The Brief on Bison

Carrie Murphy

You've probably seen it on the menu at your favorite bar/bistro or food truck...bison! But what is this trendy new meat, exactly? We know it's a bit fancier than beef but is it buffalo? Why's it popping up at all our favorite beer-and-burger spots? There's a common misconception that bison meat is buffalo meat; while a bison is technically the animal pictured on those old Buffalo nickels, that species is actually called the American bison. Real buffalos are only native to Africa and Asia. Who knew? After large numbers of them were killed during the great westward expansion of the 1800s, the bison's population dwindled to about 300. In 1894, Congress passed a law that made it illegal to kill bison in Yellowstone National Park. Today, there are estimated to be at least 500,000 bison in the United States, more than enough to keep our bellies full and our prairies shorn. Bison are commonly thought of as an animal of the American West, but they're raised in all 50 states. Media mogul Ted Turner is the world's largest bison farmer, with over 55,000 to his name. 

The majority of bison today are being raised for human consumption. Here in the US, bison is often free-range and grass-fed, prized for its connection to the local and organic foods movement. Bison meat has no antibiotics, hormones, or additives, so it's about as close to meat from the wide open range as you're going to find. 

The background info is interesting, but I know you want to know more about how this stuff tastes. Bison meat is known for being lean; in fact, bison is lower in fat and calories than pork, beef, turkey, and even chicken. The taste is comparable to beef but with a much lower cholesterol content. Bison also has a very high concentration of iron, so much so that Reader's Digest named it a top five food that women should be eating. Chefs love it because it's flavorful and it takes only a short time to cook. Bison is versatile, too: you can find it as sausage, hot dogs, jerky, and, of course, cut into traditional steaks.

I've enjoyed bison burgers at Abbey Burger in Baltimore and Granville Moore's in DC. Granville's even offered bison bacon, but unfortunately they were out when we tried to order some during a recent brunch. If you're interested in cooking bison at home, you can order from local Gunpowder Bison & Trading Co, located in Monkton, MD. We love it in chili, as the bottom layer of a seven-layer dip or even as a regular ol' steak alongside some mashed potatoes. Just remember, cook it like the National Bison Association recommends: "low and slow!"

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