Burger Nation

We are a burger nation. It doesn't matter if you shun beef; the concept of a hot patty bookended by a bun is ingrained in our collective consciousness. The burger is who we are. It is part of the daily fabric of being an American.


Bison burger. (Kim O'Donnel)

We commune over charcoal fires for burgers. We scream our orders through drive-thru windows and eat them in our cars. We know how we like them, down to the nitty-gritty specifics, such as doneness, cheese, condiments and fries.

"Burgers 'R' Us."

Beef aside, the choices are all over the map in burger world.

Pescatarians, you too can have a burger from the sea, be it salmon, tuna or shrimp. Come to think of it, I think I've had a grouper burger.

Vegheads, your patty offerings aren't just crumbly and legume-based anymore; a miracle called texturized soy protein has allowed vegetarians to eat burgers that look (and nearly taste like) the meaty version. (More on that in tomorrow's blog.)

And as you might imagine, carnivores have the most choices; there's the lamb burger, turkey burger, ostrich burger, bambi burger -- and last but not least (and the subject of today's post) -- the bison burger.

Also known as buffalo, the bison, my fellow Americans, is the largest terrestrial mammal indigenous to North America. They're free roaming creatures that like to eat grass, and although mammoth, are mean and lean.

What that means at the table is a leaner piece of meat that is lower in fat and calories. According to figures from the National Bison Association Web site, a 100-gram (3.5 ounces) serving of cooked bison contains 82 mg cholesterol, 2.4 g saturated fat and 143 calories.

Although the same amount of choice beef is only slightly higher in cholesterol, at 86 mg, it is substantially higher in saturated fat (10 g) and calories (219).

But how does this leaner, lower-cal burger taste? I like it. To me, it's got a true "beefy" flavor; because it is less fatty than its cattle counterpart, a bison burger is more intense, perhaps richer in flavor. Some call it sweeter, but I don't know if I agree. What I like most of all about the bison burger is that I don't feel bloated after eating, a common complaint I have about beef burgers. The meat feels cleaner on the tongue, lighter in the belly.

Curious but tentative? Go gradually and order a bison burger off the menu at Ted's Montana Grill, the restaurant chain owned by former media mogul-turned-mega rancher Ted Turner. In addition to four locations in northern Virginia, TMG has set up shop in 17 other states east of Colorado.

If you're still game, consider buying some ground bison for home use. Locally, bison is available from the guys at Cibola Farms in Culpeper, Va. In addition to ground bison ($5.10/pound), they bring several other cuts to area farmer's markets (including Freshfarm Market at Dupont Circle and Falls Church, which are open year round).

On a larger commercial scale, ground bison (labeled sometimes as buffalo) is available at Whole Foods ($5.49/pound), which carries Carmen Creek, a brand from Canada.

Should you embark on the bison trail, keep in mind the following tidbits:

Because it's leaner than beef, bison needs some added fat and flavor zip. I like to mix in a tablespoon of olive oil, some chopped onions and whatever fresh herbs I've got on hand. A teaspoon of salt is a good standard for one pound of meat, and it likes the addition of black pepper. Play around with different flavor combinations and see what you think.

Its lean quality also impacts cooking time. Bison does not like to be overcooked; it will really taste like a hockey puck, so be careful. If panfrying during the winter, one good trick is to keep pan covered and cook over lowish heat after you've flipped the first side.

Although not a fan of adding a beaten egg to ground meat, bison likes the extra body and fat.

As seen in the photo above, I served my bison burger on a toasted English muffin rubbed with a garlic clove. I love the way an unsuspecting toaster treat supports the weight of a burger yet offers a tender tooth on the outside. Try it!

And as I mentioned earlier, veggie burgers are on the menu tomorrow.

So...ever eaten a bison burger? Share your tales in the comments area below.

By Kim ODonnel |  January 11, 2007; 10:49 AM ET Meat
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Comments

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The Museum of the American Indian on the National Mall offers bison burgers (the Mitsitam cafe).

I ate one a couple of weeks ago (with a slice of cheese) and it was quite good!

Posted by: R | January 11, 2007 11:42 AM

i think bison burgers are yummy too! and lower in fat than most beef!

Posted by: s | January 11, 2007 11:56 AM

Bison burgers are wonderful. I seem to recall having one at a bar/pub-type place the other week and thinking it complemented a beer quite nicely....might just have to go back one of these days, the thought is making me hungry! :)

Posted by: Anonymous | January 11, 2007 12:11 PM

I get frozen bison burgers at Trader Joes. They have two kinds, one fully cooked and one uncooked - I get the uncooked. They are just ground bison with nothing added, and I don't add anything either. The most I ever do is re-shape the patty to make it thicker. I either pan-fry or grill, leaving them medium-rare. Delicious and convenient, and great to have in the freezer. There is enough fat in these so that no fat need be added, and the flavor is so good that no seasoning is needed. Sauteed mushrooms or onions are nice for topping, but the burgers are good by themselves.

Posted by: MH | January 11, 2007 12:29 PM

They also serve bison burgers at the Brickskeller on 22nd Street NW near Dupont Circle.

Phyllis Richman, the Post's former food critic, called it the best burger in D.C.

Posted by: Gregg Wiggins | January 11, 2007 1:05 PM

Another vote for the bison burger. It is just as low in fat as ground chicken or turkey (if not lower) and it doesn't taste like chicken. Ground bison also works in chili and other ground beef dishes.

I've made goat burgers from ground goat (from Cibola farms), minced onion, minced mint and a dash of cider vinegar. While goat tastes a lot like lamb, it seems to be lower in fat. There seems to be very little fat left in the skillet, as opposed to ground lamb which sometimes swims in fat.

Posted by: WMA | January 11, 2007 1:10 PM

Ah, another reason to love the Brickskellar (sorry, just been a fan for a while of that place). :)

Posted by: to Gregg | January 11, 2007 1:42 PM

Probably I'll post this again tomorrow, but my husband and I did a veggie burger taste test over the weekend. We tested three brands: Morningstar Farms, Boca, and Generic Safeway, and for all three we used their "plain" veggie burger.

Morningstar Farms won on taste and texture, but had roughly 2x the fat and calories of the #2 burger, Boca. The Generic Burger was kind of gross - hadn't been processed enough to make it less-veggie like. So, we'll finish our Morningstar box, but I think we'll head to Boca from now on. We are meat eaters, so the veggie burger is a diet item for us.

Posted by: akmitc | January 11, 2007 1:50 PM

Ostrich burgers would be great. It is a red meat but low in cholesterol. I have had grilled ostrich steaks and they are great.

Posted by: Steve | January 11, 2007 2:03 PM

Fuddrucker's used to have Ostrich burgers on their menu. I don't think they do anymore though. Too bad.

Posted by: jlr | January 11, 2007 2:27 PM

Please exclude me and lots of other American's from your generalization. I find it offensive. No wonder American's suffer from a 30 or 40% obesity rate.

"The burger is who we are. It is part of the daily fabric of being an American."

Posted by: michael nine | January 11, 2007 2:33 PM

Nothing like a big, fat, juicy burger!

Posted by: Mom | January 11, 2007 2:54 PM

The blog is called "Mighty appetite", not "sanctimonious-throw cold water on food enjoyment ramblings"

Next on list - try a bison burger!

Posted by: LABC | January 11, 2007 3:00 PM

Besides the burgers, I have found bison steaks and roasts to be very good. You just have to adjust the temperature and cooking time.

Posted by: Henry | January 11, 2007 3:06 PM

Man, I'm glad I hive in the hinterlands sometimes.

I can get Bison patties for about $3.00/lb. Yummy on the grill, better than beef. Author is right though, don't overcook or you'll get a hockey puck.

Posted by: MCBob | January 11, 2007 3:17 PM

I've had an ostrich burger before. It was very good, kind of like a turkey burger but just a little bit closer in taste and texture to a beef burger.

Also, doesn't one of the box restaurants do Bison Burgers? Ruby Tuesdays maybe?

Posted by: Anonymous | January 11, 2007 3:34 PM

LOVE LOVE LOVE the bison burger - and like bison for other uses as well - and is FANTASTIC in chili.
Ted's also has a Bison Pot Roast that I do love.
I normally eat my meat medium to medium well, but eat bison more medium to medium rare to keep it moist.
You cannot go wrong with a bison burger!

Posted by: kate | January 11, 2007 3:37 PM

silly question -- arne't buffalo still endangered?

Posted by: hmmm | January 11, 2007 4:10 PM

Bison is a fantastic alternative to ground beef. In fact my partner eschews beef completely but I've been able to re-introduce red meat into our meals at home by using bison, which is lower in fat and higher in protein than both chicken and turkey breast ounce per ounce. I've had bison burgers at Ruby Tuesdays and even at a diner once in Connecticut. (BTW Teaism used to have a kickin' ostrich burger too that I really liked.)

At the Dupont Farmers Market, Cibola Farms is a great source for bison flank steak, brisket, ground meat and ribs. I made braised bison ribs for my family last Sunday and everyone loved them. And I often mix bison with ground turkey breast to make meatballs, meatloaf, bolognese, and chili. I think as it is a leaner meat, it requires heavier seasoning than beef, but that's how I generally cook anyway. I've gotten so used to bison and I'm glad to have a GRASS FED source for red meat in my diet on occasion.

If cows were grass fed instead of corn fed, they'd be much higher in omega 3 fatty acids and better for us, even the fat. But as long as the U.S. continues to overproduce corn to feed cattle, that ain't gonna change!

Posted by: Sean | January 11, 2007 4:27 PM

A good burger of any type deserves a good bun, one soft enough to bite into without the burger scooting out the other side, but sturdy enough to hold up to juices. I like to make them. The best are potato rolls and English muffins are ok too.

Last night I made English muffins using the recipe in Peter Reinhart's "The Bread Baker's Apprentice." They turned out rather thick due to his method of forming them like a roll, but they were very good. Much better than store bought. I've tried other recipes but haven't found the perfect one yet, but I would do this again.

Posted by: Fran | January 11, 2007 4:29 PM

I live in Colorado where it is easy to find ground buffalo. Instead of adding olive oil (with its calories and fat), I make a thin burger and cook it a shorter time. This avoids the problem I had of overcooked exterior and undercooked interior. Also, if you have a kid who wants a bison for a pet, I highly recommend not calling it a buffalo burger when planning your meals. The child will get extremely upset if he thinks you are eating the buffalo down the street he likes to stop and look at.

Posted by: Duke | January 11, 2007 4:31 PM

For those who observe religious dietary restrictions, there is kosher ground bison. I add ground pepper, garlic powder, ketchup and lite soy sauce (or teryaki sauce), and mix together with the kosher bison before cooking.

Because of the lean nature of the meat, I cook it in the oven, on a cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil (and sprayed with Pam), for 7 minutes on a side at 350 degrees. It comes out beautifully, and it is very tasty.

Posted by: Tom | January 11, 2007 4:44 PM

Great idea! I've had a bison burger before at restaurants and love it. I must point out, however, that if you feel the need to add something such as olive oil or egg to the meat to give it more body, you basically negating the health benefits of eating bison meat in the first place (i.e. less fat). Stick with the herbs and a little bit of salt, and definately add some moisture lending veggies, such as chopped onion, into the meat before you make your patties. Buon appetito!

Posted by: Kat | January 11, 2007 4:47 PM

Oh please michael - find something real to get offended about! The point is that lots of people like burgers and this article is for them. How do people with such tender sensibilities make it through each day?

Posted by: Arlington | January 11, 2007 4:54 PM

There are really two types of veggie burgers -- the "fake meat" kind, which are the soy/TVP ones, and the "vegetable patty" ones, which are made of actual vegetables, usually with some soy or TVP. Personally, I prefer the second kind and Dr. Praegers are the best. Boca Burgers are the absolute worst.

Posted by: veg | January 11, 2007 4:59 PM

Wild bison are only "endangered" in the sense that they are nowhere near their historical numbers, but even they are fairly secure overall these days - you can look it up here: www.natureserve.org/explorer

Farmed bison, which is where your burgers come from, are not protected in any way. Just like many wild salmon populations are endangered and protected, but the farmed variety are not.

Posted by: Rosslyn | January 11, 2007 4:59 PM

Screw low fat burgers. No fat no taste. Prime organic grass fed ground beef approx 20% fat. Yuuummm! From the Organic Butcher in McLean. Grilled on a Weber with real hardwood charcoal on a Thomas's English muffin w/ bacon strips grilled onion, shrooms and blue cheese. A cheesburger in Paradise. Vegans and Vegatarians should be rounded up and sent to GITMO and force fed red meat big juicy rare prime rib after watching it being slaughtered! Nothing beats raising and then picking out your steer or lamb and watching it being slaughtered and butchered. Little Fred or Mary taste so good on the grill!

Posted by: vaherder | January 11, 2007 5:06 PM

Ruby Tuesday's does indeed have bison burgers on their menu, and they're pretty darned good. Shuckers, a restaurant/bar in the Fells Point part of Baltimore, also serves a good bison burger. I make it a point to get one every time I go there to take in a football game...

Posted by: markjpm | January 11, 2007 5:06 PM

Hey va herder - why are you so threatened by vegetarians? I'm not one but I realize that some people are and there's nothing wrong with that. If you like meat that's great but nobody really cares.

Posted by: idiotproof | January 11, 2007 5:15 PM

Love my bison burgers - and I agree with Kim, you don't ever feel overly full after eating one. And if you're worried about overcooking, you might want to check out the January, 2007 issue of Cook's Illustrated - they offer a few techniques on how to cook burgers to a safe temperature yet keep them moist.

Posted by: Chasmosaur | January 11, 2007 6:30 PM

The Reef in Adams Morgan has a really good bison burger, too!

And in response to Kat - a bison burger with (a little) olive oil is probably still healthier than a beef burger, since the added fats are of the vegetable variety.

Posted by: lizturtle | January 11, 2007 6:36 PM

Oh wait - it was the July, 2006 issue - it looks like they may have updated it online this month....

Posted by: Chasmosaur | January 11, 2007 6:41 PM

I got some at Martin's which is a Giant Foods look-a-like and mixed it with Lauras Gound Beef for sweedish meataballs. I did the eggs,Romano Cheese, breadcrums,parcely. and fried those little fellas in an olive oil skillet. I then got Heinz Chile Sauce and Welches Grape Jelly blended and warmed the meatballs in them.
While passable only when warm, I thought a little yucky when trying toi wolf them down cold.

Posted by: William P Marseglia | January 11, 2007 7:00 PM

Bison burger sighting at Teaism, Dupont Circle location, for $8.50. One more place to add to the list. Thanks to all of you for an impassioned conversation!

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | January 11, 2007 7:05 PM

I spend time in the summer in Wyoming, where it's pretty easy to get ground bison and bison steaks. I agree with the posters; it's not necessary to add oil or fat to bison burger if you're careful about not overcooking. Yes, add some chopped onion, salt, pepper. Top with sauteed mushrooms--great idea! If you're not dieting, top a grilled bison steak with some herb butter or garlic butter for moisture and flavor--cook to medium rare at most. Dang it's good! Also, bison pot roast or "hump" roast is dynamite in the Crock Pot with a sliced onion, salt and pepper, maybe a may leaf, and a can of beer.

Posted by: Charlie | January 11, 2007 8:45 PM

I spent a summer on staff at Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico, which had its own bison herd. The herd was so successful they had to thin it quarterly and provided us with bison meat in all its forms (ground, cubed, roasts, ribs) and we loved them all - burgers, chili, pasta, breakfast links, roasts, steaks, cold sliced sandwiches, etc. We marveled at how our western american indian tribes had such an amazing source of sustinance from these magical beasts! The buff would some time charge right thru barb wire fences and never miss a step! I can only hope that they are brought back into the public's care and support to build their numbers. Long live the big 'buffs!!!!!

Posted by: M. BeLaw55 | January 11, 2007 8:52 PM

I had my first buffalo burger (it was billed that way) at the age of eight, way back in the late 1970s. I was on vacation with my family in South Dakota. I remember the experience of having a buffalo burger as being very cool, since most people I knew didn't have buffalo everyday. It was good too.

Posted by: Will | January 11, 2007 9:47 PM

Duke- we used to have a ram named "Meatloaf"- whenever that day of the week came around, we'd all run to the window to make sure he was still around! :)

Tonight I made amazing bison burgers using Kim's suggestions. They were so juicy and full of hamburger flavor. It was definately a winner.

Posted by: Anon | January 14, 2007 9:32 PM

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