that if your pan is seasoned correctly, you don’t have to worry about that, but I’m not an expert at all so I admit I’m curious to know more about that.

  15. I’m really curious to try the room temperature trick. It makes so much sense that I don’t know why I didn’t know that. Is it okay to let chicken at room temperature too before cooking? I admit I’m a little bit worried it would become too warm.

    I think that preparing vegetables “pasta” is such a useless hassle when I’m eating a meat sauce full of vegetables already. I do eat it with kelp noodles as a treat though.

  16. Cast iron is the workhorse of the man’s kitchen!

    Care for a cast iron is the complete opposite of what is purported in this article. Avoid using soap. Metal scouring is fine. From the fine folks at Lodge:

    Use and Care

    While the skillet comes pre-seasoned to prevent food from sticking, it works best when sprayed or lightly coated with vegetable oil before use. After cooking, we recommend cleaning with a stiff nylon brush and hot water. Using soap or the dishwasher is not recommended, and harsh detergents should never be used. Towel dry immediately cleaning and apply a light coating of oil to utensil while it is still warm.

    Don’t take my word for it; Due your Primal diligence and decide for yourself. One thing that transcends debate is the utility of cast-iron cookware. They rule!!! Classic, dependable, healthy, and will last a lifetime.

    1. I have and still use my mother’s cast iron skillets that she had before I was born. (I’m 53). She used them daily (at least) and would never have thought of not washing them with soap and water and scrubbed them often with steel wool. Granted, she also fried meats in lard and various other fats in them probably at least once a day, so they were and continue to be well-seasoned. Great addition to my kitchen! WAIT. I’m 54! Crap!

    2. Thanks for posting that, Kirk. My understanding has always been that you don’t use any kind of soap on cast iron. And, as you pointed out, that you need to re-season it a little after each “washing”. I find myself a bit intimidated by cast iron, and have always been afraid that I’ll do it all wrong (with seasoning it properly, etc.).

      Hadn’t thought about the potential excess iron issue, which could also be a concern.

    3. The old-timers I know – myself included – don’t use soap in the cast iron pans.(And don’t let the dogs lick them clean either!) Grandma Betty taught me to boil water in my pan if something is stuck. It’s easier to scrub with a plastic scrubby then. If something is so badly burned on that you can’t seem to get it clean, she taught me to put it in the wood stove and let it all get real hot and burn that off. Then you start over with seasoning, which was commonly lard.
      I like to buy used cast-iron, and have used mine for many years.
      There are modern ways to clean and re-season them in the oven that you can read extensively about online.

  17. My wife hooked me up with a cast iron skillet for Christmas. I cooked with it yesterday on a propane burner (built in my grill) and man did it work great! Can’t wait to try the burgers as suggested to avoid the excessive dripping and flare ups on the grill. I love cooking outside (even barefoot in the snow, hah!). A cast iron skillet makes that even more of an opportunity now 🙂

  18. Be careful with heavy cast-iron or enameled iron ware with a ceramic cooktop! Drop it just right and you’ll be parting with oodles of cash. 🙁

  19. I think every primal cook should learn to roast veggies. It is so easy and so good. Pick your vegetable, add salt and pepper, and toss in a little olive oil right on the baking sheet. Pop in a 400 degree oven. Cook until tender. I also recommend pureed veggies. Rutebegas, cauilflower, turnips, carrots, and butternut squash can each be cooked and then pureed wirh a little butter or milk and salt and pepper. Delicious and the leftovers reheat beautifully.

  20. It’s probably not the best/safest kitchen practice, but a few times when pressed for time I’ve taken our grass-fed beef rump from the freezer and thrown it directly in the crockpot, added seasonings and broth and called it a day. 6 hours later, beautiful fall apart juicy beef. I know the inside probably doesn’t cook as evenly but when you braise it for that long, it doesn’t seem to matter as far as texture, and I’ve never had any tummy issues afterwards either.

    1. I’ve done that with lamb shanks, veggies, curry powder, and some canned korma sauce. lamb curry by nightfall. Just add yogurt. my house is currently so cold that meat never thaws so it’s right into the crockpot with it

  21. The idea to bring the meat to room temp prior to cooking is a phallacy and can be hazardous. AmazingRibs.com has a plethora of information on cooking meats and is my go-to site whenever I have meat-cooking questions or am looking for a good recipe. In addition to being a barbecue guru, his site uses a scientist to test and research things like the myth of meat at room temp: https://amazingribs.com/tips_and_technique/mythbusting_letting_meat_come_to_room_temp.html

    Here’s a page with other informative techniques. The page on brining is highly recommended, you’ll get a richer flavor in your meat, as well as having much juicier result.

    Also, when cooking a tougher, fattier meat like a pork butt or beef brisket, a temperature of 225 is optimal for breaking down and gelatinizing the tough connective tissue (more science-derived info). For a succulent pulled pork or brisket, you want the internal meat temp to reach 203, which can easily take 12-plus hours to achieve (and will go through a long stall period—where it’s sweating, thus cooling the meat— before breaking past the 160-degree mark). Of course this is all much easier to do with an electric pellet smoker like a Memphis Grill— set it and ignore it for the rest of the day… and expect your neighbors to come knocking in the afternoon, asking when they should show up for dinner.

    1. But wouldn’t bringing the meat to room temperature be an inevitable consequence of having a phallacy?

    2. Wow thank you for that link! I learnt many things tonight, that site is chuck full of information. I seriously think that it’s a must read for everyone who eat meat.

  22. My favourite hacks are :

    * use a stick blender to whizz up chicken skin and softened cartilage into the broth formed after cooking and deboning a 12 hour slow cook chicken carcass. Makes amazing delicious creamy smooth stock.
    * get butter cold out of the fridge and grate it over any hot food.

    1. OMG I was just about to add the chicken skin hack!

      I took the skin off the chicken I cooked in a casserole the other day and blended it with some of the veg and added it back to the dish to add flavour and thicken it – it worked a treat!

      I might have to try making some curried chicken skin crisps too, I have a recipe for baked chicken curry and the skin is gorgeous!

  23. Cast Iron Skillets are the best. Tim Ferriss got me on to them and I have never looked back. I bought one that also has a dutch oven part which is awesome.

  24. I discovered a couple of days ago that putting frozen berries/cherries in the blender with cream or greek yoghurt makes instant low carb ice cream. Amazing!

  25. To replace pasta, you can also use spaghetti squash.
    Unfortunately, cauliflower is really expensive here during winter months.

  26. This makes me want to go trap more rabbits… Why do you say remove the kombu, as if suggestin not to eat it?

  27. Where did Primal folk get their cast iron skillets and ovens? Did they borrow them from Paleo?