Meat has been making a powerful comeback. Consider the recent New York Times article: “Eat Eat Less Red Meat, Scientists Said. Now Some Believe That Was Bad Advice.”
For an article like this to be published in the Times is a big deal. Even though many health diets promote red meat, many others put it down, and veganism is as popular as ever.
With all of that said, there is a hidden gem even most meat lovers overlook: organs.
Not only have these foods been a prized delicacy throughout much of human history, but they are also some of the most nutritious foods on the planet.
I began eating organ meats, especially beef liver, in early 2018 as a cheaper alternative to beef and also for the powerful health benefits. Liver is one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet, and it is much less expensive than steak.
That said, my experience was anything but smooth. My first tries at preparing liver were difficult. I bought low-quality liver, did not know how to cook it properly, and I was not used to the food.
Since then I’ve become much savvier at preparing organ meats, and my aim is to give you that skill so you can avoid my mistakes.
First, we’ll address the mental stigma of organ meat. I’m going to give you a brief overview of organ meats in the world, and show you these foods are actually pretty normal to eat.
Then we’ll cover more of the health-side of organ meats, such as their bio-availability and powerful nutrient profiles they offer.
Lastly, I’ll talk about my favorite organ meats, how I like to cook and prepare them, and where I buy my meat. This section is where you’ll learn tips and tricks for making these foods more palatable, and will include information on supplements—like desiccated liver pills—that you can take if you don’t want to try eating these foods.
An Offal World
Offal, for the uninitiated, is simply a term that refers to organ meats and various other nontraditional food parts of the animal — such as snout, blood, and skin. In most cultures, even today, offal is still a dietary staple.
In the U.S., offal hasn’t been popular for a long time. Even in the early 1900s, these meats were viewed with some level of disdain, while muscle meat was seen as a sign of wealth. In fact, convincing the American public to even consider organ meats was a big problem during World War II. Red meat quickly became rationed as the war effort created food shortages, while organ meats were sometimes simply being wasted.
A whole committee was formed to get the American people to use this food source, and even included tactics like renaming offal “variety meats” to increase their popularity. For an awesome and fascinating article on the subject, check out this piece by The Atlantic.
Despite how unpopular these foods are in this part of the world, they are still both commonplace and popular pretty much everywhere else.
Pork blood soup has been a staple in China for centuries, and chicken offal is skewered and barbecued throughout Japan.
In South Africa, offal-based dishes are so popular, they are one of the few customs shared by almost all members of their diverse nation. Northern Africa and Israel make great use of chicken hearts, as do Brazil and many South American countries.
Europe is also a hub for offal-based foods. Ever heard of the expression “humble pie”? This term originates from an offal-based pie called humble pie that was popular in medieval Britain, and though offal-based pies are no longer called that, beef and kidney pies are popular enough to be sold frozen at local supermarkets.
Sweden, where my heritage lies, has an adaptation of another British offal food: blood pudding. “Black pudding” is congealed pig blood with oatmeal inside and served like a sausage, often with Lingonberry jam.
Braunschweiger is an amazing German food that is something like gourmet bologna. It is made from liver and onion powder and is great on crackers. This is one I eat regularly.
France has many offal-cuisines, especially using tripe, the stomach lining of an animal. Offal cuisines extend into the Austria-Germany region with different recipes of spaetzle, liverwurst, beuschel, and SemmelKnödel.
Really, the only two places where offal is truly unpopular are North America (specifically the U.S.), and Australia, where the only offal dishes are a small number of liver-based recipes brought from Britain.
What’s So Great About Organ Meats?
Offal offers two powerful benefits when it comes to the nutritional value of food: bio-availability and nutrient content.
Meat, compared to plant food, is more bio-available, meaning its nutrient content is more easily absorbed by our bodies when we consume it.
One of the reasons for this is because many plants contain anti-nutrients, which, as the name implies, block the absorption of other nutrients when you eat them. Though these anti-nutrients may have some benefits, when it comes to nutrients, meat just doesn’t have the same issue.
For example, in one study comparing plant food to meat, high-selenium content broccoli was compared to high-selenium content pork. There was much more un-absorbed selenium in the urine of those who ate the broccoli than those who ate the pork. This is evidence that the selenium in the pork is more bioavailable.
Now, this isn’t a suggestion to run to the hills and start only eating steak. One of the reasons to eat a wide variety of foods is that not all foods have the same nutrient profiles. With that said, you might be able to get away with it if you’re eating organ meats because the amount of nutrients you can get from offal is beyond impressive.
Both Healthline.com and the University of Berkeley’s BerkeleyWellness.com tout liver as perhaps the most nutrient-dense food on the planet, and with a quick look at the numbers, I believe them.
According to SELFNutritionData, 200g (roughly 7oz) of beef liver contains:
- Vitamin A: 52182 IU or 1044% RDI (recommended daily intake)
- Riboflavin: 6.8mg or 402% RDI
- Niacin: 35mg or 174% RDI
- Folate: 260mcg or 130% RDI
- Vitamin B12: 166.2mcg or 2772% RDI
- Pantothenic acid: 13.8mg or 138% RDI
- Choline: 836mg
- Iron: 12.4mg or 68% RDI
- Phosphorous: 970mg or 96% RDI
- Zinc: 10.4mg or 70% RDI
- Copper: 29.2mg or 1460% RDI
- Selenium: 65.6mcg or 94% RDI
At 350 calories, this makes liver one of the most nutritionally dense per-calorie foods you can find, and though it’s the king of the castle in this regard, the other organ meats are not far behind and offer their own unique nutrient profiles.
Where to Get Organs
You can source your organ meats however you like, but since these meats are usually inexpensive as-it-is, I strongly recommend going high quality.
You see, low-quality sirloin steak is usually at least $7 or $8 a pound. On the flip-side, grass-fed, grass-finished beef liver from top companies is usually $8 a pound.
You can go to a place like Walmart, you can get beef liver for $3 a pound, but I really recommend quality over quantity with organ meats. Many of the organs are in charge of bodily functions like detoxification, especially the liver. I personally worry that if you buy organ meats from low-quality sources, you may be consuming toxins that the liver was filtering, such as the pesticides used in grain-fed cattle’s food supply.
Furthermore, I’ve often noticed a yellowish tint to the liver that is from grain-fed (vs. grass-fed) cows. I’ve heard a few of the health experts I follow mention this tint as well, and the general consensus is that this is likely a form of fatty liver disease.
But there is one, final, major reason why I promote grass-fed sourcing of your organ meats: flavor. If you go lower quality, you will likely run into sharp, bitter-tasting meats, and you’ll want to use workarounds — like soaking in lemon or raw milk — for a day before you cook.
My favorite company is White Oak Pastures, a powerful regenerative agriculture project that provides some of the highest quality and sustainable meat products I have ever seen. Their beef liver is $6.59 a pound, which is absolutely phenomenal considering the quality.
The other company I buy from is U.S. Wellness Meats. This company has similarly high quality and offers some meats (like braunsweiger) that White Oak Pastures doesn’t.
Another option for sourcing your meat is to go to a local beef butcher if you have access to one. These shops seem to be becoming more scarce, and there are only a small handful of grass-fed beef butchers in the Dallas Fort Worth area where I live. I’ve noticed that older cities like Philadelphia are more likely to have butcher shops and grass-fed farms you can buy directly from.
The great thing about a butcher is you can request specialty items and maybe get certain things for extremely cheap or even free—for example, I buy large amounts of beef suet (kidney fat) to use in cooking and for my dogs. Things like suet, beef trimmings, and even sometimes bones can often be procured for pennies on the dollar at a local butcher shop that doesn’t have an active market for them.
Now that we’ve covered sourcing, let’s get into my favorite organ meats and how to prepare them.
How to Prepare Organs: Techniques and Recipes
Below are some specific ways I enjoy preparing and eating organs.
If you enjoy these, you’ll likely want to expand your repertoire and experiment. In general, keep in mind that it’s always important to cook your food thoroughly based on its source. When in doubt, look up the appropriate internal temp or err on the side of over-cooking.
There is one type of organ meat that bears special consideration: brains (and spinal cord tissue) of cattle and game like deer and elk can be a source of prion disease like Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease — the human form of Mad Cow Disease. Cooking does not eliminate the risk of prion disease. Typically, however, brains are difficult to source even if you did want to eat them. And fortunately, this is not a risk with other parts of the animal body—prions have only been found in nervous system tissue.
The essential: Beef liver
Beef liver is the king of the meats in my diet. I try to eat at least 1.5 lbs of beef liver per week, and I usually eat closer to 2 lbs. Again, this cut of meat contains one of the best, if not the best, nutrient profiles in the world.
Where I Buy: — White Oak Pastures Beef Liver, currently $6.59/lbs or as a backup U.S. Wellness Meats Beef Liver, currently $10.30/lbs—or local grass-fed beef butcher
When it comes to preparing liver, the two big factors are cooking time and flavor.
Liver often has a bitter flavor. To mitigate this, soak liver in raw milk, red wine vinegar, or lemon juice for 8 hours or more before cooking. Although the liver I buy from White Oak Pastures is not bitter, I always soak it in lemon for a few hours before cooking if I can anyway—not for the flavor, but because soaking the meat in lemon helps prevent oxidation of thiols in the liver during cooking, which both helps the flavor and also preserves nutrient content.
Liver is usually packaged in thin slices. You may find that it has a spongey or slimy texture when raw or undercooked. It cooks fast, however, and when overdone it gets rather chewy.
The best technique I’ve found for cooking liver is to re-freeze it for 30 minutes before cooking. You want it to be just frozen enough to easily cut but not so frozen that the center is stiff. Then cut it into bite-sized pieces and stir fry it in grass-fed ghee, beef tallow, or butter for 5 minutes.
The result is that the outside (frozen layers) and inside are cooked to the same degree. This results in an even texture throughout the liver.
Personally, I often eat liver solo without anything else, but liver is phenomenal with onions, and this is a very common recipe. If you want to have it with onions, get a yellow, white, or red onion, chop it and dice it, and stir fry it with the liver pieces.
- Soak in lemon for at least 2 hours if grass-fed, and at least 8 hours if not grass-fed. This stabilizes flavor.
- Re-freeze the liver for 30 minutes or until it can be easily cut into pieces but is not frozen all the way through.
- Cut into bite-sized pieces and stir-fry in grass-fed butter at high heat for 5 to 10 minutes.
- Include a chopped onion if you like. Simply stir fry it with your liver pieces for this variation.
- Season to taste—I typically only use black pepper.
- Move to plate and allow to rest for 2–3 minutes.
Chicken Hearts or Beef Heart
This one has two variations but I cook them pretty much the same way. Beef heart from White Oak Pastures is cut into slivers already, and chicken hearts are small enough that I cook them whole, without any cutting or dicing.
Where I buy: White Oak Pastures Grassfed Beef Heart.
Heart muscle contains high amounts of Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) which is great for, you guessed it, your heart. Furthermore, it also contains high amounts of folate and the essential B vitamins which are cardioprotective.
Get it? Eating heart is likely good for your heart. And compared to other organ meats, the heart is more steak-like.
Now, if you’re squeamish, I suggest starting with beef heart rather than cooking chicken hearts. Beef heart looks like slivers of steak and tastes similar when cooked.
As far as how to cook it, just toss it in a cast iron pan with some butter or ghee and stir fry it. It’s really that simple. I like using Himalayan sea salt and black pepper if I cook it in butter. I’ll sometimes add a bit of sage or tarragon as well, but I find that the butter and heart have a lot of flavor on their own. Of course, I encourage you to experiment.
I typically cook beef heart to 135 degrees Fahrenheit and then let it rest. In a stir fry, I’ll cook a little longer, or I’ll move the heart slivers to a plate and cover with foil for 5 minutes.
With chicken hearts, the method is the same, but they need to cook longer. Use a temperature thermometer to ensure that chicken hearts reach an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit or greater.
The technique in detail:
- Pat dry and season heart or heart slivers with salt and pepper
- Heat cast-iron pan on high heat
- Stir-fry heart in grass-fed butter, ghee, or preferred cooking oil for 5 to 10 minutes
- If cooking chicken hearts, check the temperature using a meat thermometer to ensure 160 degrees Fahrenheit
- Move to plate, season as desired, cover with foil and rest for 3 minutes
Beef or Lamb Testicles
Yep, we’re talking testies. It might sound insane at first, but I think beef testicles are actually the most palatable of the organ meats I eat. I find the flavor to be very mild, and it’s reminiscent of calamari.
Where I Buy: White Oak Pastures Beef Testicles or Lamb Testicles. My back-up source is U.S. Wellness Meats Lamb Oysters.
I will refer to testicles as oysters henceforth, as this is often how they are packaged and also because the word testicles should only have to be read so many times.
Anyway, I often simply grill beef oysters; however, this is not the optimal way to enjoy them, just the most convenient.
If you really want to witness the potential of oysters, you need to try Rocky Mountain oysters. Rocky Mountain oysters are a delicacy food common in Wyoming & Montana where there is a large livestock industry. This food involves cutting beef oysters into bite-sized pieces and frying them in batter.
The end result is a lot like calamari, and Rocky Mountain oysters are best served with any number of sauces.
The first step with beef oysters is to remove all the skin. The yellow-colored meat inside should be all you have left. It helps greatly to have a sharp knife for this process, as the skin is rather tough.
Once skinned, cut the oysters into bite-sized pieces. If using lamb oysters, simply cut in half or thirds.
Prepare the batter by whisking 4 eggs per oyster in a bowl, and have another bowl set aside filled with tapioca flour. (If you are making beef oysters, you may need more eggs.)
You can deep fry your oysters by heating enough oil in a pan to submerge your oysters. Get the oil to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Dip your oyster bits in the egg, then roll them in the tapioca flour and toss into the fryer basket and submerge in the oil for 3 to 5 minutes.
If you don’t want to deep-fry, you can also pan-fry: use a heavy cast-iron skillet and coat with 3 tablespoons of an oil of your choice (I like avocado oil or grass-fed ghee for this recipe in particular.) Batter the oyster pieces with the egg and tapioca flour, and cook on medium-high heat for 2.5 minutes, then flip for another 2.5 minutes.
Regardless of your method, as soon as the oysters are done cooking, garnish with lemon and serve with dipping sauces of your choice.
- Skin the oysters and cut into bite-sized pieces using a sharp knife
- In one bowl, whisk 4–6 eggs. Fill another bowl with tapioca flour
- For deep frying with a fryer basket, heat enough oil to submerge the oysters to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. For pan-frying, coat a heavy skillet with oil of choice and heat on medium-high heat.
- Dip the oyster bits in the egg, roll in the flour until completely coated, and fry. If deep frying, fry for 5 minutes. If pan-frying, fry for 2.5 minutes and then flip the bites for another 2.5 minutes.
- Once done, garnish with lemon and immediately serve with a dipping sauce of your choice.
Braunschweiger, Liverwurst, & Head Cheese
I recommend trying the recipes above and cooking organ meats yourself, but there are also a couple of great organ-based foods you don’t even need to prepare, making them very convenient additions to your diet.
Braunschweiger, for example, is a sort-of smoked sausage made from liver and onion powder and served cold with crackers. It also tastes great and is one of the easiest ways to add some liver to your diet.
Liverwurst is very similar to braunschweiger but is cooked and seasoned slightly differently. Head cheese is a smoked sausage made from heart, tongue, and as the name implies, parts of the animal’s head.
I get these from U.S. Wellness Meats, and they are a super convenient way to eat organs that is both palatable and does not require cooking or a recipe.
Make your own bone broth
You probably already know that bone broth, while not technically organ meat, is a phenomenal food. Recently, bone broth has been properly promoted as a top-notch health food by such figures as Tim Ferris of The Four Hour Workweek, America’s top personal trainer Ben Greenfield, and big-name physicians such as Dr. Axe or Dr. Oz.
Good bone broth is a wonderful source of many nutrients, but most notable are hyaluronic acid, glycine, proline, glucosamine, and chondroitin. These amino acids are some of the best for joint health and reducing inflammation that exists, and there have even been studies on bone broth.
Chicken broth has been found to greatly lower inflammation and improves symptoms of osteoporosis, and in this study was shown to reduce inflammation in both the digestive and respiratory system, as well as reduce the symptoms of a cold, meaning that chicken soup really is a great choice when you are sick.
However, high-quality bone broth is not cheap. Kettle & Fire is my go-to brand for pre-made bone broth, but it costs $10 a for 16oz and it’s just not sustainable when you’re using it daily (which is what I recommend.)
You might respond to that by saying low-quality bone broth is cheap. Well, yes, but hear me out. Many low-quality bone broths contain additives or gluten, which is problematic for many people.
Furthermore, toxins and heavy metals tend to accumulate in bone marrow.For this reason, I personally avoid low-quality broths.
So, what’s the solution? Make your own.
Not only is making your own bone broth cheaper, but it yields a much more delicious end-product. So, without further adieu, let’s get into my personal bone broth recipe.
Firstly, you’ll need a few ingredients. I make my bone broth with grass-fed beef bones, apple cider vinegar, powdered ginger, whole black peppercorns, and sometimes with vegetables.
If you haven’t already noticed, I like to keep my cooking simple, and you can make bone broth with just bones and apple cider vinegar in a pinch. However, the addition of pepper and at least one other spice or seasoning is helpful, and ginger adds a great zest in my opinion. Feel free to make your own blends.
Where I buy beef bones: White Oak Pastures Beef Marrow Bones or Grassland Beef Thin Marrow Bones
To make bone broth, you’ll need a stockpot, baking pans, and a strainer bowl. It helps if you have two stock pots, but one will work just fine.
First, blanch the bones by submerging them in cold water in the stockpot, and then bringing the water to a boil. Simmer for 20 minutes, transfer the bones to the strainer basket, and then move the bones to your baking pans. Blanching helps remove bitter elements of the marrow.
If you have vegetables for your broth, such as carrots, onions, or garlic cloves, chop them and leave them aside for now.
Bring your oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit and bake for 30 minutes, tossing the bones every 10 minutes. If you have vegetables, add them after 30 minutes. If you do not have vegetables, just roast for 45 minutes total while tossing the bones every 10 minutes.
Once done, transfer the bones and vegetables back to a clean stockpot (if using the same one you used for blanching, clean it first.) Make sure to transfer everything in the roasting pan to the stockpot, even the leftover juices of bits of marrow.
Add peppercorns and powdered ginger, as well as any other spices, to the stockpot. Fill with enough water to cover the bones. I add 4 tablespoons (or 1 good glug) of apple cider vinegar per 12 cups of water or 5 lbs of bones.
Bring the water to a low boil and simmer for at least 12 hours and ideally 24 hours.
When the bone broth is done, pour through a strainer basket into containers to refrigerate. There will be a large amount of meat left in the stockpots; feel free to eat it or use it for recipes and other meals.
I typically use some of my new bone broth to make a quick soup out of it. The same goes for any vegetables.
Voila, you’ve got bone broth, and probably a lot of it. This will last about 5 days refrigerated, so if you make more than you need in a week’s time, be sure to freeze the extra. A layer of fat will likely form on top of the broth. You can remove it if you want, but I think it’s great — just heat it and it will dissolve back into the broth.
- Submerge bones in cold water, bring to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes to blanch them.
- Chop vegetables, if using any.
- Roast bones at 450 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes, then add vegetables. Roast for another 15 minutes. Toss every 10 minutes.
- Move bones, vegetables, juices, and any bits of meat to a clean stockpot.
- Add peppercorns, ginger, or spices of choice, as well as 4 tablespoons (60ml) of apple cider vinegar per 12 cups of water or 5lbs of bones.
- Add water until bones are submerged, bring to a low boil, and simmer for 12 hours at least — 24 hours, ideally.
- Strain broth, use meats and vegetables for soup or whatever you want. Store broth in the refrigerator if it will be consumed within a week, and in the freezer, if you will use it later.
Desiccated Organ Supplements
Okay, we’re pretty much done, but I did promise a solution for those who just don’t want to eat liver.
Fortunately, desiccated organ supplements are there for you if you just don’t want to bother with new food.
These supplements are made by taking organ meats, curing them and drying them out to make powders, and then putting them in supplement capsules. You don’t have to eat anything.
Even if you followed this guide and are cooking organ meats, there are some cool things you can get out of organ supplements.
Many Native American cultures believed that eating the organ of an animal that corresponded to your own was a way to improve the health and performance of that organ. Obviously this is not a scientific claim, but our organs are made of the same nutrients and tissues as those of animals, for the most part. I think it stands to reason that eating the organ of an animal, if not directly improving your own, is at least giving your body the same building blocks to indirectly improve its own tissues.
I, for example, order a brain supplement. It’s for my brain, but that’s not what I meant…the supplement itself is literally a desiccated brain.
I only use one brand for desiccated organ supplements: Ancestral Supplements. I have no affiliation with these guys at the time of this writing, they are just the best I have found. There are probably other great ones out there, so feel free to do your own research.
Their brain supplement is sourced from New Zealand, where there has never been a case of Mad Cow disease or related prion diseases, and there are strict controls on imports—so I feel that the risk of taking this supplement is negligible for me personally.
If you don’t want to eat organs, I recommend at least taking a desiccated liver supplement from Ancestral Supplements or another source. If you are going to try organs, and just want to add a bit extra to your now-exotic dietary lifestyle, this is a cool way to do it.
Bet you didn’t think you’d be reading about eating beef testicles or taking supplements made out of brain today, did you?
Well, I’m glad you did, and I’m glad you chose to stick around for this article. I really think organ meats are a hidden gem. Many of these meats are highly nutritious as well as very affordable, and while they are not currently popular in the U.S., they are quite common almost everywhere else.
As far as the health benefits, liver may be the most nutrient-dense food on the planet on a calorie-by-calorie basis, and most of the other organ meats have robust and unique nutrient profiles as well.
From beef liver to chicken hearts to lamb oysters, there are a ton of different meats and recipes you can try, and if you’re just not interested, check out desiccated organ supplements like those sold by Ancestral Nutrition.
And that’s it. I think these foods are an awesome way to improve your nutrition without having to spend an arm and a leg. These foods are a major component in my diet, and now you know a few ways to add them to your own.
As always, thank you for reading and good luck with your health & fitness journey.