Special care will get best out of bison

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Bison. It's the original American grass-fed meat.

Before cows came to this continent, enormous herds of bison were roaming the Great Plains. After a long period of decline, there are now hundreds of thousands of bison living on ranches in North America. Although conservation efforts helped restore the herds, it was America acquiring a taste for bison that brought the numbers back.

For the record, "bison" is not "buffalo." Although members of the same scientific family, bison are native to North America while buffalo are a species native to Africa and Asia.

George McKerrow, co-founder and chief executive officer of Ted's Montana Grill, relishes the resurgence of the bison. "Ranchers like my partner Ted Turner are saving a part of North American culture and history, putting these animals back where they belong. Since they eat grass and wander great distances, they're much less demanding on the environment than cattle," he said.

McKerrow also values bison for its health benefits, "It's lower in fat and cholesterol than beef, it's richer in omega-3s than salmon and it's one of the top five foods to eat for iron replacement."

Turner, founder and chairman of Ted's Montana Grill, is the nation's largest bison rancher with 55,000 head. McKerrow says when you compare that to the 100 million cattle in the United States, you can see it's a small proportion of the total market for red meat.

But the interest in bison for dinner is growing. Ted's Montana Grill is part of the reason for the increase in demand. "We know from experience, you can create demand in consumers by serving them something in a restaurant. The customer enjoys it, and they go to the grocery store and say, 'I want to buy bison,'" McKerrow said.

The first Ted's Montana Grill opened in 2002. "I had just retired from RARE Hospitality and had a concept, a classic American grill with gourmet hamburgers. Ted and I adapted it to bison, and now we have 44 restaurants in 16 states," McKerrow said.

Of the 25 million pounds of bison that went to market last year, McKerrow says his restaurants served 2 million pounds. They buy whole muscle meat and butcher it themselves, grinding the meat for their burgers throughout the day. Bison accounts for 46 percent of the restaurant's total sales.

At home, bison is the only red meat the McKerrows eat. "We eat ground bison a lot for hamburgers, meatloaf, spaghetti sauce. We love short ribs. We eat bison pot roast from chuck. Bison filets are 97 percent fat free. Grill a bison filet medium rare and put it on a salad — that's heart-healthy, clean food," he said.

McKerrow and Ted's Montana Grill's corporate chef Chris Raucci explained how to cook bison at home.

"The key to enjoying your home-cooked bison is not to treat it like a piece of beef. We hear all the time of someone buying a beautiful piece of bison, throwing it on the grill and cooking it like beef in terms of timing and temperature, and then it tastes like shoe leather, dehydrated and tough," McKerrow said.

He said because bison is so lean, it should either be cooked low and slow, as in a meatloaf or a braised pasta sauce, or for a steak, it should be cooked rarer than beef. "You have to cook it less time. Even burgers are best eaten at no more than medium done. If you're a well-done meat eater, bison will be good, but you're not going to get the full flavor and taste," McKerrow said.

At Ted's Montana Grill, they grind the bison for their burgers daily. Packaged ground bison at the grocery store has been condensed into a small brick. Take a minute to loosen up the meat before forming your burgers. A light, loose mixture will make a better burger.

Raucci says when cooking bison on a charcoal or gas grill, oiling the grates is essential since bison is so lean. When designing the restaurants, they chose to go with flat top grills to help retain the meat juices rather than having them drip through grill grates.

"If you want to grill your bison, get one side of the grill hot so you can brown the burger or steak over high heat, and then move the meat to a cooler side to finish the cooking indirectly," Raucci said.

The folks from Ted's Montana Grill share their secrets for a delicious burger or steak. Top off your meal with ice cream and an all-American cookie.

Ted's Special Spice Mixture

Ted Turner shared his recipe for this special spice mixture with Martha Stewart when Ted's Montana Grill opened its first New York City location in 2006. It's a nice seasoning mixture for bison, beef or chicken.

Total time: 5 minutes; Makes: 2 tablespoons

1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt

1 1/2 teaspoons garlic salt

1 teaspoon seasoned salt

1 teaspoon onion salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

In a small jar, combine coarse salt, garlic salt, seasoned salt, onion salt and pepper. Put on lid and shake vigorously. Store in jar for up to 3 months. You'll be able to use the salt more easily if you put it in a salt shaker with large enough holes.

Per 1/4-teaspoon serving: 1 calorie (none from fat), trace protein, trace carbohydrates, no fiber, no fat, no cholesterol, 369 milligrams sodium.

Ted's Montana Grill's New Mexico Bison Burger

At Ted's Montana Grill, they roast the chiles by dropping them in a deep fryer for 2 minutes to blister the skins, then removing them and covering for 5 minutes to steam the peppers. The blistered skins are peeled from the chiles, and they're ready to be used. You may want to roast your chiles over an open flame to achieve the same blistered skin rather than frying them. Do not rinse the chiles with water as you're peeling them as this removes much of the flavor.

Total time: 10 minutes, plus time to preheat the grill

Serves: 1

Fresh Anaheim chiles are widely available these days and are also available at farmers markets.

8 ounces freshly ground bison

1/2 teaspoon Ted's Special Spice Mixture (see recipe), divided

1 kaiser roll, toasted

1/2 roasted and peeled Anaheim chile

1 1/2 ounces grated pepper jack

1/4 cup Ted's Montana Grill's Guacamole (see recipe)

1 tablespoon Ted's Montana Grill's Spicy Tomato Jam (see recipe)

Preheat grill to medium high. If using a charcoal grill, have one hot side and one side for indirect cooking. If using a gas grill, use all burners to get the grill up to temperature and then shut off one section when ready to cook. When internal temperature is 375 degrees, the grill is ready for the bison burgers. Lightly oil the grates.

Form the ground bison into a loose patty. It should have rough edges and should never be compacted.

Holding the burger over the grill, use the seasoning shaker to "rain" a third of the Ted's Special Spice Mixture onto one side of the burger.

Place the burger seasoned side down on hot side of the grill and repeat the "rain" process to the unseasoned side. Cover the grill. Cook the burger halfway to desired temperature (generally, the halfway point for a medium burger is 4 minutes), uncover and gently flip the burger and move it to the cooler side. Never press the burger with the spatula. When the burger is flipped, season the burger a third time using the "rain" method and place the green chile on the grill so it will lightly char. Cover the grill and cook for 2 minutes.

Uncover grill, add cheese in the center of the burger and cover the grill again. When the cheese has melted, about 2 minutes, uncover the grill and lay the chile over the burger. When the burger reaches the appropriate temperature, remove the burger from the grill and place on the bottom of the toasted bun.

Top burger with guacamole and spread evenly over the surface of the burger. Spread tomato jam on the surface of the top of the bun and place on top of the burger. Serve immediately.

Per serving: 648 calories (percent of calories from fat, 39), 65 grams protein, 33 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, 28 grams fat (12 grams saturated), 178 milligrams cholesterol, 1,585 milligrams sodium.

Ted's Montana Grill's Guacamole

Total time: 15 minutes; Makes: 2 1/4 cups

1/2 cup chopped fresh tomatoes, cut into 3/8-inch dice

2 tablespoons chopped white onion, cut into 3/8-inch dice

1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1 tablespoon minced jalapeño, seeds removed

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

3 avocados

In a medium bowl, combine tomatoes, onion, lime juice, jalapeno and salt. Stir together. Taste for seasoning. Can be made ahead and refrigerated up to 1 day in advance.When ready to serve, cut avocados in half and remove pits. Peel off skin and dice avocado flesh. Toss together with tomato mixture, being careful not to mash the avocado. Serve immediately.

Per 1/4-cup serving: 112 calories (percent of calories from fat, 76), 1 gram protein, 6 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 10 grams fat (2 grams saturated), no cholesterol, 60 milligrams sodium.

Ted's Montana Grill's Spicy Tomato Jam

Total time: 30 minutes, plus cooling time; Makes: 4 cups

3 tablespoons olive oil blend

1 cup diced onions, cut into 3/8-inch dice

3 tablespoons chopped garlic

2 cups canned diced tomatoes

1/2 cup light brown sugar

1/2 cup red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons chipotle puree

1 tablespoon honey

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 teaspoon oregano

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon salt

In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onions and saute 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook 1 minute more.While onions are cooking, in a large bowl, combine tomatoes, brown sugar, vinegar, chipotle puree, honey, tomato paste, oregano, cumin and salt. Add to skillet with onions and garlic and simmer 15 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.

In the bowl of a food processor, puree tomato mixture until smooth. Chill and refrigerate. May be made up to 2 weeks in advance and kept refrigerated.

Per 1-tablespoon serving: 17 calories (percent of calories from fat, 36), trace protein, 2 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, 1 gram fat (no saturated fat), no cholesterol, 56 milligrams sodium.

Ted's Montana Grill's Filet

Total time: 10 minutes, plus time to preheat the grill; Serves: 1

Make it easy on yourself by selecting your filets based on your preference for how well done you want your steak: thinner cuts for medium-well or well done, thicker barrel-shaped filets for rare, medium-rare and medium.

1 (8-ounce) bison filet

1 tablespoon olive oil blend, divided

1/2 teaspoon Ted's Special Spice Mixture (see recipe), divided

Remove filet from refrigerator at least 20 minutes before ready to grill.

Preheat grill to hot. If using a charcoal grill, have one hot side and one side for indirect cooking. If using a gas grill, use all burners to get the grill up to temperature and then shut off one section when ready to cook. When internal temperature is 425 degrees, the grill is ready for the steak. Lightly oil the grates.

Brush one side of the filet with half the olive oil blend and use a shaker to "rain" Ted's Special Spice Mixture onto one side of the steak. Place the steak seasoned side down on the grill and repeat the "rain" process to the unseasoned side. Cover the grill. Cook the steak halfway to desired temperature (generally, the halfway point for a medium steak is 5 minutes), uncover the grill, brush remaining olive oil blend on the steak and flip the steak over, moving it to the cooler side of the grill. When the steak is flipped, season the steak a third time using the "rain" method.

When the steak is done to your preference, remove from the grill and plate immediately. Cover lightly and allow to rest 5 minutes before serving.

Per serving: 359 calories (percent of calories from fat, 50), 46 grams protein, 2 grams carbohydrates, no fiber, 22 grams fat (6 grams saturated), 140 milligrams cholesterol, 808 milligrams sodium.

Ted's Montana Grill's Snickerdoodles

Total time: 30 minutes, plus chilling time

Makes: 12 4-inch cookies

1 3/4 cups granulated sugar, divided

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature

1/4 cup vegetable shortening

2 eggs

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 tablespoons cinnamon Ice cream, if desiredIn the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine 1 1/2 cups sugar, butter and vegetable shortening. Beat 2 minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed. Turn mixer to low speed and add eggs. Beat until combined. Turn off mixer.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda, cream of tartar and salt. Add to the butter mixture and using low speed, mix until just combined. Remove dough, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a small bowl, combine remaining 1/4 cup sugar with cinnamon.

Lightly grease a 1/4 cup measure and use it to scoop out 12 balls of cookie dough. Roll each ball in the cinnamon sugar and arrange 6 balls on each baking sheet. Bake about 5 minutes, then rotate cookie sheet and continue baking until cookies are just set, about 5 more minutes. Remove from oven, allow to cool slightly on baking sheet and then move to wire rack to finish cooling. Cookies are best served fresh, but may be made up to 1 day in advance. Serve with ice cream if desired.

Per cookie: 321 calories (percent of calories from fat, 31), 4 grams protein, 52 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 11 grams fat (6 grams saturated), 51 milligrams cholesterol, 207 milligrams sodium.