At one time over 40 million American bison roamed the plains across North America. Industrialization and abuse brought the population down to as little as 1,000 head in the late 1800’s. Through proactive conservation and ranching, the population of today’s American bison is about 350,000 head and growing.
Recent trends show bison is becoming more popular in restaurants and retail stores as a healthy alternative to red meat. Those who remain unfamiliar with the taste and benefits of eating bison assume it is “gamey” tasting and/or unhealthy. Quite the contrary, bison is literally a breed apart in many ways.
Grass Fed & All Natural
Bison grow to between 900 – 2,200 pounds in the wild and live between 12 – 20 years. Farm raised bison, (raised for food), are typically harvested between 2 ½ – 4 years of age. Most American bison is pasture raised, without added hormones or administered antibiotics and fed on wild grasses, sagebrush and other native vegetation such as, alfalfa and clover. During cold winter months and if/when drought occurs, they are fed hay and stored silage.
There are some institutional producers who do grain feed bison, but opposite to beef, this is the exception. The most flavorful bison is harvested in the fall and fed on fresh green grasses for at least three months prior to slaughter. Harvested meat from hay fed bison, early winter to late spring slaughters or hay fed droughts, will be less flavorful.
Taste & Nutrition
Available in the same cuts as beef, rib eye, strip, sirloin, tenderloin and ground bison, are the most popular. Unlike beef, there is no quality grading system for bison; it is very lean with little marbling.
You may be especially surprised to learn Bison is lower in fat and calories than beef, pork, chicken and salmon. It is comparatively one of the most nutrient dense meats available because of its proportion of protein, fat, minerals and fatty acids to calories. Low in cholesterol and sodium, bison is also rich with iron and offers a healthy balance of Omega 3 fatty acids.
Because bison is so lean, proper cooking methods are vital. On average, bison takes about a third less cooking time than beef because of its leanness.However, it is recommended bison be cooked at lower temperatures over a longer time period to preserve its tender texture and natural juiciness.
Like beef, bison can be prepared in numerous ways:grilled, smoked, roasted, braised. The most tender bison cuts come from the muscles that run along the backside of the bison – rib, loin and sirloin cuts – which are all great for roasts and steaks. Bison roasts and steaks share the same nomenclature as beef, (Prime Rib, NY Strip Steak, Top Sirloin, Rib Eye) and can be prepared in the same ways.
Cooking bison is similar to cooking beef steaks, salt and pepper are all it takes to produce an enjoyable eating experience; there is no need for marinating. For a healthy heartier meal, braised bison back ribs are fork tender with delicious taste from the bone.
Here are some general guidelines from the North American Bison Cooperative:
Roast, Brisket & Short Ribs: Low temperatures, high moisture and a good amount of time yield the best results.
Steaks: Tender cuts such as steaks have little fat marbling which means they are highly susceptible to drying out. Cooking to medium-rare will give you a mouth-watering, flavorful bison steak.
Ground Bison: For bison burgers consider cooking 2-3 minutes less than beef. It will have the best flavor and texture if it is cooked rare or medium-rare. If you are browning bison for a recipe, there is no need to drain the meat as there will rarely be any grease.
Try these resource sites for recipes: http://blog.highplainsbison.com/categories http://www.bisonbasics.com/recipes/recipelist.html http://tenderbison.ndnatural.com/Nutrition.aspx
The top five reasons why you should give bison a try:
1. American bison is pasture raised and All Natural without added hormones or antibiotics.
2. A lean source of protein, bison meat is low in fat, cholesterol, sodium and calories.
3. Bison is an excellent source of nutrients, rich with iron, zinc, niacin, vitamin B6 and selenium and offers a healthy balance of Omega 3 fatty acids.
4. Easy to prepare, bison has a robust, rich and juicy flavor with a tender texture.
5. Available as roast, ribs, steaks and ground, bison provides a vast array of menu options.