Bison: The Other Red MeatBy Todd • Jun 21st, 2009 • Category: Burger Blog
I’m admittedly not a fan of burgers that aren’t beef. Turkey burgers, black bean burgers, soy burgers, veggie burgers, tofu burgers… they just seem silly to me. If you want a burger, eat an honest damn beef hamburger.
Grinding up some New Age Cuisine ingredient, shaping it into a patty, and sliding it between some buns doesn’t make it a burger in my book. I don’t know what it should be called instead, but don’t try to pass it off as a close relative of my real red-meat burger.
But a different kind of red meat, you say? I’m listening…
Ted’s Montana Grill was founded by media mogul Ted Turner in 2002. He had bought up half of the state of Montana, and got a whole bunch of American bison (also called buffalo) along with it. The bison was nearing extinction, and Ted set out to stop that from happening. He teamed up with a man named George McKerrow, who practically invented the “casual-dining” category of restaurant when he launched Longhorn Steakhouse. Together, they opened Ted’s Montana Grill, and offered bison on the menu as a way to reinvigorate the bison ranching industry.
It worked. The bison has made, according to Ted’s PR army, “A resurgence in the North American ecosystem.” The restaurant worked, too, with over 50 Ted’s locations now in almost 20 states. They do a little bit of everything: steaks, chicken, fish, the usual. But their big draw is burgers, available in either beef or bison. Ted’s claims that bison is a “nutritious lean meat rich in iron and considered a healthy alternative to other meats. [It contains] less fat, cholesterol, and calories than beef or chicken.”
So I sat down, ready to dig in to some bison. At first, I was overwhelmed by the choices: over 20 burger varieties, with some pretty elaborate topping combinations. Five kinds of cheese, bacon, onions, mushrooms, jalapeños, green chiles, guacamole… they’re all represented on burgers with names like the Blue Creek, the Spikebox, the New Mexico, and the America’s Cup. I went with the Montana: Cheddar cheese, grilled ham, onions, and BBQ sauce.
It was a beautiful burger. The first bite was incredibly juicy, sending me diving for my napkin. Smoky ham, a heaping helping of nicely-sauteed onions, a really sweet BBQ sauce, cheese that was melted just right, all sandwiched between a good solid kaiser roll bun.
But I regretted my choice almost immediately. Don’t get me wrong, it was an exceptionally-tasty burger. But what I tasted most was all the stuff loaded on top of the burger. The bison itself didn’t make much of an impression on me, good or bad. I suddenly wished with all my heart that I had ordered a plain cheeseburger, just to give the bison meat a real test drive.
I polished off my Montana bison burger, and enjoyed it, no question. But I left still unsure of how I felt about bison as a beef alternative. Honestly, I felt a little snookered. They drew me in with the promise of this great meat, and then I got razzle-dazzled by a bunch of sexy toppings and cool burger names. My own fault. No one to blame but me.
At Ted’s, I got a very good burger, but I also got a valuable lesson. If the meat is as good as Ted says bison is, maybe I didn’t need it all gussied up. Sometimes, simpler is better. There’s no shame in ordering a plain old cheeseburger.
The next time I hit Ted’s (and there WILL be a next time), that’s exactly what I’ll do.