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How did cavemen cook? Grilled? Skewered? Foreman?

by (24523)
Updated about 2 hours ago
Created November 09, 2010 at 3:08 AM

Does anybody have a sense of the main methods our ancient paleo kinsmen used to cook meat?

  • Smoked meat is delicious, but an occasional thing for me because of the polycyclic bad guys. Not a huge issue for cavemen because stomach cancer typically comes after age 65, past reproductive age.
  • Pan fried is okay, but the hotter the pan, the more AGEs and oxidized fats
  • Grilled is out of the question in the great white north(east) for this winter
  • Slow cooked seems to have no safety concerns. Except it's...slow
  • Spit roasted would be great with a group of paleo friends, but not for n=1
  • Steamed seems absolutely safe, but I've never done it for some reason, maybe because it reminds me of...
  • Boiled, and anytime I boil meat, it tastes not super

My gap ridden teeth have a hard time chewing some meats, so tender slow cooked meat is great for that. But I'm looking for a third leg for my cooking stool: Pan fried, Slow-cooked, and XXXXXXX. Is there good evidence on how our ancestors did things? Did they cook things with skewers, or on hot stones, or something else?

Does their cooking method matter to me as a modern paleo? In other words, what they ate is important for what we eat because of our physiological needs, but does cooking method fit as neatly into that picture?

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7063 · November 16, 2010 at 10:24 AM

yes, I thought this too - you are right, but broth is great basis for many things very unlike slow-cooked meat. It broadens paleo's repertoire considerably.

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9647 · November 11, 2010 at 6:12 PM

Doesn't broth just fall under the slow-cooking heading? As long as you put bones and other fun stuff into your slow cooker you'll get lots of good stuff out of them. Or am I missing a significant difference.

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19220 · November 11, 2010 at 1:22 AM

Lamb shank wrapped in tin foil with herbs and baked in the oven on a low heat for 2-3 hours is one of the best meals ever. Maybe similar to wrapping in wet leaves and baking in the hot rocks or embers of a campfire.

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24523 · November 10, 2010 at 9:01 PM

Nightshade restriction, but it could still work with some tweaks.

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5232 · November 10, 2010 at 8:10 PM

If you aren't on heavy carb restriction, you should bake yourself a nice shepards pie asap.

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6235 · November 10, 2010 at 8:09 PM

Thank you! I am used to cooking with meat fats like bacon drippings an lard (my southern cooking has finally come in handy) but not having flour to thicken made me think that roux thickened sauces were off the menu.

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7063 · November 10, 2010 at 7:35 PM

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arrowroot

33b6c516904a967ef8ecb30f1dbd8cf2
7063 · November 10, 2010 at 7:35 PM

Arrowroot can be used as a thickener and should be widely available in supermarkets, I have used it to great effect. Lard can be used as a perfect substitute to butter in a roux. Of course, for other gravies and sauces, there is no need to add any thickening agent at all, I never do, I just simmer the liquid for longer to reduce it and it will thicken naturally.

33b6c516904a967ef8ecb30f1dbd8cf2
7063 · November 10, 2010 at 7:30 PM

For what it is worth, for the added flavour it brings to a dish, when I cook for my family, I do not worry about a teaspoon of cornflour in a roux, and I would use raw butter too, but that is a personal thing. Gravies and sauces are totally possible without using any flour of any kind, just simmer it gently for longer to reduce the liquid and thicken it up.

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6235 · November 10, 2010 at 7:19 PM

How do you make a Roux without flower? I have been missing them although the egg thickened sauces work too...

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20411 · November 10, 2010 at 2:35 PM

lol! Gas grills are right out.  If you're the kind of pansy who puts aluminum foil on the mesh of a gas grill to fry your burgers and brats, you're.well, a pansy.  All you've done is move a range outdoors to fry with.  You're probably cooking tofu burgers with bean sprouts. "But, Einar, the instruction say I shouldn't get grease into the carefully fabricated imitation pumice rocks above the gas flames!" you say.  In other words, it's an expensive yuppie-scum wannabe grill, like those "gas fireplaces."  You may as well put your testicles up there and cook them, because you're not using them.

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801 · November 09, 2010 at 8:00 PM

Another vote for pressure cookers! Although most people still seem to be afraid of them, today's designs are very safe. Get a good one -- Kuhn-Rikon or Fagor -- and the pots can be used for all kinds of cooking. I think the pressure cooker also retains more of the meaty goodness when you're, say, braising a lamb shank or cooking a brisket. Typically, you sear the meat first in the pan, then add liquid and seasonings, lock the lid, and cook for 15 minutes to an hour, depending on the cut. A different kind of fast food...

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24523 · November 09, 2010 at 6:51 PM

Wow, you're right. That's a big one. Strangely enough, I have rarely used the oven since becoming a paleo eater.

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323 · November 09, 2010 at 1:34 PM

I agree "enjoying your food is more important than getting every single detail right" is my philosophy [within the Paleo context, of course]

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19220 · November 09, 2010 at 8:59 AM

You missed out baked from the list.

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24523 · November 09, 2010 at 4:24 AM

Crockpot. Which cut of beef? I've only made stews so far, but dropping a hunk of something in there sounds good.

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78422 · November 09, 2010 at 3:37 AM

Slow cooked how? In a crockpot or in the oven? I love beef rubbed with spices, sealed in a hot oven and then turned to the lowest heat (say 170F) to cook uncovered almost all day. It turns out succulent.

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7 Answers

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5232 · November 09, 2010 at 3:23 AM

The short answer is no. It doesn't matter. I love my cavemen brethren, but they probably weren't the best of cooks. The tools they had were rudimentary. They'd cook most of their food stuffs over an open flame. It probably created a good number of AGEs which is fine to a degree. They didn't eat an AGE heavy diet or live in an AGE promoting environment. Our bodies can deal with some AGEs rather nicely. But it's even nicer if we can keep them low, especially in the toxic environment we live in and especially since most of us grew up eating an AGE rich diet (thank you fructose). So now we look for ways to best cook food from a health perspective something our ancestors didn't really think about. The main thing to watch out for is high heat. Don't burn your meat please. Don't char it. That's not ideal. Use the right oils. Butter, ghee, coconut, lard are the kings of the cooking oil world. Buy the bucket of tallow from USDA Wellness Meats.

The old guys, our cavemen brethren, probably ate a good deal of raw meats also. So if you feel like taking that on good on you. I'm sticking with the cooked stuff for now. I'm also staying away from bugs. Overall, don't worry too much. Enjoying your food is more important than getting every single detail right. Keep that cortisol low! Do what tastes good and maybe turn the oven/burner down a few degrees.

16846467115e18d283565a19c374ee07
323 · November 09, 2010 at 1:34 PM

I agree "enjoying your food is more important than getting every single detail right" is my philosophy [within the Paleo context, of course]

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7063 · November 10, 2010 at 7:14 PM

I think that the third leg to the stool of paleo cookery has to be broths. It is a way to extract the goodness from bones and sinews and other indigestible bits, easy to make and can be stored effectively in the freezer.

Primitive people would have used broths for the purpose of extending meat intake even when there had been no live catch for a while. Cram-packed with minerals, bones and sinews would never have been discarded or overlooked and of course things like eyes and hooves would also have been added (I use pig's trotters in my broth which adds gelatine to the mix - superbly nutritious) as they cannot have been consumed any other way.

We today have the added benefit of being able to use mineral rich broths as a basis for many gorgeous dishes - take soup for instance, infinite flavours and textures can be produced, in fact you could have a different tasting soup for every day of the year, depending on what you add (doesn't get stuck in the teeth either!). Never get bored! Treated as a 'poor man's food' but not to be overlooked, soup has fed whole nations (especially in times of famine) to great effectiveness.

Wonderful sauces and roux can be made from broth, which could enliven any meat dish - just pick up any basic french cookery book and learn how to make a sauce properly and you will never ever be short on taste again.

I use broth in my children's food. It is a fantastic way to add nutrients to their meals without them knowing/complaining. I add it to bolognese sauce, shepherd's pie, even creamy sauce for their veggies.

And of course the last and most important reason why you should make broth a necessity in your household: it is great medicine. Simple broth with strips of chicken added to it (and perhaps rice noodles for kids or the elderly) is food for the soul, for fevers, for colds, for convalescence and any other ailment that needs some fortifying nutrients given with love.

I think one factor for a modern paleo person which is crucial here is 'taste' - hence the fact we are searching for different ways to cook the same old ingredients and I think broth is somewhat overlooked by paleos as time-consuming or too intricate or not relevant to modern cooking methods. Well, there is nothing difficult about broth, as long as you have a pot, some heat, water and some bones and/or other animal/vegetable bits and pieces and I do not believe it could have possibly been overlooked by any primitive culture.

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6235 · November 10, 2010 at 7:19 PM

How do you make a Roux without flower? I have been missing them although the egg thickened sauces work too...

33b6c516904a967ef8ecb30f1dbd8cf2
7063 · November 10, 2010 at 7:30 PM

For what it is worth, for the added flavour it brings to a dish, when I cook for my family, I do not worry about a teaspoon of cornflour in a roux, and I would use raw butter too, but that is a personal thing. Gravies and sauces are totally possible without using any flour of any kind, just simmer it gently for longer to reduce the liquid and thicken it up.

33b6c516904a967ef8ecb30f1dbd8cf2
7063 · November 10, 2010 at 7:35 PM

Arrowroot can be used as a thickener and should be widely available in supermarkets, I have used it to great effect. Lard can be used as a perfect substitute to butter in a roux. Of course, for other gravies and sauces, there is no need to add any thickening agent at all, I never do, I just simmer the liquid for longer to reduce it and it will thicken naturally.

47a42b6be94caf700fce9509e38bb6a4
9647 · November 11, 2010 at 6:12 PM

Doesn't broth just fall under the slow-cooking heading? As long as you put bones and other fun stuff into your slow cooker you'll get lots of good stuff out of them. Or am I missing a significant difference.

1568416ef28477d1fa29046218d83ddd
6235 · November 10, 2010 at 8:09 PM

Thank you! I am used to cooking with meat fats like bacon drippings an lard (my southern cooking has finally come in handy) but not having flour to thicken made me think that roux thickened sauces were off the menu.

33b6c516904a967ef8ecb30f1dbd8cf2
7063 · November 10, 2010 at 7:35 PM

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arrowroot

33b6c516904a967ef8ecb30f1dbd8cf2
7063 · November 16, 2010 at 10:24 AM

yes, I thought this too - you are right, but broth is great basis for many things very unlike slow-cooked meat. It broadens paleo's repertoire considerably.

1568416ef28477d1fa29046218d83ddd
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6235 · November 09, 2010 at 1:14 PM

Boiling sucks, but poaching is my preferred method of cooking fish- the difference is the heat is lower and you use the liquid as a flavor element, using plain water just robs flavor. I like citrus, white wine, onion juice, vinegars or the like as poaching liquid. Spicy teas are also a neat trick if you like "baking" sort of spices with fish (I find it works well with chai teabags and salmon)

I second the "hunk of meat in the crockpot and let it roast" plan too. That is what I am doing with a chunk of pork right now. Tricks are to 1) Put it on onion slices so it doesn't stick to the bottom 2) Apply a dry rub to season 3)Put the fat side up (this works very well on cuts with a fat strip on one side) and 4) serve the liquid

Sometimes I add a little apple cider vinegar to the bottom of the crock for flavor when cooking pork. With beef I will sometimes take out the roast and add in stew meat and cover with a 50-50 combo of balsamic vinegar or read wine and water and make a stew in the drippings which is really yummy.

Sous Verde is nothing like what cavemen did but it is the next trick I want to learn after I have my crock pot pimped to support the temperature regulation. This interests me because the results are so talked about.

After that my next experiment might be with Thermal Cookers. I don't think I will use them for dinner but it seems like a really interesting lunchtime solution- to have a stew cooking all morning long in a thermos getting ready for my lunch.

As you can see, I am generally a big fan or low temp cooking. I am also a fan of methods that make me commit to dinner in the morning because I find I am less likely to decide to go out or otherwise slack off then when compared to right after I get home. The combo really works well for me.

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18671 · November 09, 2010 at 2:18 PM
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1138 · November 09, 2010 at 6:16 AM

Slow-cooking in the oven or crockpot has been amazing except for the 'slow' part, but then I discovered the pressure cooker and I haven't looked back!

D13278772f6612432bf53413fad4e7af
801 · November 09, 2010 at 8:00 PM

Another vote for pressure cookers! Although most people still seem to be afraid of them, today's designs are very safe. Get a good one -- Kuhn-Rikon or Fagor -- and the pots can be used for all kinds of cooking. I think the pressure cooker also retains more of the meaty goodness when you're, say, braising a lamb shank or cooking a brisket. Typically, you sear the meat first in the pan, then add liquid and seasonings, lock the lid, and cook for 15 minutes to an hour, depending on the cut. A different kind of fast food...

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1793 · November 09, 2010 at 6:12 AM

I wonder if roasting meat over an open flame is as common as we imagine. Wouldn't that have meant the loss of lots of precious, precious fat?

I remember reading in Jack Weatherford's "Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World", that, before Genghis Khan was Genghis Khan, he was once forced into the wilderness with a few of his closest allies. They would have almost starved, had they not come across a wild horse.

They cooked the horse's flesh by making a bag from it's skin, and placing in it the chunks of meat, water, and stones made hot by a fire. So I imagine our ancestors found many ways to maximize the nutrition and calories of the food they cooked. I can imagine steaming was also common- perhaps by using hot stones coverned with leaves, etc.

I personally have come to love meat boiled SLOWLY in a ceramic pot. Sounds bland, but if the meat it good it really is delicous. I dip the meat in some tamari (not 100% paleo, I know!), and enjoy the soup. You can also toss in some bones to get your marrow on. Also, I've never tried it, but I'm very curious about sous vide. If you're into cooking, maybe you could give that a whirl.

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4089 · November 09, 2010 at 3:22 AM

Been meaning to try this for some time: http://www.arthurshall.com/x_2007_meat.shtml

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20411 · November 10, 2010 at 2:35 PM

lol! Gas grills are right out.  If you're the kind of pansy who puts aluminum foil on the mesh of a gas grill to fry your burgers and brats, you're.well, a pansy.  All you've done is move a range outdoors to fry with.  You're probably cooking tofu burgers with bean sprouts. "But, Einar, the instruction say I shouldn't get grease into the carefully fabricated imitation pumice rocks above the gas flames!" you say.  In other words, it's an expensive yuppie-scum wannabe grill, like those "gas fireplaces."  You may as well put your testicles up there and cook them, because you're not using them.

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