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Backyard Bison Burgers

By • Mar 15th, 2011 • Category: Burger Blog

An insanely gorgeous spring weekend had me eyeballing my backyard grill with a hankering for burgers. I wandered my grocery store, wondering what I could do for bit of a cheebie change-up when I spied this:

I’ve had buffalo (or bison) before. Atlanta’s Ted Turner has built part of an empire on bison burgers at his chain of upscale restaurants. And with chefs everywhere turning elk, ostrich, emu, and even lion into burgers… the iconic buffalo isn’t nearly as off-the-wall exotic as it used to be.

But I didn’t know you could just walk into your local grocer’s meat department and find it shrink-wrapped. And I’ve never cooked with it. With the Dances with Wolves theme playing in my head, I put it in my cart and picked up the necessary burger fixings, eager to get this tatanka home to my range.

I was first struck by the texture. The 90/10 meat-to-fat ratio is equivalent to that of ground sirloin, but the similarity ends there. If you’re looking for the loose strands typical of ground beef, you’ll find yourself buffaloed here. This stuff is pretty dense and tightly packed together. I separate beef into strings prior to pattymaking, but the best I could do with bison was to break it into small chunks.

My goal was to keep things simple. I remembered from Ted’s that all the crazy toppings had drowned out the bison itself, and left me wondering if I could even say I liked the taste of buffalo meat. So I went minimal: a quick sprinkle of Montreal steak seasoning. I let the patties rest in the freezer (to help maintain a cohesive shape) for the 30 minutes it took for my charcoal to get up to temperature, and these big half-pounders were ready for the fire.

I tried to keep a close eye on the burgs as they cooked. I’ve developed a pretty good internal clock for beef burgers, but bison was uncharted territory. With just 10 percent fat, I knew they’d cook fast. There’d be a small window between “raw and unsafe” and “dry and leathery” that I wanted to hit. I flipped when the juices puddling on top had just barely started to turn from dark red to clear- only 5 minutes. I had faint char marks waiting on the other side- not as pronounced as I like, but a fair tradeoff if it meant a juicy burger.

I slapped two slices of American cheese on each burger, wanting to make sure each patty was well blanketed. Sitting atop a bed of curly-leaf lettuce, this burger certainly looked like a winner.

Inside, there was less pink than I had hoped for. Despite my diligence, this burger leaned toward medium well. I probably could have pulled it off the cooking grate about 90 seconds sooner.

But I’m not convinced it would’ve mattered much. I found bison to be very dry. One of its supposed selling points is that it’s much leaner than beef. But I’ve done burgers using 90/10 beef that were way juicier than this. Maybe Ted’s knew what they were doing when they slathered BBQ sauce and ham all over mine. (A drizzling of A.1. dramatically improved my second burg.) My bison burgers weren’t bad, but I’m not sure I’d choose them over beef as anything other than an occasional novelty.

And at two to three times the price of beef, I don’t see the point in making bison a regular staple of my backyard burger repertoire. A nice change of pace, but not a long-lasting proposition. Kind of like an unseasonably warm March weekend.

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