By Carl Hanson

Bison, it isn't just the other red meat. Actually, it's America's original red meat, having fed Native peoples for many millennia before the founding of the United States.

These days, bison meat is quickly gaining in popularity, and with good reason. The meat is lean -- leaner than beef, yes, but also leaner than chicken. And bison are grass-fed, which adds healthy omega-3 fatty acids to the meat. Bison benefit from being sustainably raised, without hormones or general doses of antibiotics. Plus, free-ranging bison, as a species, are not as domesticated as modern cattle, which makes buffalo meat particularly attractive for people following a Paleo Diet. Yes, there's a lot to love about bison meat.

Bison vs. Buffalo

Technically, the species name is Bison bison. And there are water buffalo (Asia) and Cape buffalo (Africa), which are completely different species than American bison. But in common usage, either word works. So how did the word buffalo come to describe American bison? One theory: French explorers in North America called the teeming herds of bison that they encountered on the wind-swept Plains, "les boeufs," which for English speakers, morphed into "buffalo." Another theory: Early Portuguese explorers thought our American bison looked like the bufalo they were familiar with in the Old World.

Choosing Bison Meat

Some bison are entirely grass-fed; others start off with grass and are finished with grain, typically corn, in feedlots, as is common with cattle raised for beef. Some people prefer the consistent taste and texture of grass-finished bison, which may be more reminiscent of beef. But either way, bison meat is much leaner than beef.

Cooking Tips

Lean buffalo meat cooks fast. You don't want to overcook the meat or it will dry out. For buffalo burgers, sear the meat quickly to create a crust, and then turn the heat down and finish cooking. However, certain cuts, like chuck roasts, benefit from moist, slow cooking (chilis and stews).

Let's look at some recipes:

Colorado Buffalo Chili

"This spicy chili recipe uses ground buffalo," says Cornpop. "To step up the heat, use different peppers and experiment with the seasonings. This gets even better if you let it sit overnight. The chili is so good you'll need to find another way to use up your cheese and crackers."

Photo by Zndrson

Grilled Bison Burgers

"This was THE best bison burger we ever had," says Guio. "It was tasty, juicy and with just enough of a kick. This is our new go-to recipe."

Spicy Orange Bison Balls

"This recipe is inspired by the retro classic cocktail meatballs in grape jelly," says Chef John. "I took that idea, along with my love of spicy orange beef, and came up with this combination." Instead of beef, this recipe calls for lower-fat ground bison meat and a simple sauce of orange marmalade, chili sauce, soy sauce, and rice vinegar.

Bison Stew

Another great, moist method for cooking healthy bison. "This is a great tasting and easy stew using bison meat," raves IMCookingNow. "Bison is lower in fat, calories, and cholesterol than most other meats. It's great for a heart-healthy diet."

Bacon-Wrapped Buffalo Meatloaf

"Most people who replace their ground beef with buffalo, in recipes like meatballs, burgers, and meatloaf, are usually disappointed. Ground buffalo is much leaner than ground beef," says Chef John, "which is the biggest challenge. It's the fat that provides most of the flavor and moisture. Also, for whatever reason, pre-packaged buffalo is ground very fine, almost to a paste, which can lead to a rubbery meatloaf, unless you use a few tricks."

Bison Fajitas with Guacamole Salad

Here's one from the Bison Council. You'll stir-fry strips of bison flank steak with bell peppers, onions, and jalapeno peppers. Enjoy them wrapped in warm tortillas with salsa, sour cream, and guacamole.

Panzanella Salad with Bison Flank Steak

One more from the Bison Council. This time slices of flavorful grilled bison flank steak are served with an Italian-inspired bread salad with tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and basil leaves. For maximum tenderness, slice the steak thinly across the grain.

Want more? Check out our collection of Bison Recipes. Or graze over to our Paleo Recipes.