I have recently, for the most part, given up beef.

I’m not a vegetarian – far from it. I’m not fighting for some political cause. It’s just that, more and more, when I crave red meat, I want bison. Grilled steak? Bison sirloin. Burger night? Bison burger. Tacos? Bison skirt steak. Bolognese? Ground bison. Braised short ribs? Braised bison!

My love for bison has blossomed because it features most of the best qualities of beef, without that lead weight developing in my stomach afterwards. Bison is hearty and rich, and pairs well with big red wines (try something from the Rhone), yet it is much leaner, which means that, after I eat bison, I actually feel good!

The hardcore beef lovers among you, of course, will sneer, and say that leanness = blandness. Bison, however, has enough gamy flavor that it mostly makes up for the missing fat. If you love yourself a big, fatty porterhouse, of course, bison may let you down. Compared to a filet, a burger, or even a New York strip, however, bison stands tall.

In addition, bison is a truly local meat; these tasty hulks (which are often confused with, but not actually buffalo) are the only bovines native to North America. When cows were imported to this continent in the 1600s, there were an estimated 40-60 million bison roaming the plains. During the Gold Rushes of the 1800s, however, bison were killed off in huge numbers, almost going extinct. Today, small farmers, such as Backyard Bison in Coopersburg, PA – about an hour north of Philly – are bringing bison back. (There are approximately 500K in North America today.)

Backyard Bison, which is run by a friendly gentleman named Rod who’s always quick to suggest a recipe with your purchase, offers up a plethora of bison cuts including burgers, steaks, ribs, roasts, sausages, jerky and more. Though you can drive up to the farm in Coopersburg on Saturdays (10:30-3:30), Rod is also a regular attendee to the farmers markets in Phoenixville (Saturdays 9am-1pm), Havertown (Wednesdays 3-7pm) and Emmaus (Sundays 10am-2pm). I heartily recommend the sirloin steaks, ground bison for burgers, and short ribs come fall and winter braising time.

Commercial bison can also be found regularly at Wegmans and at many Whole Foods locations.

Originally posted on Epikur / The Wine School of Philadelphia.

Photo by Rich Flynn