Farm to Table One of our most enduring
American images is that of the great American buffalo,
or species Bison bison. These huge, shaggy animals
once roamed from Canada to Mexico, grazing the Great
Plains and mountain areas of our country. Bison were
the center of life for the Plains tribes of Native
Americans who found in them nearly all the food,
clothing, and shelter they needed. Hunted for their
furs in the 1600's and later for their tongues, bones,
and meat, it was estimated by 1893 that there were
only slightly more than 300 bison left, from numbers
estimated at one time to be over 60 million. The
following information is about this species which is
making a comeback and growing rapidly in numbers.
What is bison? The National Bison Association
encourages the name bison to differentiate the
American buffalo from the Asian Water buffalo and
African Cape buffalo. The American buffalo is not a
true buffalo. Its scientific name is bison and it
belongs to the bovine family along with domestic
cattle. The bison bull is the largest animal
indigenous to North America. A bull can stand taller
than 6 feet at the hump and weigh more than a ton.
They are strong and aggressive, and can jump as well
as deer, outmaneuver horses, and break through fences
that would imprison other livestock.
Beefalo" are 3/8 bison and 5/8 domestic cattle. (The
natural result of a bison-domestic bovine cross
breeding is a sterile offspring. It has taken years of
research to develop this breed.) The advantages of
this cross are fertility and easy calving. Beefalo
gain weight well on inexpensive, high-roughage feed
and are very hardy.
How are Bison
Raised According to the most recent
Census of Agriculture (in 2012), there were
approximately 162,100 bison in the U.S., more than 25%
of them in North and South Dakota. Unlike the older,
tougher animals the Native Americans ate, today's
bison are custom-fed and slaughtered at about 18
months, so the meat is as tender as beef. Some 20,000
buffalo are slaughtered each year (compared to
approximately 125,000 cattle per day).
Bison are allowed to roam freely most of their lives.
They are raised on the open range and eat hay or
grass. They are usually given grain during the last 90
to 120 days before slaughter. (The fat of grass-fed
animals is yellow, which is good since it contains
beta-carotene; however, most consumers prefer the fat
to be white.) Surplus buffalo bulls are selected at
about 2 1/2 years of age (buffalo can live to be 40
years old) and spend a very short time in the
Can Hormones and Antibiotics be Used Antibiotics and growth
hormones are not given to bison.
How is Bison Inspected Bison may be inspected under
voluntary federal inspection or FDA equivalent
inspection. FDA equivalent inspection includes state
inspection. Under voluntary federal inspection by
USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS),
businesses pay an hourly rate for inspection services.
Voluntary inspection is handled under the Agriculture
Marketing Act, which gives the Secretary of
Agriculture the authority to take whatever steps are
necessary to make the product marketable.
Federal inspection is done on a carcass-by-carcass
basis by FSIS. The FSIS inspector must have knowledge
about that particular species and the carcass must fit
available equipment in the plant. Each bison and its
internal organs are inspected for signs of disease.
The triangle shaped "U.S. Inspected and Passed" seal
ensures the bison is wholesome and free from disease.
Note: Some states require all exotic animals be
inspected in order to be sold in commerce.
Bison graded? No. How is
bison different from beef? Bison is
a deeper red color before cooking because there is no
marbling (white flecks of fat within the meat muscle).
Bison is said to have a sweeter, richer flavor than
beef and has less fat and fewer calories than beef.
According to USDA's Agricultural Research Service
(ARS),100 grams of raw bison (separable lean only)
contains 109 calories and 1.8 grams fat. The same
amount of raw beef (separable lean only, Choice grade)
contains 291 calories, and 24 grams fat.
of Bison Retail cuts are similar to those of beef.
much bison is consumed? The
National Bison Association estimates annual U.S. per
capita consumption at .07 pounds per person.
Safe Handling of
Bison Handle bison meat the same as
any other type of meat. Make your selection just
before checking out at the register. Put packages of
raw bison in disposable plastic bags (if available) to
contain any leakage which could cross contaminate
cooked foods or produce. Take packaged bison home
immediately and refrigerate it at 40 °F or below; use
within 3 to 5 days, or freeze at 0 °F or below. If
kept frozen continuously, it will be safe
Thawing Frozen Bison Meat There are three ways to thaw meat: in the
refrigerator, in cold water, and in the microwave.
Never thaw on the counter or in other locations.
It's best to plan ahead for slow, safe thawing in the
refrigerator. To thaw in cold water, do not remove
packaging. Be sure the package is airtight or put it
into a leak proof bag. Submerge the package in
cold water, changing the water every 30 minutes so it
continues to thaw.
When microwave defrosting
meat, plan to cook it immediately after thawing
because some areas of the food may become warm and
begin to cook during microwaving. Holding partially
cooked food is not recommended because any
bacteria present wouldn't have been destroyed.
Foods defrosted in the microwave or by the cold water
method should be cooked before refreezing because they
may potentially have been held at temperatures
above 40 °F allowing harmful bacteria to grow.
Preparing Bison Bison is very lean and lacks fat marbling, so care
should be taken to not overcook it. • In general,
bison should be cooked using low heat (325 °F) and
longer cooking times. • Braising or other moist
cooking methods are recommended for bison roasts and
steaks. • For thin-sliced bison, use quick cooking
methods such as broiling and pan frying. • Cook raw
ground bison to an internal temperature of 160 °F as
measured with a food thermometer. • Cook all raw
bison steaks and roasts to a minimum internal
temperature of 145 °F as measured with a food
thermometer before removing meat from the heat source.
For safety and quality, allow meat to rest for at
least three minutes before carving or consuming.
For reasons of personal preference, consumers may
choose to cook meat to higher temperatures. •
Less tender cuts should be braised (roasted or
simmered with a small amount of liquid in a tightly
covered pan) or stewed.
Storage Times Purchase bison products before any "Sell-By"
dates expire. It is not important if a date expires
after freezing bison because all foods stay safe while
frozen. Because purchase dates are a guide to the
retailer, follow these tips for safe storage and use
at home. • Follow handling recommendations on
product. • Keep bison meat in its package until
using. • It is safe to freeze bison meat in its
original packaging. If freezing longer than 2 months,
overwrap these packages with airtight heavy-duty foil,
plastic wrap or freezer paper, or place the package
inside a plastic bag. • For best quality, cook or
freeze ground bison or stew meat within 2 days of
purchase; larger cuts such as roasts and steaks,
within 3 to 5 days. • Ground or cut-up bison meat
will keep its best quality in the freezer for 4
months. Larger cuts, such as chops, steaks, legs, or
loins will keep their best quality 6 to 9 months. •
After cooking, eat or freeze bison within 3 to 4 days.