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Bison Meat: Tasty, Versatile, and Good for You, Too

Updated on August 5, 2010
Flank steak with vegetables and balsamic vinegar. Photo:  MmeEmil@istockphoto
Flank steak with vegetables and balsamic vinegar. Photo: MmeEmil@istockphoto

As a parent and a health-conscious consumer, I am always looking for healthy foods that will satisfy my two teenage boys as well as my beef-loving husband. Since he retired, my husband Bill does most of the cooking, and beef--in the form of burgers, steak, meat loaf, roasts, and tacos--has been the most popular meat on the menu.

So, when I found a bison rancher at our local farmer's market who was selling grass-fed, hormone-free bison meat, I was eager to see if bison meat would satisfy my resident beef eaters. As I learned more about bison meat, I realized it would be a healthier alternative to beef that just might taste better, too.

What makes bison meat better for you?

Bison, also known as buffalo, are required by U.S. federal law to be raised without steroids and growth hormones. In addition, bison industry protocols limit the use of antibiotics to protect the health of the animals. Some bison ranchers never use antibiotics, preferring to let nature take its course. Bison are native to North America and have evolved over thousands of years along with the natural landscape. Their digestive systems are perfectly designed to maximize the nutrition in the species of grasses and forage native to North America. Bison are hardy creatures that don't require shelter. Today, they are pasture-raised in herds and small family units. Many bison ranchers supplement grazing only as needed and then only with natural grasses.

Bison meat is considered to be a nutrient dense food because it contains a higher proportion of protein, minerals and fatty acids relative to the number of calories. Compared to other meat sources, bison has more iron and heart-healthy essential fatty acids and less fat. (For a complete nutritional comparison, see BisonBasics Nutritional Comparison Chart.)

Bison grazing in their natural habitat
Bison grazing in their natural habitat

But how does it taste?

Bison meat is very lean, yet it is tender and has a slightly sweeter, slightly richer taste than beef. We figured the easiest way to introduce bison meat to our two teenagers would be in the form of a bison burger. Before we cooked it, we read about how to prepare bison meat and learned that, because of its lower fat content, bison meat will cook faster than beef. It is important to cook it "low and slow" so it will retain its natural tenderness. With this in mind, my husband grilled the bison patties that we had purchased from a local grower just as he would a beef patty, but taking care not to cook it too fast or too long.

The result was a tender, slightly sweet, slightly richer burger that everyone in the whole family loved. We all agreed that it was the best burger we'd ever eaten!

Bison burger with palm heart salad and pickles.  Photo by Joe Marinaro.
Bison burger with palm heart salad and pickles. Photo by Joe Marinaro.

Where can I buy bison meat?

Due to its growing popularity bison meat can now be found in most major grocery stores. Local growers can often be found at farmer's markets, and many of them sell directly from their ranches. The cost of bison meat varies depending upon the area and availability, but major grocers often have it on sale. In addition, it can be purchased in bulk packages at a reduced cost directly from a local rancher or online.

Bison meat comes in as many forms as beef, including tenderloins, steaks, brisket, roasts, and short ribs, and can be cooked just like beef, as long as you remember to cook it "low and slow."

[Edited to add: Since writing this article an E. coli outbreak has been attributed to bison processed by Rocky Mountain Natural Meat. Even though the word "natural" is in their name, they have been selling feedlot bison meat to consumers. So, if you buy your bison meat from a major grocery chain, it would be wise to check where the meat comes from and how it is processed. A safer alternative would be to find a local grower that sells grass-fed bison.]

Bison strip steaks.  Photo: BDMcIntosh@istockphoto
Bison strip steaks. Photo: BDMcIntosh@istockphoto
Cold cuts of roast bison meat with salad.  Photo: Ekspansio@istockphoto
Cold cuts of roast bison meat with salad. Photo: Ekspansio@istockphoto
Lean piece of bison rump ready to be grilled or roasted. Photo:  alphavisions@istockphoto
Lean piece of bison rump ready to be grilled or roasted. Photo: alphavisions@istockphoto


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    • JayeWisdom profile image

      Jaye Denman 5 years ago from Deep South, USA

      I've been buying grass-fed (frozen) bison for quite a while online from a reputable family-owned operation. While I don't eat red meat at all, I do keep some steaks, roasts and fajita strips in the freezer to feed family members. The 15 one-pound packs I buy at once (that are shipped in dry ice and delivered by FedEx still frozen) are for! Yep, you read that correctly. She's allergic to beef and chicken, and is on a low-fat diet because she's had pancreatitis twice (mini schnauzers have a tendency for high lipids). I add organic veggies and make a week's worth of my dog's meals at once. When people ask me why I spend so much on my dog's food, I tell them it's easy with what I save by eating mainly a plant-based diet. It's all a matter of priorities.

      By the way, my adult son and grandchildren really like bison steaks and roasts. It's lean and much healthier than beef, so it's better for them.


      P.S. I know you're busy on that farm, but hope you find time to write more soon.

    • gmwilliams profile image

      Grace Marguerite Williams 5 years ago from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York

      Great hub! You are quite the gourmand. Did not know much about bison meat! Learn something new each day! You should write a book on bison recipes and show how more nutritious bison meat is than regular beef! Voted WAY up for useful and interesting to say the least!

    • jhosler profile image

      jhosler 6 years ago

      WOW. I love meaty recipes! Thanks for sharing.Voted up and shared.

    • Golfgal profile image

      Golfgal 6 years ago from McKinney, Texas

      I hope you do not mind that I linked your bison articles to mine. Thanks. The steaks look yummy.

    • Arlecchino profile image

      Arlecchino 7 years ago from Top of the Cloud

      OMG! My mouth full of water. I want this burger right now!

    • PrettyPanther profile image

      PrettyPanther 7 years ago from Oregon

      Hi Granny. Yes, it will be dry if it's cooked too quickly or with high heat. Hope your next one turns out better!

    • Granny's House profile image

      Granny's House 7 years ago from Older and Hopefully Wiser Time

      I had a burger at Cabela's and I hated it. It was so dry. I thought you needed to add pork fat to the burger meat. Now I know you need to cook it slower. Maybe I will give it another try.

      Thanks for the info and good luck with your farm

    • PrettyPanther profile image

      PrettyPanther 7 years ago from Oregon

      Kerryg and ILv2gvrzs, thanks for stopping by and commenting. More and more people seem to be discovering bison.

    • profile image

      ILv2gvrzs 7 years ago

      I had a buffalo burger at Adam's Ribs because of this post and like it.

    • kerryg profile image

      kerryg 7 years ago from USA

      Great article! Bison is one of my favorite foods - always great to find another fan!

    • PrettyPanther profile image

      PrettyPanther 7 years ago from Oregon

      Carolina and Habee, thanks for reading and commenting!

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      I agree - very tasty!

    • carolina muscle profile image

      carolina muscle 7 years ago from Charlotte, North Carolina

      I like it a lot!!