Bison is a much-hyped meat today and is often a feature in high-end barbecue cuisine, like the tomahawk bison steak we grilled last year. You've probably seen some select cuts of bison in your local grocery store, and you'll frequently find ground bison for sale. And I'm sure the first thing you'll notice is that bison is a lot more expensive than beef. You may wonder if the extra cost pays off with a better piece of meat.
Well bison and beef cattle share common ancestry. Way back when, smart people started selectively breeding animals similar to cows and today, we have delicious beef. Bison was a mainstay food source for the Natives of the plains states until the animals were slaughtered to near extinction. Within fifty years, bison populations went from more than 30 million to a total of 325 animals in the wild. Today, bison has made a resurgence as a domestically produced meat animal and more than 500,000 roam their native homeland. In fact, our farm, Whitefeather Meats gets its name from our father's start in raising American Bison in the late 1980s.
Is Bison Healthier than Beef?
You've probably heard lots of people tout bison as a healthy alternative to beef. We've heard claims that it's more heart healthy, has higher nutrient levels, and all sorts of things. Here is the truth – bison is one of the best sources of protein out there. Health advocates suggest eating no more than one 4 oz. serving of bison per week and no more three servings totaling 18 oz. of beef per week.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) states that "separable lean only" bison has 109 calories for every 100 grams to a similar beef cut coming in at 291 calories. This is somewhat misleading, however, due to USDA grading. Higher grades of beef contain more marbling, hence higher fat. Bison is not graded for fat content or quality. In the USDA example above, Choice-grade beef is used, the second highest ranking on the USDA scale for fat content.
Does Bison Taste like Beef?
Bison tastes like beef in the same way frog legs taste like chicken – which is to say sorta-kinda, but not really. Bison tends to be leaner than beef and has a less pronounced red meat flavor. High levels of iron in the meat give an earthy or mineral-like flavor that is very pleasant. Depending on the cut, bison has less of a grease flavor. Most people think bison has a better flavor than beef.
When properly grilled, it's hard to decide which one is better. Both types of meat will crisp up nicely. A thick steak sears beautifully and rib cuts are equally flavorful and juicy. Because bison is a leaner meat, it has a fine fat marble that can provide a more tender meat, but it's also easy to overcook bison.
Is Bison Meat Healthier than Chicken?
The USDA believes that average bison is lower in fat, saturated fat, calories, and cholesterol than beef, chicken, pork, or salmon. It's also higher in protein and nutrients, but only in equal portions. The same health advocates suggesting you eat no more than one 4 oz. bison steak per week say you can have 26 oz. of chicken.
Making healthy food choices can be complicated by varying ways of considering what is healthy and what isn't. For people who are concerned about heart health, reducing the amount of red meat is important, but a nice treat like a perfect bison steak isn't a huge health risk.
Why is Bison Meat So Expensive?
There are several important reasons that bison costs more than beef. Of all the meats Americans are familiar with, bison is one of the rarest to find. When you find a delicious and tender bison cut, the price is going to be more than an equivalent cut of beef.
The main reason bison is more expensive is due to the conditions the animals are raised in. US buffalo herds are predominantly held in North and South Dakota where the non-domesticated animals are allowed to roam free-range. They spend most of the year eating wild grasses and are typically finished on grain the last 90 to 120 days before slaughter. Approximately 20,000 bison are processed in the US each year. Compare that to the 125,000 beef cattle the US processes every day.
Bison is more expensive simply due to the lack of animals available and the larger land mass the herds require. Bison are raised in conditions that are not possible or necessary with cattle.
Bison vs. Buffalo: Aren't They the Same Thing?
When most Americans think of buffalo, they are actually picturing North American Bison roaming free on the Great Plains. These unique animals are not buffalo at all and are not related to the African or Asian Water Buffalo.
Profits on bison are so good, importers are bringing slaughtered water buffalo into the US and processing them in FDA facilities to avoid labeling laws. Don't buy buffalo or bison unless it states the product is 100% North American Bison. Unless you want water buffalo, of course – then, go for it.
Bison vs. Beef: What's the Difference?
There are a few key things you'll notice differentiating beef and bison steaks. Bison will be a deeper red color and usually has more of a yellowish fat cap. The fat gets its color from grass-feeding. Beef will have more visible marbling and typically has a white cat cap. Even though the beef cut has more fat marbling, you will get a more tender and delicious quality steak from bison.
Bison burgers are popular right now in restaurants all over. There is a good reason – bison is leaner and has a rich and tasty flavor. Ground bison is around 5% fat up to 15% by weight. Beef tends to be 15% up to 25% in comparison. The excellent, rich flavor of ground bison is from the quality of the meat, not the fat.
Our Favorite Bison Recipes
We have a huge amount of appreciation for bison at Whitefeather Meats. The animal is deeply tied to our existence as a company, and our customers continue to come to us for our high quality bison steaks and ground meat. In all the years, we have come up with a few ways we like to make bison.
In the past, we have shown you some recipes on grilling bison using our Traeger 885. This is always one of our favorite instruments to use for cooking anything. Smoking a bison steak on the Traeger reveals a delicious and flavorful meal with great smoky flavor. Normally, we would be showing you a recipe on the pellet smoker, but not this time.
Today, we want to share with you a remarkable product we got the pleasure of using on our elk hunting trip to Montana this past season. This grill is the Burch Barrel, and it was born on the ranches of Montana, making it the perfect companion for grilling our North American-native bison steaks. It's also our latest favorite cooking instrument, so expect to see plenty of action on this grill in our YouTube videos, including one of our newest where we show you what the differences between beef and bison are as we process the animals into steaks.
The Burch Barrel
The Burch Barrel is an innovative take on the classic camp grill. It uses a pulley suspending the lid which can lock to the grill, letting you raise the height of the meat without moving the flame. Charcoal is fully contained in the bottom of the barrel, making this a safer alternative to camp cooking. If you're interested in trying one of these out, make sure to use our code BEARDEDBUTCHERS for 10% off!
Grilled Bison Porterhouse Recipe
- Bearded Butcher Blend Original Seasoning
- Bison steaks
- Coat all sides of a thick bison porterhouse in the Bearded Butchers Original Seasoning Blend. This is the perfect flavor to bring out the nuances of bison and showcase this delicious and protein-packed meat.
- Grill the bison steaks low and slow, your shooting for a grill temperature around 250 degrees. Your internal temperature for a medium-rare bison is going to be a little lower than beef, around 120 degrees. Remember that bison is lean and will overcook much faster than beef, so pay close attention when your steaks start getting close to the right temperature.
- Reverse-sear the steak. The Burch Barrel makes it easy to reverse-sear a steak like bison. Simply drop the grill onto the flame and sear away. It will take only a minute or two on each side to get a good sear, then you'll want to let the bison steaks rest.
- After a 15 to 20 minute rest, your bison is ready to eat. Simple, excellent, and perfect!
Bison is a flavorful red meat that is an excellent source of protein. Whether it is healthier to eat than beef or chicken can be debated, but one thing you can't deny is the naturally delicious flavors and the delicate tenderness of bison. It might be more expensive than beef, and it's certainly harder to find in stores, but the first time you cook a tender and succulent bison porterhouse, you'll be hooked.
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