We love our beef. Sizzling steaks and juicy burgers are a staple of the American diet, with the average man devouring 6.9 ounces each day. But it's a tough time for the beef industry as people turn their backs on the industrial meat complex, with its heavy-handed hormone and antibiotic treatments — not to mention the crowded feedlots. And with beef prices 15 percent higher than they were last year (and rising thanks to the drought out west), carnivores are left looking for an alternative. They may find it in another hulking ruminant: bison.
Bison meat is high in protein, low in fat, and stocked on many store shelves. Even though demand currently outpaces supply, things might soon change as more ranchers enter the market and expand their herds. Yes, bison meat costs more than beef (average wholesale price is about 1.5 times more expensive), but as beef prices creep higher, bison looks like a better and better option. It’s illegal to use growth hormones on bison, and they’re grass fed. And because they’re adapted to life on the prairie, raising them is environmentally friendlier, too.
If you’ve never bought bison meat before, start with the National Bison Association’s Bison Finder app. Using your current location, it tells you the ranches, restaurants, and retailers nearby that sell bison meat, which now include stores like Whole Foods and Costco. It also links you to websites that explain bison meat’s merits, offer recipes, and refer you to books on the topic.
Bison cuts generally reflect what you get from cattle (think sirloin, rib, flank, and brisket). You can substitute bison for anything that calls for beef. “It’s a very versatile meat,” says Dave Carter, the director of the National Bison Association.
Many first-time bison chefs start with ground meat, which you can use in bison chili, burgers, or meat sauce. The National Bison Association also has a number of recipes on its website. If you're willing to go straight for the steaks, cook them on the grill until they're medium rare. (It will take less time than beef because it’s leaner.) If you're using a thermometer, wait until the steaks reach 145 degrees Fahrenheit so they don't get too tough, advises Carter. Enjoy it with a little olive oil, salt and pepper.