We recently learned from NPR about a new crossbreed of cattle called beefalo. If you couldn’t figure it out, this breed is a mix between cattle and buffalo (it’s really bison, but I’ll explain all that in a minute). Beefalo. I love it. The animal was bred to tone down the unruly wildness of bison and make them act more like cattle, yet retain the lean meat that makes bison a coveted protein source for those looking to reduce their fat intake (beef from cattle is much higher in fat).
It’s going to be a while before we see beefalo on the grocery store shelves, but bison is still a widely available animal protein, one we don’t think about as often as we should. So, how is bison used in the kitchen, and is it interchangeable with beef?
In short, no. We Americans use these terms interchangeably (myself included, as you can see in the above paragraph), but bison and buffalo are indeed different animals. True buffalo, says Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, are native to Africa and Asia, like Cape buffalo and water buffalo. Bison are found in Europe and North America.
Fun fact: Bison don’t moo. Whip that little chestnut out at parties and I’m sure everyone will applaud you for your knowledge of animal trivia.
In terms of its uses, bison is pretty interchangeable with beef. The thing is, bison is very lean, which is part of its appeal, but this changes its cooking properties. Without the same fat content as beef, bison dries out pretty fast if you’re not paying attention. Cuts like bison steak aren’t well-marbled, meaning you’ll want to be careful not to cook anything past medium. Stay vigilant.
If you’ve never cooked with it before, ground bison is a pretty easy place to start. It makes for good burgers—again, don’t cook the past medium!—and Cooking Light suggests making chili with it, which is a solid idea.
For the most part, bison tastes like lean beef. Some people say the flavor of bison is a little bit sweet; for what it’s worth, whenever I’ve eaten it, I don’t detect that particular characteristic. It’s not gamey whatsoever, like venison or lamb, so if you’re not a fan of those types of flavors, bison’s worth a try.
Thankfully, bison meat is pretty easy to get your hands on, at least in major supermarkets. It can always be found at the local grocery store chains in Chicago, sitting right next to the beef, though the selection is typically limited. It is pricier than beef, which keeps me from buying it regularly, but it’s certainly worth grabbing if it’s on sale. Whole Foods reliably carries it as well.
Great. Now I’ve got a song stuck in my head involving buffalo and where they roam. It probably won’t leave my brain until I roam on over to the grocery store and get some bison steaks for the grill.