Focus on Bison
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
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
"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. The meat produced has 18-20% protein
compared with 10% in regular beef, and has
5-7% fat compared to 25-30% in beef.
How are Bison Raised?
There are now
approximately 150,000 bison in public and
private lands in the U.S. 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
Can Hormones and Antibiotics be Used
in Bison Raising?
Antibiotics and growth
hormones are not given to bison.
How is Bison Inspected?
Bison fall under voluntary
inspection, which means that 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 the U.S.
Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Food
Safety and Inspection Service (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 "Passed and
Inspected by USDA" seal ensures the bison is
wholesome and free from disease.
Is Bison Graded?
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.
Retail Cuts of Bison
Retail cuts are similar to
those of beef.
How Much Bison is Consumed?
Approximately 1 million
pounds of bison is consumed each month by
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; use within 3 to 5
days, or freeze (0 °F). If kept frozen
continuously, it will be safe indefinitely.
There are three ways to defrost meat: in the
refrigerator, in cold water, and in the
microwave. Never defrost on the counter or
in other locations. It's best to plan ahead
for slow, safe thawing in the refrigerator.
To defrost 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
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
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.
Since it is very lean and
lacks fat marbling, bison can cook faster
than other red meats.
- Care should be taken to
not overcook bison.
- 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.
- For safety, cook ground
bison meat to 160 °F.
- Roasts, steaks, and
chops should be loosely covered with foil
and braised for 1 hour; internal
temperatures should read 145 °F (medium
rare), 160 °F (medium), or 170 °F (well
- Less tender cuts should
be braised (roasted or simmered with a
small amount of liquid in a tightly
covered pan) or stewed.
Purchase bison products before any "Sell-By"
dates expire. Because such 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 cut-up meat
within 2 days of purchase; larger cuts
such as roasts and steaks, within 3 to 5
- 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.
For more information about bison, see the
National Bison Association Web site: