The Primal Blueprint Cookbook – Complete Review (2 out of 5 stars)

The Primal Blueprint CookbookThe Primal Blueprint Cookbook by Mark Sisson and Jennifer Meier is a Paleo cookbook – with, you guessed it, over 100 paleo recipes that are loosely based on Sisson’s version of the Paleolithic diet. These recipes are low-carb, grain-free, dairy-free, and gluten-free. There’s no pasta, no bread, no rice, and no beans – no kidding.

My wife and I received this as a gift in late 2010 and have since tried about a dozen recipes. There are things we love about it and things we don’t, and it’s about time I gave this paleo cookbook the review it deserves. Ultimately, this review is meant to help you decide if this cookbook is right for you.

Note: This is a somewhat lengthy review as I’d rather be thorough and cover all of the important information than try to condense this down to 500 words or less. Given that it will be long and detailed (please scan away!), I’ll tell you right up front that my wife and I unanimously agreed to award this 2 out of 5 stars. That may sound like a low rating, and it is, but those two stars might be reason enough to purchase this cookbook if it aligns with your nutritional philosophy. Please don’t disregard this paleo cookbook simply because of the low rating. We’re still happy with it and plan to continue using it in the future.The Primal Blueprint Cookbook Review

The Noms Master Speaks

First things first, who am I to be recommending any particular cookbook – especially a paleo cookbook? Well, you should probably know that I am NOT an expert in nutrition. I literally have ZERO credentials. Sure, I aced nutrition 101 in college and have read a lot of books on the subject, but that doesn’t mean diddly, and it certainly doesn’t make me an expert.

Though I am neither a nutritionist or dietitian, I am an expert in something else. I like to call it “eating.” My credibility is based on a lifetime of experience. I’ve literally been doing this my entire life. In fact, I’m even considered a guru in my local community (true story). This review is completely based on that perspective. Please keep that in mind while reading it (this isn’t nutritional advice).

What’s to Love About The Primal Blueprint Cookbook

It was very difficult trying to finalize our overall rating of this book, but it wasn’t hard to determine what would ultimately contribute to awarding it two full stars.

Yummy in Your Tummy

The Primal Blueprint Cookbook - Bacon Poppers
100% Primal Bacon Poppers

The paleo recipes in this cookbook are, in a word, delicious. In 28 words, this book is chock-full of appetizing, delectable, luscious, mouthwatering, savory, scrumptious, tasty, and finally, palatable paleo recipes that are fit for a king and border on divine. Succulent doesn’t do it justice, but it’s close. Exquisite is a fine descriptive word, but it’s a bit girly for my taste (no pun intended).

Seriously, almost everything we have tried (10 out of 12 recipes) have been utterly delicious, and fully-approved by everyone present. This is no small feat either. Usually, when you start using a new cookbook, you try a few recipes, and you get mixed results. The first one could be a clear winner – a “keeper.” But then you try another one, and it’s good, but not great. You probably won’t try it again. Then again, you try a third recipe and it’s awful – a complete dud and you’ll never, ever make it again. It has been our experience that you have to wade through the so-so recipes and the not-even-close-to-so-so recipes in order to find the real winners. That’s not the case with this cookbook. You will be pleasantly surprised with the end results.

Maybe we’ve just tried all the good ones (I doubt it), but if probability is on our side, then the majority of the recipes in the Primal Blueprint Cookbook are keepers. If you ask me, good food is reason enough to purchase a cookbook. That said, there’s probably some more info you’d like to know before you buy.

The Primal Blueprint Cookbook passes the Kitchen Dummy Test

Another thing that scores high when reviewing this book is the instructions. They are very detailed and usually quite clear about how you need to prepare the meals. There have been a couple of times where it’s been unclear, but the majority of the time, we haven’t had any trouble following the directions. That’s a really good thing for someone like me who is a certified kitchen dummy. I’m not what you would normally call a talented cook, but I’m really good at following directions.

I’ve found that overall, the recipes in this cookbook are elaborate, but not difficult to prepare. This is largely due to the detailed instructions. With the Primal Blueprint Cookbook, you’ll be able to prepare impressive meals without having to attend 2 years of culinary school first.

Other Things We Like

There are some other things that we like, in particular, about this cookbook. The first is all the many pictures that are scattered, actually plastered all over the pages inside. These aren’t professionally photographed, but I actually think that provides some of the appeal. These images depict what the meals may look like if you make them in your home.

I don’t know about you, but I like using the pictures to decide what to prepare during the week. Sure, when I read the words “bison chili with bacon,” that gets the taste buds primed. It’s true that bison and chili is a most agreeable combination, and bacon does make everything better. But when I actually see a plateful of heavenly shrimp cakes surrounded by a rainbow of spinach slaw and coconut-almond dressing up close and in full-color, I almost lose myself. I depart to another world and start dreaming of what it would be like to sit alone and devour it bite-by-bite. The pictures only exasperate this problem.

Some other things we like about it are some of the recipe categories. In particular, the marinades, sauces and dressings recipes were appreciated. Having replacements for common condiments is a very nice touch, especially for those who are seeking a very specific diet that includes avoiding certain foods. The primal substitute recipes was another clever idea (just be forewarned about the enchiladas – more on that below).

There was also some decent information in the introduction and spread throughout the various chapters of the book. Some of it seemed like filler-info, and I don’t think it offered much to the book, but more information is never a bad thing.

Why You Should Think Twice Before Buying The Primal Blueprint Cookbook

Now, that we’ve covered what we liked about this cookbook, here are some things that you should probably know before you buy. All of these drawbacks center around a common theme: this isn’t necessarily the best cookbook out there.

You’ll Wish You Had a Personal Chef

The Primal Blueprint Cookbook broke one of the most sacred of all cookbook laws, which could be likened to the 10 Commandments of any cookbook. There is one vital element completely missing from all 105 recipes. That element is an estimated time frame for preparation and cooking. In almost all cookbooks, there is provided a time frame for how long it takes to both prepare and then cook a meal. This is not included, and makes meal planning and preparation difficult at times (and sometimes, very difficult).

This wouldn’t be such a big deal if most of the recipes could be prepared in minimal time. However, we’ve found that the vast majority of recipes take over an hour to prepare, and some of them take over two hours. That’s usually with two people preparing. Long prep times doesn’t necessarily count as a mark off, but it would be nice to know what we’re getting into BEFORE we start chopping onions.

If you’d like to hear how deep this rabbit hole goes, please read the Enchilada Experience below.

The Enchilada Experience

After we had determined that this cookbook was a clear winner, and a good option for entertaining company (another positive trait), we decided to host a small dinner party with another couple. My wife and I went through the cookbook together and decided on the Primal Enchiladas. It looked good and not too difficult to prepare, and who doesn’t like Mexican food, right?

After we had purchased all the ingredients, I estimated about how long it would take to prepare and cook – adding up all the steps in my head. The tally added up to approximately 90 minutes from start to finish, which isn’t bad for a well-earned, tasty reward. How long it really took is a whole other story. With four fairly competent cooks preparing the meal, it took over three and a half hours to finally finish making it. On top of that, we used canned chiles instead of raw, which would have taken even longer had we used them.

Sure, we could chalk it up to goofing around a bit, but I can tell you with complete confidence that there were always at least two people working on that meal for those 3.5 hours in a spacious, well-stocked kitchen.

Was it the end of the world? No, but it would have been nice to know in advance that it would take at least 7 man-hours to make a dinner for four. Most people don’t have several hours a day to prepare their meals (I know we don’t!). So, unless you have a maid or a personal chef who can do all the meal prep and cooking for you, this might not be the best cookbook for you.

Vague is in Vogue

You should probably know that some of the recipes are vague concerning the quantities listed in the ingredients. It’s not a terribly big deal, but it does cause some headaches. For example, last week we prepared a meal that called for 1.5 cans of something. That’s great and all, but cans come in all different sizes. This particular recipe turned out so-so, and we probably won’t make it again simply because we don’t know if we made it correctly or not. It’s standard operating procedure in all major cookbooks to list quantities in actual standard units of measurement. This one doesn’t. That’s definitely another mark off in my book and just another type of issue you deal with when working with self-published books where things like this often get overlooked.

Cavemen Don’t Count Calories

I am one who believes that cavemen and other hunter gatherers (both past and present) do not count their calories. In fact, they probably don’t even measure portions or estimate their macro-nutrient ratios. Crazy, huh? However, I’m also willing to bet that the vast majority of people whom will be buying The Primal Blueprint Cookbook are not actually cavemen or hunter gatherers (even if some of them like to pretend to be).

Now, just because it’s not kosher to count calories in the primal community doesn’t mean that some people wouldn’t appreciate a nutrition facts section for their paleo recipes. Personally, I rarely count calories, measure portions, or try to balance my macros (except on occasions when I’m journaling my food intake), but I know a LOT of people who do. Seriously, some people are very precise about the way they eat. It’s true that some of them are a bit overly-scientific about it, but that wouldn’t make me consider measuring food intake for the sake of tracking progress as excessive or extreme. The fact of the matter is that some people have very specific needs and goals that require very specific nutritional regimes – and most cookbooks account for this by providing a section for nutritional facts. Again, this one doesn’t.

This cookbook does provide a summary of how many servings each meal provides, but it would have been nice to see what each serving was comprised of. I’m sure that one inclusion would save a lot of people some trouble while they’re filling out their food journal and tallying up their totals.

Is calorie counting primal? Nope, but we’re not living in the stone age anymore either.

Where You Live Will Affect What You Can Buy

Some of the ingredients listed in the recipes have been hard for us to find, and some of them are very expensive (at least where we live here in New Hampshire, USA). If you’ve never been to NH, then you probably think of it as a rural place out in the sticks. The truth is that southern NH is mostly suburban. We have many major supermarkets and several small farmer markets and CSA programs available locally. Yet, we’ve still had trouble finding some of the more obscure ingredients (a few of them completely foreign to us). We’ve done the best we can with making substitutions when necessary, and can’t really complain too much.

So, this isn’t a big mark off, but you should just know that if you don’t live in an area with large supermarkets and major farmer markets, then you might have trouble stocking your pantry and freezer. Not to mention, a couple of the meals we almost bought food for would have cost us upwards of $30-40 – for one meal. It’s just something to be aware of before you buy.

Who Is This Cookbook Best Suited For

By now, you should have a good idea of what you’d be getting yourself into. If I had to specify whom I think would most benefit from this particular cookbook, they would have to share a few common traits. First, it should go without saying, that you would be at least interested in the paleo eating philosophy. Or, maybe you just have a food sensitivity and would benefit from the dairy-free, gluten-free and grain-free paleo recipes. Regardless, that’s the first major qualifier.

Secondly, you’ll need to either (a) have a personal chef or maid to plan, gather, and prepare your meals, or (b) have the time to do this yourself. Maybe we’ve just tried all of the most involved recipes, but our experience has shown that the paleo recipes in this cookbook require a large time investment (just like reading this whole review, haha).

Lastly, both my wife and I agree that this is a perfect cookbook for those who enjoy entertaining company. As has already been said, you really can’t go wrong with the end-result of the recipes. They’re simply delicious, and we have entertained friends and family with a few of our personal keepers (usually with much better results than we got from the Enchilada Experience). These recipes are not only delicious, they’re also elaborate without the difficult rating. They also register low on the “possible food allergy radar,” making them a safe bet for entertaining a group.

Best case scenario: you think and live like a hunter gatherer (sortof), have a lot of money, live in an area with major farmer markets, have a personal chef, and enjoy entertaining company on a regular basis.

The Bottom Line

This book is full of great recipes, but overall it’s still a poor choice for a cookbook compared to the many others out there. It certainly fills a need in the marketplace, and for some people, it will be a perfect match. For the majority, however, you can get a lot more for your dollar if you shop around with a basic education in nutrition. You can go a long way with your standard cookbook and a basic knowledge of how to modify recipes to make them suit your preferences.

That said, the recipes are delicious, and that alone may be reason enough to invest in this one. I know we’ll continue to use it in the future – just all the wiser after the challenges we’ve faced. If you’ve read everything carefully and are now confident that you’d like to purchase the Primal Blueprint Cookbook, then you can get it at the lowest price from Amazon.com (and support PhysicalLiving.com with your purchase):

*Click Here to Buy The Primal Blueprint Cookbook from Amazon.com at 41% Off*

Of course, if you have any questions or comments at all, please let me know in the comments section below. I’d love to hear from anyone who has tried some of the recipes, and especially which ones are your favorites.

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CST, CST-KS, NSCA-CPT
Fitness Professional
Eating Guru

P.S. Still not sure? John’s advice for hesitant buyers…

The authors website (MarksDailyApple.com) is home to a huge collection of recipes, many of which are very similar to what is inside The Primal Blueprint Cookbook. If I were you, I’d try several of the free recipes on his site before investing in this paleo cookbook. This way, you’ll know what you’re getting yourself into before you spend your cash. That’s what we did, and we haven’t been disappointed. Here are a few of our favorite paleo recipes from Mark’s site:

Slow-Cooked Asian Pepper Steak – We’ve tried many different versions of this recipe, but this is the one we’ve decided to stick with. This one can be prepared in about 15 minutes and slow-cooked to perfection all day long.

Spicy Chicken and Bacon Poppers – If you’d like a delicious appetizer before dinner or a great party snack, you can’t go wrong with these bacon poppers. Heck, these things are so good, I’d recommend them for any occasion.

Summer Squash Noodles – This is a perfect side dish for those who would prefer to skip the pasta.

17 Responses

  1. Great review and I agree completely with idea that many of the recipes require to much prep time. I’m sure you’ve heard about Mark Sisson’s latest cookbook “Quick and Easy Recipes”. It does list required prep time for each recipe and I’ve found them to be much easier and quicker to prepare. For me it is a huge improvement over the first Primal cookbook. One potential issue is I’ve found listed prep times to be overly optimistic…one recipe listed at 30 minutes took me 90 minutes to prepare. I’d be curious to see if that’s you’re experience as well.

    • Thanks for your comment, John. Yes, I’m eager to see Sisson’s latest Quick and Easy Recipes cookbook – don’t own a copy yet though. If I pick one up, you can be sure I’ll review it here as well. I’m a sucker for good food.

  2. Have you purchased Mark’s newest cookbook, Primal Blueprint Quick & Easy Meals?

    I loved his first one but his newest is AWESOME. All meals can be completed from start to finish in less than 30 minutes.

  3. Good review, thanks John.

    Though I don’t know where the future is for cookbooks really. Going the way of the printed newspaper and magazine, I think. There’s a bajillion and one food/recipe blogs on the internet nowadays, and there’s a huge number of paleo-foodie bloggers. I’ve become a big fan of Chowstalker.com and find I can’t keep up with the volume of recipes linked there. Heck I’ve got a backlog of things to try from MDA.com anyway.

    • You’re probably right, Matt. Eventually, we’ll all be using laptops and tablets in the kitchen. I still like a good ‘ol fashioned cookbook though :)

  4. I just made the sausage stew yesterday and will be making the bison chili on Saturday from this cookbook. I would have gone 3 out of 5 on the rating myself. The recipes are great but some of them are very time consuming and some are very vague in the ingredients like you mentioned. However, I don’t mind spending time in the kitchen myself and after following the recipe to the best of my ability once I start to make it my own each time I cook it thereafter.

    Sisson’s newest cookbook is great as well and the recipes are much easier to prepare. However, it has been my notice that the time listed in the book is for the cooking with all the prep work already done. The pork fried rice (cauliflower) from this cookbook, for example, couldn’t be done by one person from scratch in the time allotted, however if you had someone helping you out it could be done in 30 minutes.

    • Matt,

      I haven’t tried the sausage stew, but we’ve made the bison chili a few times (and will again tomorrow). Definitely a keeper – you’re gonna love it!

      At least general times are listed in the new book, but I always appreciate a breakdown of both prep time and cook time. Thanks for your comment!

  5. Nice review. Thanks for this one John. I own the book and two e-books from Mark’s website which you get for free if you sign up for the newsletter.

    And I like Mark’s blog – it is one of my favourite health and nutrition blogs. But I use the Cookbook more as an inspiration. Because you are right: Some ingredients are difficult to get or too expensive or too much work. But a lot of good recipes -Paleo or every other cuisine- is work, money and shopping stress. To me this is not special problem with Primal Cookbook. I just get creative.

    Btw: I like Mark’s blog and Forum. One of my favourite wesites. Lots of valuable information (like your blog, Scott Sonnon’s stuff, Robb Wolf’s site, Frank Forencich etc).

    • Thanks Andrea. Mark definitely has a successful site, and I do pop over there from time to time (mostly for recipes), but I also take most of what he says with a grain of salt.

  6. John,
    it goes without saying: you should always think for yourself. :-)
    I would never blindly believe what somebody says. Nobody is right all the time. Art de Vany talked about this in a recent podcast.
    Again: I like your review. It’s well done.

  7. Jenn Fontaine

    John-
    Helpful article on the cookbook. Do you know of any Paleo cookbooks that have the nutrition values attached? I know it’s not Paleo to count calories. But for me calorie count is a must to help me loose some of my post-baby weight. Thanks so much.

    • Jenn! I must have missed your comment (sorry!). Mark’s new book, “Primal Blueprint Quick and Easy Meals” would be PERFECT for you.

  8. John,

    Alongside Andrea’s question, I’d also be interested to know if there is an ‘alternative’ reference for Paleo that you might point people towards without the drawbacks? I like to cook, and will rpobably pick this one up, but I think the criticisms you point out are legitimate. Wondering if you have a favorite or alternative. I’ve always eaten mostly whole foods, but I’m just getting interested in Paleo as I age (42).

    Tx,

    Mike

    • I missed your comment, too, Mike (sorry!). Honestly, I don’t know of many books in the Paleo sphere, and I haven’t ready more than a couple personally. I’ve heard good things about Robb Wolf’s book, though. That might be a good starting point. He’s a well-respected authority in the Paleo community.

  9. Thanks, John, appreciate it.

  10. I find the book to be a 4-5 star book. I consider myself a somewhat experienced cook at home and can pretty easily spot those things that will take a long time and areas where omitted details will drag me down. However in the case of Primal and specifically these recipes, you can err on the side of too much or too little of an ingredient and still come out with something very good. Does not need the precision of baking.

    I’ve lost weight, feel better and enjoy the food so it is a winner for me!

    right uncle mark?

    just kidding, never met the man.

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