When did we humans start cooking our meat?

ssia. When and why did we start saying, “Hmm, I wonder what this taste like over the fire for a few minutes?”

Well, I was twelve. Hotdogs over a campfire.

My guess, which is worth about as much as what it cost you, is that it “started” the first time hunter/gatherer man came across a carcass burned by a natural fire, for instance an antelope (or any grazer) on the scorched grassland after a lightning strike.

They tried it because, hey, free meat and discovered it was more tender and tastier. Again, just a wag.

The earliest convincing evidence of fire use for cooking appears at the 550,000-300,000 year old late Homo erectus site at Zhoukoudian near Beijing, China and the 400,000 year old presumed archaic Homo sapiens site of Terra Amata near Nice on the French Mediterranean coast. In both cases the evidence is primarily in the form of food refuse bones that were apparently charred during cooking. In addition, there is possible evidence of simple fire hearths at Terra Amata. Unfortunately, there still is not sufficient evidence at either site to say conclusively that there was controlled fire in the sense of being able to create it at will. However, by 100,000 years ago, there is abundant evidence of regular fire use at Neandertal sites. By that time, they evidently were able to create fires when they wished to, and they used them for multiple purposes.


I wonder if the OP is asking…no, no that can’t be right. :eek:

That’s the essence of an old Chinese legend on the origin of roast pork.

Soon as fire was invented, I imagine early man would have chucked all sorts of things into the flames to see what happened.

The smell of roasting meat hits the spot for most people, and humans are daft enough to put anything in their mouths once.

Maybe it progressed as:

  • Dried meat is much better than raw meat.
  • Meat seems to dry out much faster in the sun on hot days.
  • Fire is really hot.
  • Maybe the fire will speed up the drying process even faster.
  • hmm, smells good when it’s really hot.
  • mmm, tastes good before it cools off.

Maybe some humans didn’t like the taste of blood either. Tis a thought, hm?

Tuesday afternoon, April 22nd, 52013 BCE. Around 4ish.

The metal rod is SO 2006.

'Tis a thought, but probably the wrong one. :wink: If anything, the blood would add to the taste since it would make the meet a bit “sweeter”. (Gross, yeah, but true.)

Cooked meat is more easily digested, so our taste for it might have evolved after we had been eating meat for some time. And since chimps eat meat fairly regularly, that was probably a pretty long time (or common ancestor 6M years ago probably ate raw meat, too).

Nitpick: I’m a bit surprised to see the term “archaic Homo sapiens” used for European Homo. It’s generally thought that Homo sapiens evolved in Africa exclusively, and the European lineage split off at least 500K ago. I guess some paleoanthropoligist might contest that, but I doubt very many.

The earliest human ancestor who first came up with the idea, probably had this thought:

“Grog! Me think that devil’s light might burn meat enough to kill off deadly pathogens that live inside!”


“Grog, do you not grok? Inside meat might live parasitic worms or even deadly germs so small we can not glimpse!”


“Nevermind Grog.” Chunk thereby kills Grog with a bone in frustration, and cooks his meat. Could’ve used a little salt. But that’s a whole 'nuther story.

Forget about “tastier” – cooked meat is more easily chewed. My understanding is that our ancestors liked marrow, brains, and liver because they’re softer and more easily chewed (there’s plenty of evidence of marrow feasts in the form of split bones). Our ancestors had tougher jaws and other muscles, but tearing meat with anthropoid teeth is still a major exercise, and tough. Try it sometime with a raw, not-chopped steak. There’s a reason Steak Tartatre uses ground meat.

My guess is that cooking started as soon as they realized that such treatment suddenly opened up vast new food reserves.

HGs preferred marrow and brinas because they are extremely high in fats. Fats are extremely energy dense and extremely high in those micronutrients that we can only get from animal products. IOW they preferred marrow and brains for the same reason that we prefer fast food: it has a high fat content and is thus tasty. They also enjoyed the fat surrounding the kidneys for the same reason. Not sure about liver, but then Ive never heard of anyone, including HGs, considering liver to be anything but second quality fare.

Nobody in their right mind would consider marrow easy to obtain. The effort required to crack a bone and extract marrow is much higher than the energy required to tenderise a steak. If it weren;t for the fat content nobody would have eaten it. Moreover marrow was considered a delicacy right up until the classical Roman period, well after people had learned how to cook meat.

It wasn’t cooking meat that opened up new food reserves. As you pointed out humans can happily if not readily digest meat without any cooking.

What cooking did do was open up vast starch reserves. Even something like wheat is made about 20% more digestible through cooking. But the huge benefit for early HGs is in procesing tubers. Tubers like potatoes and yams are essentialy indigestible by humans without cooking. By allowing humans to exploit the vast starch stores found in tubers fire provided a massive advantage.

Given the human fascination with fire, I wouldn’t be surprised if cooking came about from some enterprising young lad’s experiments with “ooh, what happens when I light THIS doohicky up?”