Ultimate Guide To The Keto Diet With Sample Meal Plan

Takes an inside look at the low-carb ketogenic diet, and it's 3 variations: standard, cyclical and targeted keto dieting. Guide includes sample eating plans and recipes.
  1. 1. Introduction to ketogenic dieting
  2. 2. What exactly is ketosis?
  3. 3. The 3 main types of keto diets
    1. 3.1. Standard keto dieting
    2. 3.2. Cyclical keto dieting
    3. 3.2. Targeted keto dieting
  4. 4. Which keto variation should I use?
  5. 5. Setting up your own keto diet
    1. 5.1. Sample 3 meal per day breakdown
    2. 5.2. Sample 5 meal per day breakdown
  6. 6. Food selection on keto diets
  7. 7. Alterations for cyclical keto dieting
  8. 8. Alterations for targeted keto dieting
  9. 9. Fine tuning TKD and CKD
  10. 10. Saturated fat intake on keto diets—considerations
  11. 11. Selected recipes for keto dieting
  12. 12. Frequently asked questions
  • About ketosis, and how it impacts the burning of fat.
  • The differences between the 3 types of keto diets: standard, cyclical and targeted.
  • How to properly set up and fine tune a keto diet.
  • What foods to eat, and how much saturated fat intake is appropriate.

Intro to ketogenic dieting

Ketogenic (herein referred to as “keto”) dieting has been around for decades and garnered a somewhat strong following in bodybuilding subculture. In a nutshell, keto diets are simply diets that are high in fat and protein and very low in carbohydrate (usually <10% total macronutrient intake); given this the body is diverted to utilize fats for energy since glucose stores become depleted.

Keto diets can be effective for many individuals and tailored to suit their goals, whether it’s to build muscle, lose fat, develop strength, etc. While keto diets are often used mainly for health and fitness purposes, they are also implemented in medicine as treatment for epilepsy. [1]

You may be asking, “What makes a keto diet different from any other low-carb diet?” The truth is not much, other than that some people believe keto diets are only effective when the body enters a state called ketosis and starts to produce ketones for energy (hence the name “ketogenic”), which requires extreme carbohydrate restriction. However, this supposition is shortsighted and will be touched on later in this guide.

In this guide we will take an in-depth look at the physiology behind keto dieting, the different types/variations of keto diets there are, how to setup your own keto diet, provide some sample recipes to whet your low-carb appetite, and finally answer some frequently asked questions.

What exactly is ketosis?

As aforementioned, ketogenic dieting is so-named because the inherent restriction of carbohydrate intake can induce a state of ketosis in the body—a condition in which ketone bodies are elevated.

Ketones bodies are organic, water-soluble biomolecules synthesized in the liver from fatty acids when food (and specifically carbohydrate) intake is limited. These biomolecules can be used for energy once transported to extrahepatic tissues.

Ketone bodies are regularly produced in small concentrations in normal individuals, and are undetectable in typical urine assays. However, when the concentration of ketone bodies in the blood increases (known as ketonemia) they start to be excreted through urination (referred to as ketonuria); ketonemia and ketonuria together constitute a state of ketosis.

Therefore, keto diets are a method of inducing nutritional ketosis (not to be confused with pathological ketosis), which ultimately diverts the body to rely on fatty acids and ketone bodies as primary sources of energy.

Keto Diet

The three main types of keto diets

There are three primary variations of keto diets that we will cover in this guide—standard keto dieting (SKD), cyclical keto dieting (CKD), and targeted keto dieting (TKD). The type of diet you use will ultimately boil down to trial and error and your goals (more specifics on this below).

Standard Keto Dieting—This is the most simple, basic variation of keto dieting. SKD does not have periods of carbohydrate re-feeding like CKD and TKD do. This is simply a diet that has a static ketogenic diet nutrient intake (moderate-high protein, high fat, low carbohydrate).

Cyclical Keto Dieting—This variation of keto dieting implements recurring carbohydrate re-feeds to help restore muscle glycogen stores for a short period of time after stores have been completely depleted. The timeframe between carbohydrate loads will vary based on user preference and their training intensity and goals.

Targeted Keto Dieting—The final variation of keto dieting, TKD, utilizes intermittent periods of carbohydrate intake specifically around the workout timeframe. The goal here is to provide enough glucose to enhance athletic performance without inhibiting ketosis for extended periods of time.

So which variation should I use?

The type of keto diet you end up sticking to will vary based on several factors. It is generally recommended to start with a “break in” period of SKD for several weeks and see how your performance and overall energy levels feel. From there, you should have a better idea of which diet to utilize for longer-term purposes.

You may also be wondering which variation is best for fat loss and which is best for muscle building. Well, assuming your calorie intake is where it should be to reach your goal, the variation of keto diet you use won’t play too of a factor in your progress. Some people may make the argument that CKD and TKD are more suited to individuals looking to build muscle since carbohydrates are protein sparing and insulinogenic, while SKD is best for fat loss since insulin output will be relatively low. However, these short-term fluctuations in insulin secretion won’t play as much of a factor as total calorie intake will in the long run.

Below is a short synopsis of what you should consider when picking which variation of keto dieting to use:

SKD—This is best suited to individuals who are generally sedentary and find that their workout performance is not hindered when carbohydrates have been greatly restricted. This is also a good option for people who don’t train very intensely and/or are highly insulin resistant.

TKD—If you’re someone who trains intensely several times per week and finds that your performance is worsened by chronic low-carbohydrate dieting, it is wise to consider implementing short carbohydrate feedings before and possibly after training. This is also a good option for people who are advanced trainees who can benefit from the carbohydrate intake but don’t do well with large carbohydrate re-feeds.

CKD—This is generally considered the “most advanced” form of keto dieting since it will take some trial an error on the users part to optimize the time between their carbohydrate re-feeds and the amount of carbohydrates they eat on re-feed days. If you’re an advanced trainee who exercises intensely throughout the week and still finds performance to be lacking on SKD and TKD, then consider trying CKD and seeing if that helps bring your performance back up to speed.

Fit Woman

Setting up your own keto diet

Below are the necessary steps to take to calculate your personal energy needs and macronutrient intake. This will give you your baseline SKD nutrient intake. CKD and TKD users will still use their SKD calculations but there are a few adjustments to be made that I will touch on below.

The general rule of thumb for people who are looking to lose fat is to aim for roughly a 500-calorie deficit each day while those looking to gain muscle aim for a 500-calorie surplus. However, this is a very raw generalization and may differ for some individuals depending on their physiological tendencies and other factors.  Also, if you do decide to go the CKD route, it is likely that you will have altered calorie intake throughout the week.

Here’s an example of how you would calculate SKD macronutrient intake for someone with 150lbs of lean body mass on a 2000-calorie cutting diet:

  • Determine your caloric needs using this M&S BMR calorie calculator
  • Set protein intake at 1g/lb of lean body mass: 150g protein per day
  • Set carbohydrate intake at .1-.2g/lb of lean body mass: 15-30g per day (we use 30g in the calculations below)
  • Since carbohydrates and proteins contain 4 calories per gram, then we have (150+30) x 4: 720 calories from proteins and carbohydrates

Therefore, this individual’s fat intake will come from the leftover calories to reach 2000: 2000-720=1280 calories/9 calories per g of fat=~-142g of fat per day. 

So in total, this person’s nutrient breakdown is: 150g protein/30g carbohydrate/142g fat.

Sample 3-Meal Per Day Breakdown
  • Meal 1—50g protein/10g carbohydrate/48g fat
  • Meal 2—50g protein/10g carbohydrate/47g fat
  • Meal 3—50g protein/10g carbohydrate/47g fat
Sample 5-Meal Per Day Breakdown
  • Meal 1—30g protein/10g carbohydrate/30g fat
  • Meal 2—30g protein/5g carbohydrate/30g fat
  • Meal 3—30g protein/5g carbohydrate/30g fat
  • Meal 4—30g protein/5g carbohydrate/25g fat
  • Meal 5—30g protein/5g carbohydrate/27g fat

Food selection on keto diets

There are no real strict rules on what foods are acceptable and what foods are a “no-go” while keto dieting. Some people will insist that no direct starch or sugar sources should be ingested as they will prevent ketosis but in minute amounts that is highly unlikely, especially for larger individuals.

That being said, during the SKD portion of one’s keto diet, due to the inherently low carbohydrate intake and high fat intake you’ll likely find that these foods are good options:

  • Animal proteins (especially red meats)
  • Eggs (whole and white only)
  • Full-fat dairy products like cheese, cream, butter etc.
  • Oils, preferably canola, peanut, flax, macadamia, olive, and coconut varieties
  • Nuts and nut spreads
  • Fibrous vegetables, especially greens like lettuce, broccoli, celery, etc.

During the carb-up portions of the diet feel free to incorporate more starches and sugar sources like fruits.

Ripped Male

Alterations for CKD

Now we’ll take a look at how you would implement carbohydrates in a cyclical fashion on a keto diet.

For someone doing CKD, it is wise to start with a once weekly carbohydrate re-feed and adjust the time interval between re-feeds as necessary. This method will take a lot of personal experimentation, as you will have to gauge how many carbohydrates you ingest and how you feel in the days thereafter.

The main thing to consider when starting a carbohydrate re-feed is to limit fat intake; do not continue eating large amounts of fats while loading up on carbohydrates. However, protein intake should remain the same (or maybe even go up a touch for the calorie content).

Using the previously mentioned 150-lb (of lean body mass) individual’s SKD macronutrient breakdown, we’ll suggest some baseline recommendations on how they could setup CKD with a once-weekly carbohydrate re-feed based on insulin sensitivity/tolerance for carbohydrates:

  • Set protein intake at 1g/lb of lean body mass: 150g protein per day
  • Low insulin sensitivity—set carbohydrate intake between 1-1.5g/lb of lean body mass
  • Moderate insulin sensitivity—set carbohydrate intake between 2-2.5g/lb of lean body mass
  • High insulin sensitivity—set carbohydrate intake between 3-3.5g/lb of lean body mass
  • Now, as before, just simply calculate the leftover calories and divide by 9 to figure out how many grams of fat you should eat on your carbohydrate re-feeds

*NOTE: If you’re on a cutting diet and moderately or highly insulin sensitive, raise your calorie intake back to maintenance levels (or maybe a even slight surplus) on carbohydrate re-feed days.

EXAMPLE CKD for moderately insulin sensitive individual with 150-lb of LBM on 2000-calorie cutting diet:

  • Monday through Saturday—Follow SKD nutrient breakdown as outlined above
  • Sunday (carbohydrate re-feed day, 2500 calories)—150g protein/300g carbohydrate/~78g fat

EXAMPLE CKD for highly insulin sensitive individual with 150-lb of LBM on a 3000- calorie bulking diet:

  • Monday through Saturday—Follow SKD nutrient breakdown
  • Sunday (carbohydrate re-feed day)—150g protein/450g carbohydrate/~67g fat

Alterations for TKD

Let’s take a look at how to implement carbohydrates in a targeted fashion on a keto diet (e.g. pre-/post-workout).

Similarly to CKD, when starting TKD it will take some time to figure out how your body responds to certain amounts of carbohydrates and the best way for you to time your intake. Remember, the point of TKD is to ingest a sufficient amount of carbohydrates to promote performance benefits without going overboard. CKD is meant to restore glycogen levels while TKD is more for short-term energy/performance enhancement.

Therefore, assuming the person in question is training intensely 5 days a week, they would take in carbohydrates in the meals prior to and/or after training on those days. The other 2 days they would follow their SKD nutrient breakdown.

Fit Female

The TKD nutrient breakdown is actually the same as SKD, but with the addition of  carbohydrates peri-workout on training days. Let’s take a look at TKD nutrient breakdown recommendations using our aforementioned 150-lb of LBM individual on a 2000-calorie cutting diet and insulin sensitivity/carbohydrate tolerance as the parameter for gauging peri-workout carbohydrate intake:

  • Set protein intake at 1g/lb of lean body mass: 150g protein
  • Low insulin sensitivity—add .25g of carbohydrate/lb of lean body mass peri-workout
  • Moderate insulin sensitivity—add .375g of carbohydrate/lb of lean body mass peri-workout
  • High insulin sensitivity—add .5g of carbohydrate/lb of lean body mass peri-workout

Now, simply take into account the “extra” carbohydrate intake along with your protein intake and fill in the rest of your calories with fat (as we did before).

*NOTE: Peri-workout refers to the meals prior to and/or after training. Therefore, you can split up your “added” carbohydrates anyway you prefer as long as they are ingested around the training window. It is generally recommended to simply split your carbohydrates in half and eat them before and after training.

EXAMPLE TKD for low insulin sensitivity individual with 150-lb of LBM on 2000-calorie cutting diet:

  • Training days—Follow SKD nutrient breakdown and add in 37-38g of carbohydrate peri-workout
  • Rest days—Follow SKD nutrient breakdown

EXAMPLE TKD for highly insulin sensitive individual with 150-lb of LBM on a 3000-calorie bulking diet:

  • Training days—Follow SKD nutrient breakdown and add in 75g of carbohydrate peri-workout
  • Rest days—Follow SKD nutrient breakdown
Sample 5-Meal Per Day TKD Breakdown (Training Day)

*NOTE: Values based on 150-lb LBM individual with high insulin sensitivity on 3000-calorie bulking diet.

  • Meal 1 (Pre-workout)—30g protein/40g carbohydrate/20g fat
  • Meal 2 (Post-workout)—30g protein/35g carbohydrate/20g fat
  • Meal 3—30g protein/10g carbohydrate/60g fat
  • Meal 4—30g protein/10g carbohydrate/60g fat
  • Meal 5—30g protein/10g carbohydrate/60g fat

Fine tuning TKD and CKD

Bear in mind that the previously outlined recommendations for both CKD and TKD carbohydrate intake are merely starting points. It is impossible to provide an all-inclusive, optimal value for every person reading this guide as there are just too many variables that come into play.

Therefore, as noted earlier, be meticulous and open to experimentation when you try more advanced methods of keto dieting like TKD and CKD. As you go along you will find out what works best for your body. Always listen to your body and be willing to adapt to what it’s telling you.

If you eat 30g of carbohydrates and feel great in the gym, then do that; if you do better with 2 carbohydrate re-feeds per week, then do that. The suggested carbohydrate values in this guide are derived more from anecdote than they are from scientific research so they are certainly open to customization.

The last point to consider, specifically for TKD, is that you should cut back on the fats a bit in the meals that have your added carbohydrates. This doesn’t mean you should eat no fats in the peri-workout timeframe, but just eat more balanced meals and distribute your fats out a bit more to the other meals throughout your day.

Ripped Abs

Saturated fat intake on keto diets—considerations

It is inevitable that when you start a keto diet, your saturated fat intake will increase accordingly, but this doesn’t mean you should start relying heavily on saturated fat and disregard unsaturated fat intake.

There seems to be much debate over how much saturated fat is too much on keto diets. Many people that start a keto diet insist on taking in copious amounts of foods like butter, fatty animal meats, full-fat dairy, etc.

Saturated fats are correlated with sex hormone (androgen) production in males, so it is generally not a good idea to greatly limit your saturated fat intake.[2] However, chronic superfluous saturated fat intake may induce insulin resistance and other metabolic maladies, so going overboard is not what we want either. [3]

For keto diet purposes, I think a safe recommendation is to try and keep saturated fat intake at around 20-30% of your total fat intake. So for someone taking 150g of fat per day, they would try and limit saturated fat to about 30-45g per day.

Selected recipes for keto dieting [4]

There are thousands of keto-friendly concoctions on the Internet, so for now we will just take a look at a few of the more popular recipes that keto enthusiasts have created in the kitchen.

Entrée-Keto Paprika Chicken

Ingredients:

  • 4 Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts
  • 3 Tbsp. Olive Oil
  • 2 Tbsp. Spanish Smoked Paprika
  • 2 Tbsp. Lemon Juice (1 Lemon)
  • 1 Tbsp. Maple Syrup
  • 2 tsp. Minced Garlic
  • Salt and Pepper

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. Prep chicken by cutting into chunks and seasoning with salt and pepper. Then prep sauce by combining all other ingredients.
  3. Add 1/3 of sauce to the bottom of a casserole dish and lay chicken on top of it.
  4. Spread rest of sauce thoroughly over all pieces of chicken and then put in the oven for 30-35 minutes.
  5. To finish the chicken off, broil for an additional 4-5 minutes.
Entrée-Italian Veal Chops

Ingredients:

  • 4 veal chops (4-6oz each)
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt (optional)
  • 2 tsp oregano
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 Tbs coconut oil
  • 2 Tbs fresh parsley, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 (28 oz) can diced tomatoes

Instructions:

  1. Season each veal chop with sea salt (optional), oregano and freshly ground black pepper.
Heat a large skillet over high heat. Add coconut oil when hot. Add veal chops and brown on both sides.
  2. Reduce heat to medium-low and add garlic. Continue to cook until garlic begins to brown. Add tomatoes and parsley, cover, reduce heat to low and simmer until veal is tender (about 2 hours).

Machine Chest Press

Side Dish-Roasted Pecan Green Beans

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. Green Beans
  • 1/4 Cup Olive Oil
  • 1/2 Cup Chopped Pecans
  • 1/4 Cup Parmesan Cheese
  • 1 Lemon’s Zest
  • 2 tsp. Minced Garlic
  • 1 tsp. Red Pepper Flakes

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 450F, then add 1/4 Cup Pecans to your food processor.
  2. Grind the pecans in the food processor until they are chopped nicely. Some pieces should be large, some small.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, mix together green beans, pecans, olive oil, parmesan cheese, the zest of 1 lemon, minced garlic, and red pepper flakes.
  4. Spread out the green beans on a foiled baking sheet.
  5. Roast the green beans in the oven for 20-25 minutes.
  6. Let cool for 4-5 minutes and then serve!
Side dish-Simple Coleslaw

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 Head Savoy Cabbage
  • 1/3 Cup Mayonnaise
  • 1 Tbsp. Lemon Juice
  • 1 tsp. Dijon Mustard
  • 1/4 tsp. Garlic Powder
  • 1/4 tsp. Onion Powder
  • 1/4 tsp. Pepper
  • 1/8 tsp. Paprika
  • Pinch Salt

Instructions:

  1. Chop Savoy Cabbage into long strands.
  2. Mix all ingredients together in a mixing bowl.
  3. Refrigerate for 3-12 hours and serve.
Dessert-Keto Coffee Cake

Ingredients for Base:

  • 6 Eggs, Separated
  • 6 Oz. Cream Cheese
  • 1/4 Cup Erythritol
  • 1/4 tsp. Liquid Stevia
  • 1/4 Cup Unflavored Protein Powder
  • 2 tsp. Vanilla Extract
  • 1/4 tsp. Cream of Tartar

Filling:

  • 1 1/2 Cup Almond Flour
  • 1 Tbsp. Cinnamon
  • 1/2 Stick Butter
  • 1/4 Cup Maple Syrup
  • 1/4 Cup Erythritol

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 325F. Separate eggs from egg whites.
  2. Cream erythritol with egg yolks, then add all other ingredients except for cream of tartar and egg whites and whisk together well.
  3. Whip the egg whites and cream of tartar until stiff peaks form.
  4. Fold 1/2 of the egg white mixture into the yolks and then the other half. Be relatively gentle so that the egg whites stay airy.
  5. Mix together all of the filling ingredients until a dough forms.
  6. Pour base batter into dark metal cake pan and top with half of the cinnamon filling. Push it down some if it does not sink on its own.
  7. Bake for 20 minutes and then top the cake off with the rest of the filling dough.
  8. Bake for an additional 20-30 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool for 10-20 minutes before removing from the pan.

Keto Diet

Dessert - Almond Muffins

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup almond butter
  • 1 cup sliced almonds
  • 1 cup pure coconut milk
  • 2 cups unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract (optional)
  • 2 Tbs coconut sap or raw honey (optional)
  • paper muffin liners

Instructions:

  • Preheat oven to 400℉. Line a muffin tin with paper liners. Combine all ingredients and pour into muffin tin.
  • Bake for 15 minutes.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Can I eat direct carbohydrate sources while keto dieting?

A: Some keto enthusiasts insist that no direct carbohydrate food sources be ingested during SKD. However, in the case of individuals who are larger and can eat more carbohydrates while still being in a state of ketosis they may be able to “sneak in” a few bites of grains, starches, fruits, etc. without much compromise.

Q: Can I eat more protein and less fat while on a keto diet?

A: Yes, but tread with caution as eating too much protein will simply lead to more hepatic gluconeogenesis and ultimately reliance on glucose as a form of energy.

Q: Should I use keto sticks to confirm I’m in ketosis? Should I even worry about actually being in a state of ketosis?

A: You don’t need to fret over actually having ketones present in your urine or being in a state of “ketosis”. As long as your carbohydrate intake is low enough, you’ll be utilizing fats and ketones for most of your energy demands.

Q: Can I use artificial sweeteners and sugar-substitutes on a keto diet?

A: For the most part, yes. Just keep in mind that some sugar substitutes use small amounts of fillers like maltodextrin and dextrose which can add up if you’re using large amounts of them.

Q: Is this diet safe for someone with high cholesterol?

A: In general, I would say yes, especially if your fat intake is coming from unsaturated sources. However, if you have any medical/health conditions it is most wise to direct your questions to your physician prior to starting a keto diet.

Q: Does fiber count against my total calorie intake?

A: Food labels do not count fiber as a part of the “net carb” intake. However, fiber does still contain calories like any other macronutrient.

Q: I feel very bloated and lethargic after carbohydrate-heavy meals (during carbohydrate re-feeds), what should I do?

A: You can try and increase meal frequency and distribute your carbohydrates out more or try eating the majority of your carbohydrates later in the day since you’re likely going to be relaxing/inactive at night anyway.

Q: Is it normal to feel “out of it”/sluggish when first starting out on keto dieting?

A: For the first few weeks it isn’t too uncommon to feel a bit sapped, especially if you are coming from a diet that was based around higher-carbohydrate intake. However, if your performance is constantly hindered and your energy is lacking, consider trying TKD or CKD and see if that helps the issue.

Wrap-up

Hopefully this in-depth look at ketogenic diets has educated you and given you the pertinent information to try out your own keto diet. Remember, be open to experimentation and listen to cues from your body.

Some people thrive on very low-carbohydrate, high-fat diets like keto diets while others feel terrible and just don’t respond well. If you find yourself in the latter group, don’t force the issue and follow a keto diet just for the sake of it.

In the end, your diet should be two things—conducive to your health/performance goals and practical in your daily life. You do not have to sacrifice one for the other like many people seem to assume when they first start out on a new health kick. It doesn’t matter how great something sounds on paper or in theory if you can’t/won’t stick to it. Do what works best for you and do it for a long period of time…That’s what leads to success.

References:

1) Ketogenic Diet. (n.d.). Epilepsy Foundation. Retrieved April 20, 2014, from http://www.epilepsyfoundation.org/aboute

2) Dorgan, J. F., Judd, J. T., Longcope, C., Brown, C., Schatzkin, A., Clevidence, B. A., ... & Taylor, P. R. (1996). Effects of dietary fat and fiber on plasma and urine androgens and estrogens in men: a controlled feeding study. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 64(6), 850-855.

3) Kraegen, E. W., Clark, P. W., Jenkins, A. B., Daley, E. A., Chisholm, D. J., & Storlien, L. H. (1991). Development of muscle insulin resistance after liver insulin resistance in high-fat–fed rats. Diabetes, 40(11), 1397-1403

4) http://www.ruled.me/keto-recipes/

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About The Author
Elliot is a raw powerlifter who enjoys researching the science behind how the human body works. He has a BS in Biochemistry.

3 Comments+ Post Comment

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Posted Wed, 12/21/2016 - 00:25
Gabe

Doy recommend this CKD approach for powerlfifters? Also, would it hurt if I added or increased my NEAT by walking more? I ask because the keto diet plus caloric deficit might already be much. Thoughts?

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Posted Wed, 01/07/2015 - 05:10
Jamie

When doing tkd, how long before and after should the carbs be ingested? Thanks

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Posted Mon, 10/27/2014 - 07:36
Brad

Is there a reason you didnt keep the skin on the chicken breast in your Paprika chicken?

Great article by the way, very indepth and well written.