Adding All-American Bison to Your Summer Menu

Looking to change up your summer menu?

Have guests been asking for paleo, sustainable or clean-eating options?  

Bison might fit the bill. Recently selected as new national mammal in the United States, it could add an All-American touch to your summer offerings.

Ted’s Montana Grill’s Head Corporate Chef Chris Raucci tells Modern Restaurant Management magazine summer is prime time for grilling making bison the perfect protein to add to a summer menu.

“Grilling brings out the naturally delicious, slightly sweet flavor of bison, and you can have fun with it by adding fresh, unique ingredients to make a flavorful dish. At Ted’s, we have more than 15 iconic burger varieties.”

He said the restaurant markets bison to guests unfamiliar with it is by educating them on the flavor and health benefits and by highlighting the many bison menu options.

“We have the largest selection of bison than any other restaurant, including unique items like bison chili, bison pot roast or bison nachos,” he said. “It’s a priority at Ted’s that our staff is fully knowledgeable and able to educate our guests on the benefits of eating bison and the different ways to enjoy it. We offer small samples of bison burgers to our guests that are hesitant to order it, but once they experience the flavor, they typically change their minds very quickly.”

The Avalon Burger at Ted's Montana Grill
The Avalon Burger at Ted’s Montana Grill

The U.S. bison business has grown into a $340 million category at the retail and foodservice level, with continued growth primarily constrained by the limited supply of market-ready animals, according the National Bison Association.

“The bison market is enjoying strong stability and profitability, with growth projected to continue as long as we can expand herds across the country,” said Dave Carter, executive director. According to the association’s annual Economic Size of the Bison Business model, sales of bison meat in retail stores and restaurants have grown by 22.3 percent over the past two years.

Bison wins rave reviews for its health benefits as it’s a great choice for those following a paleo or clean-eating regimen.

“Bison is low in cholesterol, low in sodium, and a great source of Omega3,” noted Raucci. “It is a protein-rich, nutrient-filled meat that also happens to have a tremendous flavor that is mildly sweeter than beef, but never gamey. Bison is higher in iron and protein than any other meat. It is the leanest protein you can find, including beef, pork, chicken and salmon. Bison are also processed as little as possible, never subjected to hormones or steroids.”

When it comes to sustainability, there are numerous reasons that make Bison a standout selection. Bison is specifically sustainable as a species since bison have evolved in tandem with the grasses native to the North American ecosystem, according to Raucci. Their hooves function as natural tractors, aerating the earth and rotating seeds. Without Bison, grass produces about 30 percent more than it can decompose. They do not require artificial shelter and are adapted to climate extremes. Bison are disease resistant and require little veterinarian care. Industry protocols limit antibiotics and regulations prohibit the use of artificial growth hormones.

“Bison restoration remains the central platform to Ted’s sustainability efforts, and the main reason why our co-founders started Ted’s 14 years ago,” noted Raucci. “Our actions pioneered the effort to preserve and grow the nation’s bison herds. By making bison a viable commodity, demand for bison increased which brought more ranchers into the market to raise bison.”

If you’re concerned about cooking with bison, the chef offers a few tips gleaned from his years of experience.

“At Ted’s, we use a flat top grill to help lock in the juices of the lean meat. If you want to simply enjoy the flavor of the meat, we recommend preparing a bison steak with sea salt and fresh ground pepper. The key to preparing bison that is juicy and not dry is to not overcook it. Bison shouldn’t be cooked past medium or medium rare since it is such a lean protein.  One technique we use at Ted’s is we dome our burgers, which helps lock in the juice from the top and the bottom while searing on the flat top grill.”