It was a great finish to a perfect day. After snapping pictures of buffalo on our drive through Custer State Park in South Dakota, my cowgirl friends and I arrived at Legends Steakhouse in the old mining and gambling town of Deadwood.
I ordered a small filet, my favorite most tender cut. Jana and Chris perused the menu and after Jana talked Chris into sharing a serving of dry-aged buffalo ribeye steak, she broke into a chorus of “Buffalo girls won’t you come out tonight …”
To be sure, this was not buffalo-style chicken. American buffalo, much of which is raised in North and South Dakota, is really bison. True buffalo — such as the Asian water buffalo — reside in countries such as India and China.
Bison and buffalo are similar to cattle, I learned. They are ruminant animals that can convert grass and other plant foods into high-quality protein. And like cattle, they produce milk. In fact, buffalo milk is a food source in many Asian countries.
Bison meat doesn’t come from the herd of 1,300 we saw roaming in the wildlife preserve of Custer State Park, however. It is produced commercially much like beef — on privately owned grassland ranches. In fact, The National Bison Association (bisoncentral.com) calls their product “Nature’s Original Plant-based Protein.”
The girls were pleasantly surprised at the rich flavor of their bison steak which was a deeper red color than my beef tenderloin. I stole a bite and was also surprised at the tenderness and pleasant taste.
What’s the nutritional differences between bison and beef? In general, bison meat tends to be lower in fat and calories than beef. However, that depends on which cut you choose, I learned.
Using the United States Department of Agriculture National Nutrient Database, I compared a 3-ounce portion (you’ll get at least twice this much in most restaurants) of lean bison ribeye with lean beef ribeye. Both were similar in calories, protein, saturated fat and cholesterol. Beef was slightly higher in iron and total fat. Healthful monounsaturated fat was slightly higher in beef. This cut of beef also contains twice as much zinc — an essential mineral for our immune function, wound healing and sense of taste and smell — as the same cut of buffalo.
We didn’t see any on this trip but there is also an animal called a “beefalo” — a hybrid between bison (3/8) and cattle (5/8). Not surprising, these animals are pretty hardy in harsh climates. And according to the American Beefalo Association (beefalomeats.com) their meat is lower in fat and cholesterol than beef, chicken or cod.
Thanks for the memories, buffalo gals!
Barbara Quinn is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator affiliated with Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula in California. She is the author of “Quinn-Essential Nutrition” (Westbow Press, 2015). Email her at to firstname.lastname@example.org.