My first contact with bison meat was at a Wyoming cafe where I worked during a summer break from college many moons ago. Buffalo burgers were included in the menu listings, which intrigued out-of-country patrons, who liked the novelty of eating meat from the West’s most famous beast. The locals weren’t all that impressed. But then, that was cattle country.
Heavy commercial hunting in the 1800s nearly exterminated the huge bison herds that once roamed western prairies. Buffalo hides were shipped by the millions to the east coast and to Europe, where they were transformed into rugs, clothing, blankets and machine belts. Before the destruction of the herds, Plains Indians used bison parts for food, clothing, tools, entertainment and shelter.
“The bison provided meat, leather, sinew for bows, grease, dried dung for fires, and even the hooves could be boiled for glue. When times were bad, bison were consumed down to the last bit of marrow.” (Wikipedia) For a fascinating, comprehensive list of uses, see: http://www.webpanda.com/There/uot_uses_of_the_buffalo.htm.
Today, bison can be found on ranches (except for a few herds that roam preserves and parks, the most famous park being Yellowstone National Park). In addition to selling buffalo meat, bison ranches often offer hides, robes, rugs, wall mounts and horns, even hand-decorated skulls.
As you might guess, bison meat tastes a lot like beef (not chicken!). But it may surprise you that it’s more tender than beef, despite the rugged, prehistoric appearance of the shaggy mammals. From Good Earth Natural Foods.com: “Buffalo tastes great! It tastes similar to fine beef, with just a slightly sweeter and richer flavor. Bison is naturally flavorful so it doesn’t need a lot of lengthy preparation to make it taste good. Bison is tender and can be prepared much the same as beef.”
One of the key benefits of bison meat is the lack of additives; plus, it’s high in protein and low in fat. Again, here’s what Good Earth Natural Foods has to say: “Bison are not subjected to growth hormones, questionable drugs, and other chemicals. The National Buffalo Association feels so strongly about this that they have adopted a resolution opposing the use of these substances in the production of bison for meat. Bison spend most of their lives on grass, as they have always lived in the past, with very little time in a feedlot.
“When you eat buffalo you are getting more protein and nutrients with fewer calories and less fat. Buffalo is a dense meat that tends to satisfy you more while eating less. Compared to other meat sources buffalo has a greater concentration of iron and other essential fatty acids that are necessary for human well-being.”
Because bison meat is dense and has less fat than beef, cooking temps and times are slightly different. “Buffalo is lower in fat and cholesterol than beef, pork, and even chicken. It is also lower in calories yet is not dry or tough when properly cooked. … Buffalo can replace beef in any recipe with only slight modification. Because buffalo meat has little fat to insulate it, it must be cooked over a slower heat to preserve the natural juices. Buffalo tastes like beef only better. With consumers demanding better quality and leaner cuts of meat, buffalo is the ideal alternative.” http://woodennickelbuffalo.com/bison_meat.html
I’ve found that most grocery stores, at least here in the West, carry bison meat; plus, it can be ordered online through various sources. The price is often higher than beef, but the health benefits are worth a couple extra dollars. Enjoy! Becky