“Protein is the hardest macronutrient to digest, so with a massive influx of protein, the body goes into overdrive to break it down, causing you to sweat like a hungry kid in a candy shop.”
A brief jaunt to Charleston, South Carolina last summer led me to my most extravagant case of “the meat sweats” I’ve ever had to-date. I met up with Craig Deihl, charcutier extraordinaire and part of the first-ever Butchers of America team, for a quick charcuterie tasting of mortadella, bresaola, and then for lunch, I had fried chicken salad at SNOB. Feeling full and lethargic at this point, I somehow managed to meet back up with Deihl and his wife at Lewis Barbecue, where things turned south. As we made our way through a plate full of hot guts, pulled pork, beef short ribs, turkey and more BBQ delicacies, my eyes felt like heavy bricks, and all I could think about was lying down in a cold, dark room. I woke up later that evening, sweating profusely in my hotel room—so bad that I switched over to my second bed for the dry sheets. (Lesson learned: If planning to eat literally pounds of meat, get a room with two beds.)
So, what exactly are the meat sweats? It’s basically the thermogenic effect of protein, Anthony DiBernardo, Pitmaster of Swig & Swine, told me at Charleston Wine + Food earlier this year while gorging on a hefty plate of meat. “Protein is the hardest macronutrient to digest, so with a massive influx of protein the body goes into overdrive to break it down, causing you to sweat like a hungry kid in a candy shop,” he said.
Here, top chefs divulge their experiences with the phenomenon and share what to do if it happens to you.
1. Sleep or drink it off.
“You just need to pass out and sweat it out,” said Deihl. “It’s a meat hangover.” Or, turn to Fernet or Underberg to help you digest.
St. Louis’ esteemed Kevin Nashan, of Sidney Street Café and Peacemaker Lobster & Crab, remembers a meaty trip to Au Pied de Cochon in Montreal. “About the fourth round in and a whole side of braised veal shoulder later, my bald head began to spew sweat from the top— almost as if I ate really spicy Thai food,” he said. “It’s Underberg for these special moments, which seems to instantly cut through the discomfort. I couldn't open those little bottles of ‘medicine’ quick enough, so my advice is to drink Underberg first!”
2. Wear breathable clothing and a lot of deodorant.
Grazing instead of gorging is a solid way to avoid them, DiBernardo added. “When I know gorging will be unavoidable, I try to wear light, breathable clothing and use a good-quality deodorant. At Swig & Swine, we tend to refer to the condition as the ‘itis.’ Once it sets in, not much is accomplished for at least six to eight hours. You just have to ride it out!”
3. Consider a pre-meal antacid.
“The worst meat sweats I ever had were the first time I ever ate at Au Pied du Cochon in Montreal,” said chef Isaac Toups of Toups Meatery in New Orleans (sensing a theme here). “We ate so much foie gras and meat that we walked all over Montreal until 2 a.m. before we felt human again. I counterbalance it with a pre-meal antacid and a post-meal digestif such as grappa or Underberg.”
4. Switch to a different bed if you sweat through your sheets.
Blue Smoke’s Jean-Paul Bourgeois, a native Louisianan, has endured the meat sweats many times, but a recent trip through Texas took the cake. An eight-stop eating itinerary with a friend, which took six hours to finish—stopping at barbecue spots Hays County Barbecue, Louie Mueller Barbecue, Valentina’s Tex Mex, Southside Market & Barbecue, Salt Lick BBQ, Two Brothers BBQ, The Granary and 2M Smokehouse—was a meat sweats disaster waiting to happen. “After eating your way through smokehouses and more than enough rich BBQ, you do tend to perspire,” he said. “But the real meat sweats come at night while I am sleeping. Luckily, I had an extra bed in my room [that night] so I dried off and switched beds.”
5. Go for a walk once you’re done eating all that meat.
You can’t control it, Bourgeois added, but you can contain it. “Park as far from the [restaurant] entrance as you can,” he said. “Just a little bit of walking pre- and post-binge eating can jumpstart the metabolism to help aid in digestion.” But most importantly, don’t eat a big breakfast. “Get a simple green juice and drink at least 16 ounces before you start. If possible, bring some juice along for the ride for in between eating as well. Folic acid found in dark leafy vegetables is not only beneficial for mothers carrying real babies, but also for when you are carrying that pesky food baby.”
6. Eat more meat.
Nashville’s “biscuit king,” Karl Worley of Biscuit Love said to “just power through with more meat—and a good cappuccino.”
7. Don’t even bother messing around with a salad.
In Los Angeles, Estrella’s executive chef Mirko Paderno turns to grappa when going full force at Fogo de Chão Brazilian Steakhouse. “I don’t have anything for breakfast and go straight there when they open the door at 11 a.m. and stay for two to three hours,” he said. “I taste everything. I don’t even eat the salad. I usually go with my daughter for Sunday lunch because she loves it. We Uber and bring a bottle of wine. I pass out quickly after that.”