Meat Musings: Are Cold Cuts Primal?

I’m going to say it outright: I’m not a fan of what most people mean when they say “cold cuts.” The water-laden, gummy, super salty, uniformly shaped, barely recognizable sheets of condensed animal parts just don’t whet my appetite. Yeah, it’s technically meat, but it’s really pushing it. That’s the cheap stuff, though. Those are the cold cuts that come pre-wrapped in the refrigerated section next to the American cheese sliced singles. They run a couple bucks for maybe half a pound but a quarter of it is water. Think bologna, cheap ham, slimy chicken, shiny turkey. I’ll pass, thank you.

But are all cold cuts created equal? I often get the question of whether deli meats are healthy Primal fare. Let’s take a closer look.

Beyond the pale pink, mass-marketed luncheon meats there are better options, the acquisition of which involves approaching a counter, taking a number, placing an order, and leaving with a brown paper package of sliced meat. This type of cold cut, generally derived from turkey, cow, or pig (rather than from some mythical hen sporting a breast gargantuan enough to produce cold cuts spanning a full twelve inches), is obviously real meat. It has striations and streaks of fat (depending on the cut), and you can see the grain. These cuts are usually cooked. Think pastrami, roasted turkey, roast beef, and real ham (although good Spanish hams, like Iberico, are traditionally dry cured and never cooked). This is quality stuff, albeit a bit expensive for what you get. It’ll do in a pinch and it’s a better choice.

Then you’ve got your traditionally cured meats – salame, pepperoni, prosciutto, etc – which can also be (and typically are) eaten cold. Let’s call them cold cuts, too, then. Some of these guys actually share characteristics with the cheap cold cuts. Like bologna, many popular cured artisanal meats are made of bits and pieces of the animals (offal, trimmings, fatback, even the face) in order to wring every last edible drop out of an animal (an honorable goal). It began as necessity, but it’s developed into a culinary art form. The similarities end there, though. Good salami and friends are cured, fermented, and dried for months or even years, rarely if ever seeing heat above 100 degrees F; mass market bologna is subjected to intensive thermal treatment. Cured meats get their flavor from basic seasonings and the inimitable hand of fermenting lactic bacteria, while lunch meat producers employ the blunt force trauma of powerful, secret seasoning blends and perhaps a bit of corn syrup.

So – what’s the verdict? Are they in or out of a Primal Blueprint diet?

Some say cold cuts are an abomination, a testament to man’s ability to ruin a good thing by submitting to the all-powerful god of convenience. I can understand that. I mean, have you looked at a slice of bologna before? Like, really looked closely? It’s pretty frightening. Poke it and watch it jiggle, like when Homer got a checkup.

Of course, blanket condemnations are dangerous. You might get it right, but if you get it wrong you could be missing out on something delicious. Cold cut varieties number in the thousands, if you include all cured meats eaten at room temperature or colder. So, while you might hear “cold cuts,” think Oscar Mayer, and gag a little, you could just as accurately imagine artisanal proscuitto, salame, or mortadella.

That said, no matter how hairy the forearms, bristling the mustache, and thick the accent of the artisan doing the curing, I don’t recommend making cured meat the lion’s share of your meat intake. Enjoy charcuterie with quality cheese, take a salame along as trail food and slice big chunks off with a bowie knife and chew with your mouth open (there’s no one around), blanket your meatza with thinly sliced pepperoni, saute some good diced ham with eggs, onions, and aged cheddar, let a thin slice of Iberico ham melt on your tongue, but don’t let that stuff replace (or even significantly displace) steak, roasts, chops, or ribs in your diet. For me, cold cuts and cured meats just aren’t the same as a juicy steak. If you’re not convinced, do a few weeks of heavy, near-exclusive cured meat intake – an n=1 experiment. Take a cue from Robb Wolf, and see how you “look, feel, and perform.” I did exactly that – I spent almost a week eating way more cold cuts than fresh meat.

This wasn’t something I set out to do, but it just so happened that we had a ton of really high quality Italian style cold cuts from Applegate Farms and a local supplier left over from a get together that fell through. It was a wide assortment of salami, pepperoni, soppressata, coppa, and a few others. I tried everything. I made omelets, threw soppressata into salads, gnawed on hunks of dried meat. But I felt bad. Not terrible, just not good. What’s interesting is that Applegate Farms is one of the good ones. They feed grass to cows and “respect the land,” and they seem to use traditional methods; the salami and pepperoni were definitely fermented and slow dried, rather than cooked.

A good rule of thumb is “fresh is best.” If you’re going to eat processed food (like a good cured meat), keep it infrequent, pick stuff that’s been processed according to artisanal or traditional standards, or do the processing yourself. And don’t use it as a daily major source of calories. For one, it’s expensive. If you’re tempted by the affordability of Oscar Mayer and company, consider that conventional ground beef, liver, and other “throwaway” cuts are far cheaper – and they’re actually fresh, real, and free of inflated water volume. Secondly, you’ll be eating massive amounts of sodium, which can complicate hypertension in salt-sensitive individuals and lead to excessive water retention. (I’ve no problem with salt; I just like adding it myself to my food for flavor and texture rather than have it injected directly into the food for me. I don’t need every single inch of my meat to be brimming with briny flavor).

My general recommendations are to:

  • Stick to the quality stuff, with ingredients you recognize.
  • Eat moderate amounts. Use it as a garnish, trail food, with cheese (if you do dairy), or as a topping on other dishes.
  • Buy from trusted suppliers if it’s cured and in sausage form; if it’s straight up turkey breast or roast beef, make sure it comes from a single slab of real animal.

What are your favorite cold cuts? Do they make the, ahem, cut?

TAGS:  is it primal?

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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116 thoughts on “Meat Musings: Are Cold Cuts Primal?”

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  1. dices & slices of salami, summer sausage, prosciutto, etc with bits of veggies, olives, various pickled things is a marvelous appetizer tray to kick off a dinner party!
    or to hog all to yourself in a primal ploughman’s plate

    1. For sure. If one is at a party and cold cuts are the best option then one “should” dig in if he or she is hungry and cant stop thinking about food.

      Cold cuts are not ideal but depending on your situation they can be the most ideal food present.

      Don’t buy them yourself unless you are set to travel and need a convenience food. Buy Applegate farms or a similar brand if you do and eat as little as you can.

      Don’t forget about the 80/20 rule but enjoy your steak first!

      1. Yes, I agree! We should not be consuming loads of cold cuts.

        Applegate is an amazing brand when lunch meat is a needed or simply a fall back plan.

      2. It’s hard to find, but there are still some small delis that actually roast their own turkey/ham and roast beef and will slice it for you. For anyone near Pittsburgh…Patsy’s in Verona is great. In Richmond, VA, the European Market does the same thing.

  2. I got a Chef’s Choice 610 model “deli slicer” for christmas. They’re about $99.

    I’ve oven roasted whole turkey breasts, chuck and round roasts and small hams.

    They slice up nicely in no time. If you do large quantities once a week or so, you can have the convenience of “deli meat” or “cold cuts”.

    The Round roast I sliced had very little flavor, and I was disappointed. So I started eating it laid out on a plate like carpaccio and sprinkled with salt, pepper, onion powder and hot sauce. It was absolutely delicious that way.

    The slicer breaks down into machine washable components, so there’s really very little effort involved. You get convenience and “real meat”.

    1. My grocery store in Washington used to carry Maple Leaf Natural Ham. It was the only ham with NO nitrates and was cheaper than the other nitrate loaded ham. Then it went away. Not sure if it was a marketing or customs thing. I sure do miss it.

  3. This is why I spent a measly $99 and bought a quality meat slicer off When I want lunchmeat now, I just buy a hunk of meat, season it, roast it, let it sit in the fridge overnight and slice it up the next day. It tastes better, it’s a lot cheaper, there’s only as much salt as I put on it and it’s actually HEALTHY! YES! I recommend everyone on this website buy a meat slicer. And a meat grinder, which will be my next investment.

  4. Thank you for this!

    I was really depressed when I read cold cuts were out. Now I have some guidance and don’t feel I have to miss out completely on my favorite quality (and rather expensive) ham.

    I have, however, felt better since I switched ham for bacon so agree with the ‘try it and see how you feel’ maxim.

    1. I’ve just switched the other way good Germany ham for bacon – wanting leaner protein and bacon, as wonderful as it is, comes with something of a hefty fat expense account!

  5. I quit eating cold cuts after I was unable to locate any at the grocery store without HFCS. Why do manufacturers use HFCS in meat, anyway? Is there some gawdawful taste that they have to cover up?

    Elimination of cold cuts and sliced bread are two things that have made my life slightly inconvenient, but I don’t plan to go back.

    On a related topic, I just endured a half-hour lecture from a doctor about the fact that I need to lose 90 lbs. Personally, I don’t think I have that much that I need to lose, but I could certainly lose 60. I am down by over 100 lbs from my peak weight in 1999, but I should have lost 160. Time to get serious about losing the rest — I’m trying out IF (today is a fast day).

  6. Are meat slicers huge? We’ve got a small-ish kitchen.

    There’s a seemingly higher quality deli meat my husband and I buy occasionally which is nitrite and nitrate free.

    I’m not sure what nitrites and nitrates are, but a nutrition professor years ago said to avoid them if possible, so we usually try to.

    Although, come to think of it, the turkey pepperoni and Canadian bacon we use for low carb pizzas are full of crap, I’m sure.

    1. Not “Huge” like the ones you’d see in a grocery store deli department. The one I have, “Chef’s Choice 610” is maybe the size of two toasters? It’s listed as being 15″L x 10.5″W x 10.8″H.

      Fear about nitrates is mostly Conventional Wisdom run rampant. Nitrate free bacon or salami (anything cured) is like dairy free milk, it may taste vaguely right, but it’s not real. The act of curing meat requires nitrates, period, otherwise botulism will have you writing to the deli to complain about how dead you are.

      1. Ha! That’s hilarious… and kind of sad that I’ve been blindly following CW.

        Thanks for the info! Maybe I’ll ask for a meat slicer for my birthday.

  7. Howard, as a matter of fact, there is a gawdawful taste in most processed meats they’re trying to cover up, specifically, in most hotdogs, bologne. Most manufacturers chemically-treat their meats to kill unwanted bacteria, but that obviously leaves a nasty after-taste.

    1. Interesting quote from the article:

      “What may be more surprising to learn is that scientific evidence has been building for years that nitrates are actually good for us, that nitrite is produced by our own body in greater amounts than is eaten in food, and that it has a number of essential biological functions, including in healthy immune and cardiovascular systems. Nitrite is appearing so beneficial, it’s even being studied as potential treatments for health problems such as high blood pressure, heart attacks, sickle cell disease and circulatory problems.”

      1. Interesting…What I get out of that is, if our body produces so much nitrite, why do we need to eat it?? Too many other questionable ingrredients in these ‘foods’ to take a risk, I think…

        Another thought: These researchers that are telling us now that these ingredients may be helpful…are they the same ones that tell us not to eat eggs, red meat, fats??? Just wondering…

        1. Nitrites and nitrates are a *requirement* for making cured meats, otherwise you risk botulism, one of the deadliest food-borne toxins. Next time you see something that is “nitrite and nitrate free*” check the small print: “*except those naturally occurring in {celery salt, sea salt}”. Nitr*tes are toxic in sufficient quantities (doesn’t take much either), so I prefer the controlled application of purified potassium nitrite, which allows producers to use enough to inhibit botulism, but not too much to cause adverse health effects. When you use alternatives you’re still using the same chemicals with the same toxicology, but you don’t really know how much so you might undershoot or overshoot.

        2. There are more nitrates in leafy greens than in most processed meat products.

          The evidence for negative health consequences has never been very strong.

          There are plenty of other reasons to avoid overly processed meats, so it’s not a bad idea to go for superior quality. It’s just that those high quality cold cuts still have nitrates in them.

          (Oh, and HFCS is probably used because sugar is a preservative and it tastes good. Personally, I don’t care for the sweet component in lunch meats and try to avoid it because I don’t like the flavor, but sugar is a common component for brining and preserving, even when done by a home cook.)

    2. It’s the heating of the nitrates without the presence of the other natural anti-oxidants present, like beets, arugula, etc have in them that converts the nitrates to a undesirable chemical.

      Mark covers this in his #1 primal list published September 12, 2012.

      While I do visit Junk Food Science, it seems to me the author no longer updates the site due to poor health.

  8. Great Post Mark!

    Yah I totally agree with you. I can actually tell by the taste if the coldcuts are highly processed and packed with nitrates. But your right some coldcuts are fresh and taste good.

    I prefer to stick with real meat though.

    Greg O’Gallagher

  9. I can only eat so many cold cuts regardless of source. The salt makes me too thirsty and the fatty coating it leaves on the roof of my mouth gets a bit excessive. But I do love me some good salami, country ham, and pepperoni.

  10. I eat them, but I will only purchase stuff like Applegate Farms that doesn’t have nitrates in it. If I do buy something that has nitrates, I make sure to eat some fresh, raw veggies or fruit along with it. I would not say my intake of cold cuts is terribly high, but I do rely on them from time to time for lunches.

    1. You’re probably getting more nitrates from the “fresh, raw” produce than you are from the meat. See the Junk Food Science link above.

  11. I don’t like the taste of deli-style meats in general. If I want cold meat (and I do), I eat leftover steak cold from the fridge. I love me some cold steak.

  12. This week I made the recipe for Deli-style Roast Beef with a venison roast. It was the best “Roast Beef” i’ve ever had. Just bought a grass fed Sirloin tip roast to try it out on again. It’s in the Primal Blueprint Cookbook. LOVE both cookbooks (I have the kindle versions)!!! Thanks Mark!

  13. I’m very wary of processed meat, though I grew up getting it just about every day in my school lunches that my mom made. Recently I was in a grocery store and picked up a plastic-sealed chunk of mashed liver. I looked at the ingredients out of interest. I expected the preservative to be last. It was second last, followed by peppercorns. There were a lot of peppercorns. The whole slab of “meat” was about the size of two 10oz steaks and I think if all the peppercorns were put together they’d be about as big as a standard pink eraser. I wonder just how much preservative must have been in there… no doubt a disgusting, toxic amount.

  14. I am not a big cold cut fan…. can’t stand hot dogs or bologna… the exceptions are spicy salami, prosciutto or pepperoni from the deli every once in awhile, wrapped around a hunk of cheese with a pickle or olive on top… soooo saltyyyyy mmmmmm.

  15. I make a distinction between roast deli-sliced meats and cold cuts. Roast deli-sliced meats are usually just that- a hunk of meat (such as turkey breast) that has been cooked and sliced thinly. Cold cuts, on the other hand, are mashups of meats combined with seasonings- like a sausage.

    I like both roast deli-sliced meats and cold cuts. Roast deli-sliced meats are a go-to for me as a snack, as long as they don’t contain sugar or other bizarre flavorings (many do).

    For cold cuts, I really enjoy a good slice of mortadella here and there or the somewhat strange German cold cuts that remind me of my childhood, but it’s usually too rich and salty for me to eat regularly and in large quantities.

  16. -The man is brilliant. Fresh is best. Real is the deal. great post!

  17. I love salami, pepperoni, proscuitto, etc… the list goes on and on, but you’re right, it is a meant that you can feel clogging your arteries as you are digesting it. Keeping it to a minimum is absolutely the best idea.

    1. Um, meat clogs your arteries? Absolutely not. Welcome to MDA – take off your coat, stay a while.

  18. Liverwurst from one of the better makers, spread inside celery sticks. Great way to get my daily allowance of liver and pork fat.

    1. Yeah, liverwurst is one I won’t give up – it’s the only way I find liver palatable.

      But also ham… though more likely to cook a half ham and slice myself than do deli ham.

      And the occasional GOOD roast beef, really rare and sliced thin… yum.

  19. I buy boneless turkey breasts and brine and smoke them myself. I use a spicy rub and apple wood.

    Or I low and slow a sirloin tip for roast beef slices

  20. The convenience of having some quick protein to pop in your mouth around lunch time is mighty enticing. Love the idea of making your own “cold cuts” from roasted turkey, beef, etc. Great excuse for roasting up a turkey more often! I have found it challenging to have quality, portable protein snacks to take with me for the day. At some point I know that I will just need to make my own jerky too.

  21. I used to eat so many cold cuts, always from a good quality deli shop, but I’m glad I lost that habit…what I do love and no unknowns there, is leftover (cold) meat mixed in with a salad or just as is…always my favorite part of big holidays…leftover meat to eat cold or with loads of other leftovers…

    …mmm, hungry now

    Love, Jules

  22. A question about Applegate Farms…
    I bought some of their Organic Hot Dogs because… I wanted hot dogs. It says they are grass-fed beef… does that mean the same thing as 100% grass fed / grass finished?

    I mean, I know they are still Hot Dogs when it comes down to it, but… they’re a bit better right?

    1. Grass-fed doesn’t mean grass-finished.
      The law allowes the feedlots to market meats (that were from a grass-feeding farmer and then fattened up the last 150 days on grains) as grass-fed.

      I know so because I E-mailed a buffalo farmer who’s meats are sold in Fred Meyer. He sells the buffalos to feedlots that fatten them up for 3 months on grains before slaughtered. Truly very sad…

      The farmers company name is on the package that is sold in Fred Meyer, even though he has nothing to do with the quality of meat being sold in the store.
      If I was a grass-farmer I would go through great length to insure my animals don’t end up in feedlots and get abused for 150 days, when I took so much pride and effort raising them.

      1. Applegate hot dogs are grass fed and finished, conveniently.

        You’re right though, it’s a distinction to watch out for.

  23. Supposedly phenylethylamine, found in chocolate, is a “feel-good” substance; there’s much more of it in salami than in chocolate. So salami can be a good choice if you’ve eliminated or cut down on chocolate and want to brighten your mood a bit.

    I only eat naturally cured salami with no nitrites. A little goes a long way and I really like having it on hand for times when I don’t feel like cooking a big meal. Last night had some salami and farmstead cheese for a light supper. very satisfying.

    There are some really good small producers of natural/artisan salami and if you order online not more expensive than the storebought stuff. Actually economical to buy whole salamis instead of presliced in packages.

    (I used to always take some good salami on long trips in days when I traveled more, so it kind of brings me back to those adventures too!)

    1. Maybe this is why I eat a whole package of salami in one sitting! Seriously, I can’t buy it anymore because I just can’t stop eating it once I start.

  24. I’ve only bought deli meats twice in the last several years. And it was Boreshead Boershead?). Don’t know how that stacks up with Applegate; I buy A’s bacon. 🙂

  25. Cold cuts are not primal.

    Cut a slice off your refrigerated, left over whole turkey from the day before…those cold cuts are primal.

  26. I make an easy version of South African Biltong: Cut 1″ square strips along the grain from cheap inside round roast. Air dry at or below room temperature for three days; I use a small fan to create some “wind”. Use a small amount of sea salt for flavor. Cut into 1/2″ thick chunks for consumption. Almost addictive.

    1. Do you put the sea salt on before or after drying? Can this be dried while in the fridge? I’d love to try this but I don’t want to screw it up! 😉

  27. When I have salami or prosciutto, all of my ethnic bells (if not my primal ones) start to ring in harmony. I try to buy the best $tuff I can find, some provolone cheese, and enjoy it with a glass of nice chianti. Bellissimo!

  28. “I don’t need every single inch of my meat to be brimming with briny flavor”


  29. Great post! We’ve stopped eating cold cuts almost entirely because they just don’t taste good anymore and the nitrite free ones are so expensive!
    As a shameless plug, tomorrow is the last day to enter to win signed copies of The Primal Blueprint and Cookbook at

  30. I like venison summer sausage (from deer we hunt ourselves). The locker puts a bit of pork in to hold things together, and sometimes some cheese chunks. I enjoy it in moderation – YUM!

  31. My grocer sells their own oven baked turkey breast or smoked turkey breast that is nitrate free and is very delicious. My “fast” breakfast now is a plate of slightly steamed spinach (microwaved for 20 seconds) topped with slightly grilled turkey slices and topped off with 2 poached eggs. If I have enough time, I’ll add some fruit to the plate.

  32. I shop at the local co-op and everything is a combination of local, organic, preservative free and the labels don’t read like a science experiment gone horribly wrong.

    They have a few wrapped hams, pre-cooked sausages and packaged bacon, but most of the food is fresh cut/ground from recognizable animal parts.

  33. As far as I know, the problem with cured meats is that many of them are sugar cured which means that in the cooking process you are going to produce even more AGEs than you usually would as protein reacts with the carbohydrate (sugar) at high heat. Additionally, there are the nitrates/nitrites which are necessary to prevent botulism yet produce nitrosamines when they react with the protein during cooking. All those studies that show high red meat intake are linked to colon cancer usually mean that high processed meat intake is linked to colon cancer and my guess is because of the nitrosamines and glycation/fructation reactions that will occur more often with them. There is also a similar problem with meats that have been smoked as well. Fresh is always best if available!

  34. I like my ‘meaty’ taste to come from meat, not some soybeans boiled in acid. ‘Hydrolyzed vegetable protein’, you’re not fooling me (same goes for wheat-derived yeast extracts). Oh, and all the starches holding the almost-meat together.

  35. Everything in moderation. Great post! I am on a diet plan eating 6 small meals a day. I found this site on spark people where this lady lost 100 pounds and then did a beauty pageant. You have to see photos to really believe it but Here is her site:
    I think it is great to get my apple a day.

    thanks Mark!

  36. We love Applegate Farms! I found them first at an organic food depot, but then unfortunately I found myself in a Trader Joe’s (cough*overrated*cough) and they had the cold cuts there, along with the hot dogs for $2 cheaper than OFD. The hot dogs are grass fed organic, all beef, no nitrates, uncured, gluten/casein free, etc. My 18mo old loves them… the babysitter fed her her sons first, and I couldn’t have her eating that crap, so because I have a picky eater and we only do grass fed/pastured meats, I was on the search to replace conventional children’s food with a much better option! Yay for feeding children the primal way:)

  37. Mark, next time your get together falls through, just give me a call and I’ll help plow through those cured treasures!

  38. I can’t find any coldcuts that aren’t cured in some for of sugar, dextrose or corn syrup. I’ve looked good and hard and even Apple Gate doesn’t pass muster so it’s always a pass for me!

  39. For a parent with three children under the age of six, GOOD coldcuts (sliced turkey breast, non-nitrate hot dogs and ham) are a God-send while switching kids to the primal lifestyle. We travel a lot, and are not wealthy enough to order steak for the five of us while on the road, so deli shops that offer a breadless sandwich are fabulous. The kids feel don’t feel like mom is keeping them from their favorites, and I can at least find comfort in the fact that I’m feeding them lettuce, tomatoes, mayo and MEAT!

  40. Honestly, I am repelled by the very thought of cold cuts, sausages and processed meats. I
    come from a cooking tradition where meat is mostly braised, grilled, fried or baked, and always
    served hot. And it tastes unbelievably good! As a result, I have never found cold cuts appetizing and have eaten them rarely and only out of necessity (on a catamaran). Give me some stew or sir fry any day. I’ll pass on the salami!

  41. I thought that processed meats, such as strasburg,contain a lot of connective tissue, tendons, ligaments and so on which provides a good source of chondroitin and glucosamine which were almost surely a part of primal diets but no in high levels in fresh meat cuts.

  42. So where does beloved bacon (and its fat) fall out in all this? (assuming its organic, nitrate free) should it be limited consumption like coldcuts????

  43. Great post. I enjoy rolling up some deli cut roast turkey breast with a slice or two of herbed salami from Applegate farms. This creates a quick snack for me during the week. It makes up only a fraction of my weekly meat intake and I don’t see a problem with it.

    Roast turkey ingredients: Turkey breast, water, salt, paprika, spices.

    Let’s face it — eating primally typically involves preparing absolutely everything from scratch. It’s nice to have a healthy convenience food from time to time. Fantastic idea about the meat slicer, though. Appreciate that info.

  44. What timing! I picked up some rare roast beef at the deli counter yesterday (Dietz and Watson London Broil) sliced medium, it’s red goodness just melted in my mouth.

    Served it rolled around julianned carrots, bell peppers and pickled banana peppers with a bit of dijon mustard, and wrapped the whole thing in a leaf of swiss chard.

    Worked very well (though it would also be good on its own…)

  45. This brings up an ancillary question – what about smoked meats. I’m a sucker for slow cooked smoked beef and pork. Its an old preservation method, but anyone have an opinion on the primal health impacts? I’m undecided.

  46. I was disappointed in this post (and that’s unusual – most of Mark’s posts are great). Just because “water-laden, gummy, super salty, uniformly shaped, barely recognizable sheets of condensed animal parts” aren’t appealing doesn’t by itself make them un-Primal.

    I happen to like bologna, hot dogs, “cold cuts”, and yes, even Spam. And if offal is used in them, more reason to eat them, since I can’t seem to gag down beef liver no matter how I try to hide the flavor.

    So, why shouldn’t I eat them? Too much salt, perhaps? If you read the literature, the jury is clearly still out on nitrates/nitrites, though one poster mentioned nitrosamines when nitrates/nitrites are heated, which is perhaps part of the answer. Too much processing? Well, just what kind of processing, and why is it bad?

    I think the whole “processed” thing would be worth a more detailed post – it has become a catch-all phrase bandied about too loosely to hold much meaning. I’d guess most foods we consume (except fresh veggies & fruits) are processed in some way.

    For example, processing could be mechanical (and not just cutting/chopping – butter is mechanically processed); it might cover chemical additions (from natural additions like salt and spices to unpronouncable chemicals); there is processing with heat and pressure, etc. The Weston Price folks are big on lacto-fermentation – that’s a kind of processing. Cooking is processing, often with the addition of chemicals as well; etc.

    In any case, I suspect the basic premise that cold cuts aren’t good for us is true (darnit!), but this article was short on facts and long on personal likes & dislikes.

  47. Hi there
    what about Wild Pig and Wild Deer salami? surely they must be OK apart from the curing salts?

    They taste great anyhow, blood is a instinctive love for me. Raw meat love it (Steak Tartar).

  48. We all know what’s good for us and what isn’t, but you’ve got to love the sights & smells of a good deli! Why even live if we can’t enjoy ourselves now and then. Loved the Simpson’s ref. thanks, jwing

  49. I am huge fan of cold cuts. I have found that Boar’s Head is the best when it comes to Deli. Upon my primal shift, I did a little research and found they don’t use any hfcs, are gluten free and always whole muscle. We have also found a good portion of the products are nitrate and nitrite free.

  50. Why cold cuts can’t be your primary meat source: they are really expense. Jamon Iberico Bellota — $200? Even real chorizo is expensive. Good quality salmani is $15-$20 for a small amount.

    They are great stuff, and learn to use the in moderation!

  51. Salt is not primal. It may be a contributing factor to acidosis and sleep problems.

    Does any processed meat have no salt added? I doubt it.

  52. If you want to avoid the guilt of cold cuts, simply buy them all at Whole Foods like my family does. They are very high quality and nitrite/nitrate-free. And amazingly, they don’t cost more than supermarket cold cuts. Our favorite is Turkey Bologna. It is of excellent quality and taste and we try to always have it in the house. Once, we had to stop at a supermarket for some bologna but we ended up throwing it out. It was like eating something out of chemistry lab. Totally disgusting!

  53. I roast my own meats, and then slice them with a meat slicer that I purchased for my home. There is nothing better than fresh roast beef slices from your own kitchen! And although turkey and chicken breast slices turn out small, they are delicious when sliced thin, and there is no salt to speak of!

  54. I choose ones gluten free (no msg) and w/o nitrates or nitrites.
    These are way better for you, wont give headaches…etc.

    of course i dont live on them, but sometimes they are awesome quick fix for snack.
    you have to ask or make sure to check the ingredients though or you might end up w/ crappy cold cuts.

  55. Apart from hidden sugars in cold cuts,they’re usually full of mononatriumglutamate too,which is a known stimulant to keep on eating and can lead to various neurological mallfunctions.

  56. I’m not so sure whey protein powder is primal either, but given the choice between that and cold cuts or an animal protein source I feel wary about, I’ll choose the whey any day. I’m just back from a 6 day trip where I knew access to primal food would be limited, so I had a whey shake for breakfast and lunch (via the hotel bartender, who make them in a blender with berries and the almond meal I also brought with me). Those 2 shakes and a big dinner each night sustained me for the duration of the trip. And it all aligned nicely with the fast, primal style work out i did every morning. I drank tons of water, of course. I felt great the whole time, and came home a few pounds lighter. Here’s the brand of whey powder I like best: I hope this info eases travel for some of you!

  57. What about Chorizo?
    I like it a lot as convenient snacker to switch things up every now and then.

  58. I’ve been making my own jerky as an alternative–and oh, btw, it’s portable so I’m never stuck somewhere (starving) and have to eat something no in my best interest. It’s fun to do, I’ve experimented with recipes, drying time and different cuts. Fun and healthy!

    1. Hi Ellie,
      Can you post some of your favorite recipes? I’d like to start trying to make my own jerky! 🙂 Thanks

  59. We’re lucky to have some great local artisanal meat producers here. I can even get an amazing locally made liverwurst (my processed meat weakness)!!

  60. This has been a long time issue for me. Coming from a European heratige we always had that stuff around. I remember as a small kid carving up some brown bread and slathering it with 2cm of lard with some salt. But I digress.

    I now buy pork belly, roast it with my favorite seasoning on a bed of onions and some duck fat. Then I take it out and place in the fridge in a nother container, that is my substitute for everything cold cuts. Works well and with a small meat slicer you wouldnt tell the difference, it will last a week without a problem covered up in fridge, except it dosent LOL . The fatty pork belly is much more paletable cold to most people. AND cold cuts need to be pork, its tradition ! 🙂

    Just a word on liverwurst for Robin and others. I make my own and it is farrr superior and healthy then anything else on the market, I feel no guilt wolfing down a few hundred grams of that stuff.

    Take some liver (good qualtity fresh only any kind you like) cut up some onions and fry in a pot with some lard or duck fat. (use 1 onion for about 250gm of liver) You can add some bacon (dont trim aything off just throw it in) for flavour or just salt and some oregano or chives ….. what ever , then add garlick to your taste. Now even before its fried properly , (we are just looking for a bit of browning on the livers) stick a food blender into it and blend it to bits. Add butter about 100gm for 250gm of livers. I dont really have measurments as I just stick enough in for the mixture to be nice and ‘watery’. Keep cooking it for another 5 to 10 min stearing the brown mess. Then blend more untill fine.

    That is your livewurst or liver pate. NOW the final and most important trick. If you make it like that you will end up getting grizle in your teeth and its probably the reason why most people only try this once.

    The trick is to get a fine strainer and while the mixture is still warm press it through the strainer using a spoon or otherwise. What is left in the strainer is the crap (dont be supprised by the amount for crap left over, and remember the store bought stuff has all that in grined to a pulp)and on the other side of the strainer is the smooth and beautifull pate. Collect it in a bowl and then pour some lard/butter mixture over the top to stop oxidation and cover and store in the fridge.

    The whole process takes about 30 min or even less. The best part is that you know exactly what you are eating and can alter the taste to your preference.


  61. Hey I am a big fan of animal parts, it’s just that I am not crazy about the other junk they put into the meats, mainly corn derivatives. Its practically impossible to find a good braunschweiger that does not contain corn syrup.

    1. is a braunschweiger without corn – it’s a 60/40 mix of beef and beef liver. Ingredients: beef, beef liver, water, sea salt, onion powder, honey, white pepper, coriander, marjoram, allspice.

      Only way I can eat liver is liverwurst or braunschweiger – so for me, some cold cuts are always on the menu as there’s no other way to get liver down.

      Otherwise, I think cold cuts are just too expensive. I love me some proscuitto or pepperoni now and then, but not regularly cause it’s just too expensive.

      Bacon is non-negotiable around here. That it is uncured means it’s just as susceptible to botulism as ALL fresh meats. So what? I’m not going to store bacon in the cupboard anyways. It’s fresh meat, goes in the freezer until it thaws in the fridge before being cooked.

      Most often “lunch meat” here is just sliced turkey from a whole turkey, sliced ham from a half or whole ham, leftover sliced roast beef from a dinner roast, or chicken salad made from the remains of a chicken carcass. Meat is a LOT cheaper when you cook it yourself.

  62. hi
    useful to know.. how would you relate this to beef jerky or southafican biltong, more of the dried meats?

  63. OK: ditch the salt, nitrate, & other process additives. One is left with the dried & fermented or, that other dried meat, jerky & its offspring, pemmican. Neither of these is sitting inside an old intestine, which probably went to some other use. Yes, fresh is best; yet there are better ways to store & preserve than refrigeration. I did make my own jerky & pemmican, from beef, it is good, but I don’t eat it all that often.

  64. We recently started buying whole pork bellies in order to make our own bacon. Still in the experimental stages but the first batch was delicous!!

  65. Preserved meat has a LOT of salt. Salt has been found to IMMEDIATELY impact arterial flexibility. (causing some researchers to hypothesize that this lack of flexibility, rather than water retention, is why salt has such a role in HBP.) So if you eat a lot of cured meat, you will eat a lot of salt and you will feel worse.

  66. I’ve made sausage, bacon and cured meats for more than 20 years for my family’s enjoyment. Mark, you are spot on about the ‘Oscar Meyer type’ commercial products. They have neither the taste nor quality of home made. That said, the difference between oft-hailed (and loved) bacon and high quality sausage is a matter of commutation. The sausage gets ground before it passes one’s lips. Meat, spices, salt and nitrite are virtually identical. Oh- and the folks over at are awesome. I recommend their site and their books.
    Kind regards

  67. when I don’t get a chance to buy country bacon from the butcher I choose applegate’s sunday bacon. Very delicious nitrate free. It can really be a nice addition to eggs, homadesauce,soup, steak, or a quick snack when you don’t feel like a large meal.

  68. No body mentioned Hormel Natural Choice. This is our go-to source for quick on the road meats. I even use the salami and ham on salads and have dropped 30lbs so far, so I’m happy with it. I’ll also roll a slice of ham and salami together, dip in mustard, and about four of these “roll-ups” make a decent on the road lunch. Add a handful of grapes and pork rinds and I’m set for the rest of the day. So, cold cuts may not be Primal but the Natural Choice ones work into my budget and lifestyle quite easily, without giving the wife headaches, so I’m keeping them.

  69. I have to admit: I absolutely love cold cuts!! I am very thankful though, that we have a great Italian Food Market around the corner that serves only the best and freshes meats.


  70. We buy in house roasted deli meat all the time at our local health food store. It’s just as fresh as any meat, roasted daily, not cured, no additives. Just a hunk of roasted meat with spices thinly sliced up.

  71. I eat about 150g of Jamon Serrano on most weekdays. It’s an easy way to get about 45-50g of protein at lunch. Why would that be bad for you ? It comes from pigs raised on acorns. The ham is air-cured for several months and has nothing but salt rubbed on it, nothing else. Sure, it’s salty but it’s basically dried raw meat. It’s not pre-packaged; it’s the expensive stuff (about 7 USD for 150g) and I know the deli well enough to trust them. Seriously, this is about as pure as meat gets. Why would this be unhealthy in any way ?

  72. Lately, I’ve been craving for cold cuts so I’ll try to stick to the quality stuff as you advised to get the best taste I can get. I’ll make sure to eat in moderate amounts as well since too much processed food can be bad. If there’s a trusted supplier I can rely on, it’s local delis so I might resort to looking for some online if I can’t locate them near the market where I live.