April 27, 2020 10 min read

“You are what you eat”, is a phrase you’ve heard a million times before. Although the old adage holds a lot of truth, it’s not quite literally how things work. And usually, that’s a good thing. Vegetables are healthy, but you don’t really want to be one yourself. Nevertheless, there’s also a lot of good examples to the contrary. For example, the bison.

This majestic looking creature is definitely in the running for one of the stockiest in the animal kingdom. It looks like it could take on anything. Whatever your spirit animal might be, when it comes to the gym, the bison is an amazing totem to have. It’s estimated that 20 to 30 million of these animals ruled the North American landscape at one point—which dwindled massively because of hunting and habitat loss. Having now rebounded to 500,000, the bison is still going strong to this day. Standing anywhere from 880 to 2,800 pounds, this beast exudes pure, unbridled power and energy—something that every serious gym-addict tries to channel and grow with their own muscle development. So, if you can’t be a bison, what’s the next best thing? Well, in this case, being what you eat might actually have something to it.

Although once seen as an “exotic” meat, bison is quickly becoming more and more common. About 7.5 million pounds of bison meat is being sold each year in the United States—a trend which is quickly rising. While still slightly more expensive than beef, bison’s benefits more than make up for the costs associated with the price-tag. If you’re eyeing the carnivore diet, bison will be an excellent protein to super-boost your gym gains and provide a solid foundation for your body to function healthily. Relatively similar to beef, using ground bison is an excellent and easy substitute that’ll offer an introduction to this underrated meat.

How Your Body Benefits from Binging on Bison

Bison meat doesn’t just taste delicious, but it’s also chock full of nutrients, vitamins, and beneficial proteins. One bison patty cooked from a raw, 4-ounce portion consists of:

  • Calories: 124
  • Protein: 17 grams
  • Fat: 6 grams
  • Saturated fat: 2.5 grams
  • Carbs: less than 1 gram
  • Iron: 13% of the daily value (DV)
  • Selenium: 31% of the DV
  • Zinc: 35% of the DV
  • Vitamin B12: 68% of the DV

From the Greek protos, meaning “first”, came the word protein—a reflection of the importance of protein for us to thrive. And as you can see from the above, bison is an excellent source of protein, even better than beef. Bison is also much leaner, allowing you to get an edge on a good, clean bulking season. This also translates into a lower number of calories, which is super helpful if your goals include either losing weight or cutting. This also means that the fat in bison is more finely marbled, resulting in a softer meat. But that’s not all when it comes to cutting fat! Bison meat can also boast a very high level of conjugated linoleic acids (CLAs), which act as an anti-carcinogen and a way to boost your metabolic rate and immune system.

Bison also provides a solid amount of zinc, selenium, and iron. These minerals are essential for a well functioning body, and bison is able to boast a high percentage of daily intake value for all three. Zinc supports your body’s immune system, aids in fighting sicknesses and also promotes wound healing. Meanwhile, selenium is an antioxidant which fights tissue dysfunction, and iron is essential in red blood cell formation. Bison also has a lot of B vitamins. These are important in various cellular processes throughout the body, which includes energy production and neurochemical balancing. For example, vitamin B12 helps in regulating good moods. So not only will your taste buds feel better after biting into a bison burger, but so will your head.

Although this list of benefits is getting long-winded, we can’t help mentioning the increased levels of omega-3 fatty acids in bison. Omega-3s have been popularized in recent years, for good reason. These fats are very important in reducing the risk of heart disease, improving your eye health, and last but not least, helping fight anxiety and depression. However, this is where we have to squeeze in a big asterisk.

A bowl of bison meat.

The Importance of the Environmental Aspect

It’s difficult to get away from the issue of the environment in this day and age, and that’s no less true when it comes to the humble bison. But more importantly, understanding some of the things that make bison meat special will make you a better consumer. As bison are raised on ranches, that means they’re generally grass-fed. Furthermore, industry standards and regulations don’t allow ranchers to use hormones or antibiotics in their rearing—at least in the United States. Allowing bison to grass-feed has the added impact of keeping grassland ecosystems in check. Along with preventing grasses from growing too high, bison also fertilize the soil.

However, as bison has become more popular, there has been more pressure to put bison in feedlots, similar to how cattle are confined. Putting them in feedlots and finishing with a grain diet makes sure that the texture and flavor of the meat is more consistent while also changing the color of the fat from yellow to white (which some people prefer). But outside of the dimensions of taste and aesthetic, there are also nutritional issues that arise.

While there are some natural differences between cattle and bison, a lot of these differences come down to (or are exacerbated by) the fact that cattle are grain-fed while bison are grass-fed. Therefore, a grain-finished bison will have more fat than its grass-finished counterparts, and along with that, more calories. This is also true when it comes down to the levels of omega-3 fatty acids in the bison meat. These levels will fall if the bison is grain-finished. Ultimately, both types of bison meat are definitely part of a healthy diet and have benefits over beef, but it is wise to check whether the bison you’re buying has been reared and finished with grass—or the less nutrition-dense grain. While the former will probably be more expensive, sometimes it’s worth it if you have the means and are keen for a clean, low-carb bulk

Bison vs. Beef

As we mentioned above, there’s a difference between the fat content in bison and beef and also major differences in how the two animals are raised and prepared. This results in different tastes and textures, but they’re still similar enough to be able to replace beef with bison in most recipes. When compared to beef, bison has a rich, coarser, and slightly sweeter taste to it. Unlike venison, it’s not gamey and it doesn’t have any aftertaste. The ease with which bison can substitute in for beef is made even easier when you consider ground bison. Much like ground beef, the bison variety can be used in all manner of tacos, meatballs, burgers, meatloaves, lasagna, Bolognese, and casseroles.

However, it’s important to remember a few points when substituting the two meats. Since bison is so lean it cooks quickly, and it can become tough and chewy if one overcooks it. Bison steaks shouldn’t be cooked more than medium-well, and it’ll be helpful to sear the sides of the steak over a high heat, and then finish it off at a reduced temperature. The searing process will trap the juices inside and make a more flavourful, juicy, steak. When cooked, ground bison patties should have an internal temperature of 160 degrees F—at about the point where the pink begins to disappear. While the substitution is easy, it’s important to take note that bison is easier to overcook than beef. 

Cooking with Ground Bison

Down below we’ve cooked up some recipes for you to try out ground bison next time you get your hands on some. While bison is much more common these days, you might still have some trouble finding it. If that’s the case and you’re from the U.S.A., BisonCentral offers a free app where you can find a local supplier of bison.

First, we’ll begin with some basic ground bison cooking instructions to get you started. You can either add your own pizazz to the basic instructions or read on to find out some of our favorite recipes.

Pan-frying: If you’re frying in a pan, make sure to use an oiled skillet that’s uncovered, at medium-high to high heat. And remember to trap in the juices by searing those sides!

Grilling: If you’re deciding to get the ol’ grill out to prepare your ground bison, make sure that the grill grate is cleaned and positioned close to the heat. The temperature you’re looking for is about 500 degrees F, with the grill lid closed during grilling.

Sautéing: Usually, you sauté vegetables, but you can also sauté bison if you’re going to end up cooking it more in some other element of the dish. Sautéing can really bring out the flavors of the meat, without accidentally overcooking it. Doing small batches will garner the best results—and remember to keep the heat from medium-high to high.

Baking: For things like casseroles and meatloaves, the best results will have you set the temperature to around 325 to 375 degrees. While it’s important to follow the instructions in the recipe, keep in mind that you’re going to want a shorter amount of time in the oven if you’re substituting out beef.

Lasange on a plate.

Ground Bison Recipes

Bison Burgers with Onions and Cheddar

There are very few things that can stand up to a good burger. It’s a classic meal that uses ground beef, and therefore an obvious choice in the substitution game. While the burgers below trend towards healthy, feel free to replace the condiments with some of the classics. Either way, you’ll be buying out bison by the pound in no time.

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound of ground bison
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil, divided
  • 3 cups of sliced onions
  • ¾ cup of Cabernet Sauvignon or other red wine
  • 2 tablespoons of chopped shallots
  • ¼ teaspoon of kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon of dried thyme
  • 4 hamburger buns
  • 6 ounces of sliced Wisconsin white cheddar cheese (or other cheddar)
  • Dijon mustard
  • 1 small head of escarole with the leaves separated (or a type of lettuce)

In a medium skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat. After adding some salt to the onions, cook them until they’re tender. This should take around 10 minutes. Reducing the heat to medium, continue to cook until they become even more tender. After around 15 minutes of stirring and browning, add wine and cook it off.

Preheating the broiler, mix the ground bison, salt, thyme, and shallots in a large bowl. Shape the mixture into 4 patties and heat the remaining oil in a skillet at a high temperature. Seasoning the patties with salt and pepper, cook them for about 2 minutes on either side until they’ve been browned. This should give you a medium-rare burger.

With the buns, open them up and place them on a baking tray. Placing cheese slices on the bun tops, allow the buns to broil until they’ve been toasted, and the cheese has melted. After taking them out, spread the bottom bun with mustard, and then top with an escarole leaf, a patty, and finally some onion.

Stuffed Bison Peppers

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound of ground bison meat
  • 4 bell peppers
  • 4-5 Roma tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon of minced garlic
  • a dash of Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 cups of cooked rice
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil, divided
  • Salt, to taste
  • Pepper, to taste
  • Oregano, to taste

Begin by preheating the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly salt a large pot of water and bring it up to a boil over a high heat, cutting the tops off the peppers and removing their insides. You want to add the peppers into the boiling water and keeping them submerged to blanch over the course of about 3 minutes. After draining them, set them aside.

Take the olive oil and heat over medium, cooking the onions and garlic once the oil comes up to temperature. You want the garlic to be soft, which will happen after about 5 minutes. Remove them from the heat. 

Then, taking a medium-sized bowl you want to mix the ground bison, tomatoes, rice, onion garlic, and seasoning until the mixture looks evenly distributed. Coat the insides of the peppers with some of the olive oil and arrange them in a baking dish. After stuffing the peppers, bake them in the oven for 40 to 50 minutes, and serve.

Bison Lasagna

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound of ground bison meat
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 package of lasagna pasta
  • 1 large carton of cottage cheese
  • 1 ½ jars of spaghetti sauce
  • 1-2 packages of shredded mozzarella cheese
  • Salt, to taste
  • Pepper, to taste
  • Garlic, minced, to taste

In a large skillet over medium to high heat, brown the ground buffalo along with the onion, until cooked. While it’s cooking, season the dish with salt, pepper, and garlic. Once it’s cooked, add spaghetti sauce directly on the skillet, along with more garlic if you want to. Let it simmer for a few minutes before leaving it to the side.

Take the lasagna pasta and cook them according to the directions on the package. After this, you’ll want to grease the bottom of a 9 x 13 baking dish. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Beginning with the noodles, layer the ingredients in the baking dish. Using about 4 to 5 pieces of pasta on the bottom layer, making sure they overlap, then follow with 1/3 of the meat mixture, along with 1/3 of the cottage cheese and a good helping of mozzarella. Don’t worry if the toppings don’t cover the pasta completely, everything will come together in the oven. Continue until you get to the top layer, where you’ll put on enough cheese to cover the top.

Place the lasagna in the preheated oven for 40 minutes, or until the top is browned. Let it stand for around 10 minutes before cutting into it so the juices and flavors don’t spill out. Enjoy! 

Be the Bison: Turbocharging Your Progress

The bison is a spectacular creature. It exudes majesty, power, and brute strength. It ruled the plains of North American long before people did, and to write it off as a source of gains would be foolhardy. Next time you’re pumping iron in the gym, remember the red-blood cell producing iron that bison provides. Remember that sometimes, you really are what you eat.

If we feel like we’ve reached a plateau, we can take some lessons from the bison. A large reason why bison meat is so healthy is because the animal is usually reared in comfortable conditions with accessible and appropriate nutrients. Just like people, bison need exercise, fresh air, and good food. So whatever diet you choose to pursue in the end, just remember to holistically take care of yourself. That means taking care of yourself mentally and physically—and keeping your eye on the prize. After all, all the bison eats is grass. 


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