Three years ago I could barely microwave a burrito, but today I routinely cook full meals with tasty meat-based entrées. Assuming you have some basic kitchen essentials, these four meals will minimize labor and expense while maximizing taste and healthfulness:

1. Roasted Chicken Thighs 

Ingredients: Two packages of chicken thighs, butter, salt

Equipment: Oven pan

This is a delicious and simple meal. Use your microwave to soften up some butter in a bowl and mix in salt and whatever other spices you like. Put the thighs in the pan, dry them off, and then coat them with the butter rub. Put them in the oven at 350 degrees for at least 1 hour, cranking up the heat to 450 for the last 5 minutes if you desire especially crispy skin. Take out and serve. Chicken thighs have a lot of dark meat, and are thus more forgiving to overcooking. These are also easy to store in aluminum foil and apportion if you wish to cook lunches for the entire week. Total labor — 10 minutes.

2. Grilled steak

Ingredients: Steak, coconut oil and/or butter, salt, pepper

Equipment: Cast iron pan

Coat your cast iron pan with a bit of coconut oil, or a combination of coconut oil and butter. Turn the heat on your burner to about 3/4 of capacity. While the pan is heating up for 5 minutes, dry off your steak and generously sprinkle salt and pepper on one side. Just when the pan starts to smoke, put the steak in the pan, seasoned side down. Cook to meat preference (mine is rare), making sure to salt and pepper the unseasoned side of the steak before flipping it. Serve by itself, or with a bit of butter on top. Note that cooking time and amount of seasoning will vary with the cut of meat. My favorite cuts are Porterhouse, N.Y. Strip, and skirt. Some people use olive oil, but I find that it smokes too much. Total labor — 10 minutes.


3. Full Roast Chicken

Ingredients: One full chicken, butter, garlic salt, salt, pepper

Equipment: cooking pan

This is a perfect date meal, since the finished bird looks impressive and tastes great. Take the chicken out of the package, wash it off in the sink, and dry it with a paper towel. Put it on the pan, breast side up. Soften up some butter in the microwave and mix into it salt, pepper, garlic salt, and whatever other spices you have on hand. Take a spoon and separate the skin at the top of the breast bone. Scoop butter onto the spoon and then slide spoonfuls of the butter rub under the skin flap, spreading it out to season the breast meat. Rub the rest of the butter on the skin and add salt/pepper if you wish. Put the chicken in the oven at 400 degrees for 10-15 minutes per pound. Take out, let cool for 5 minutes, and serve. Total labor — 15 minutes

4. Pulled pork

Ingredients: Pork shoulder (“butt”), salt, pepper, spices as needed, bacon (optional), peppers (optional)

Equipment: Slow cooker

Purchase a large hunk of pork shoulder, which can be bought cheaply at Costco. Cut off the largest slab that will fit in your slow cooker, and freeze the rest in plastic bags. Put the pork in the slow cooker, along with a couple strips of bacon or sliced peppers/onions. Add some salt and pepper and other spices, turn your cooker on “low” and let sit for 8 hours without removing the lid. Take the cooked pork out and shred it with two forks. Add additional seasoning to taste, and serve. Optional: add store-bought or homemade barbecue sauce. Total labor — 10 minutes.

With the frightfully low level of cooking knowledge out there, being able to make just these four dishes will put you ahead of the average man, and will pay dividends both for your health and your wallet.

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