Tasty, rich and leaner than beef, bison is appearing on restaurant menus around the country and is also available in many large supermarkets. If you’ve never cooked it at home, give it a try—it’s quite easy to cook. Here are some shopping and cooking tips to get you started from meat expert Bruce Aidells. Bruce, who is known for delicious-tasting sausages and amazing meat recipes, is a big fan of buffalo. We couldn’t wait to start cooking and tasting his buffalo recipes for this story. Below he shares some of the expertise he has gathered working with the National Bison Council and developing bison recipes.
Meat should be deep red with no brown spots or blemishes and should smell fresh. For tender cuts you may occasionally find a touch of marbling, which is preferred; otherwise meat should have a good tight grain. For tougher cuts opt for meat with streaks of fat.
Grass-finished versus grain-finished:
Bison prefer to eat grass. But like cattle, many bison are sent to feedlots and fed grain for the last few months of their lives. Some ranchers prefer to raise bison on grass only, for environmental reasons and to limit the stress on the animals of being transported to and confined in a feedlot. We tested recipes with both grass- and grain-finished meat and did not notice a significant difference in taste or cooking times. If you want to buy bison that’s been raised on grass only, look for meat labeled “grass-finished” or “grass-fed only.” Some meat may not be labeled, so ask your supplier or see sources below.
Leaner and Greener:
Bison is delicious in full-flavored dishes. Its rich taste belies its healthy nutritional profile. With only 143 calories and 2 grams of fat per serving, lean bison is lower in calories and fat than lean beef. Try recipes that make use of more commonly available ground bison and steak, as well as short ribs and chuck. If your local store doesn’t carry bison yet, ask for it. Consumer demand for the meat is the best way to encourage more farmers to raise buffalo.
Keep tender cuts tender:
The tender cuts of bison are mostly along the spine and include the strip-loin, standing rib, filet and sirloin. These tender steaks and roasts have almost no intramuscular fat, known as marbling. They cook faster than marbled meat and when overcooked will be tough and dry. They are best cooked medium-rare or rare.
Ground meat can come from any part of the animal. It is typically lean, with only 8 to 10 percent fat, so when cooked to medium well (which is recommended by the USDA) the texture can be rubbery. To avoid this, mix ground bison with ingredients that add moisture, such as whole grains, diced vegetables or cheese.
Don’t overlook tough cuts:
The tougher cuts of bison, such as chuck, brisket and short ribs, have less intramuscular fat than equivalent cuts of beef, but they contain more collagen. When they are cooked for a long time with low, moist heat, the collagen turns into gelatin, giving these cuts a succulent, tender texture, but with far less fat than beef. These tougher cuts may be more difficult to find depending on where you live, but are worth seeking out.
Sources for grass-finished bison:
Find a farmer near you who raises grass-finished bison at bisoncentral.com. Or order it online from Wild Idea Buffalo, Big Valley, North Star Bison, Observatory Rock, Mile High Bison or Black Forest.