This evening I will make my first attempt at grilling a bison steak. The 8-oz. hunk of dark red meat which I purchased yesterday from our humongous H-E-B store here in Beaumont currently sits in the fridge in a baggie with a touch of “extra light in taste” olive oil, a skosh of red wine vinegar, a smidgen of Worcestershire sauce and a sprinkling of black pepper and oregano. Whether that turns out to be the marinade that caught the calf, sort of kind of no pun intended, I shall see.
My cooking plans for my “exquisite” charcoal grill include first searing both sides and cooking without any heat directly touching the meat afterwards. If that doesn’t work and my patience wears out, I can also move it over the hot coals and, to paraphrase an old Navy buddy, cook the “snore” out of it. My friend Danny Jordan, a native of Georgia, once asked by a chef in New Zealand how he preferred his beef steak answered: “I just want all the moo cooked out of it.” If you are able to access that little sound clip I embedded just now — provided by the National Park Service — you will hear a recording of a buffalo grunt or just however you care to characterize it. The NPS says that the sounds bison make range from a “pig-like grunt to an aggressive bellow.“
Human beings, saddled with the character and instincts we have from whatever time and space, often are moved to either pet some fine-looking creature or kill it grave yard dead. I probably would have done the former with a bison — I once petted a couple of grown tigers in a cage and played an improvisational game of hide-and-seek with a leopard in another cage — had it not been for the bison-specific knowledge my Daddy passed along when he was still among the living.
Long-time readers, both of you, may remember this story but what the hay. My Daddy painted signs. This was when signs were still painted by hand. Of course, they may still do it that way “summers or the other,” as Pops used to say. Probably the oddest sign he ever painted, certainly the strangest one I remember his having “written” was for a local sawmill owner who acquired a buffalo herd.
Now it was unusual to see a buffalo herd in my little East Texas hometown. I guess those folks I later encountered while in the Navy and “seeing the world” — people from Australia who naturally figured that because I was from Texas I rode a horse (I had, some) or that I wore a cowboy hat (for a time when I was 5 or 6) — might have expected anywhere in Texas that I had lived would be buffalo-infested. But that herd Mr. Williams had was the first buffalo herd I had ever laid eyes upon and vice versa. It would likewise be negligent of me to not mention that the land on which the herd grazed was not at all conducive to roller-skating, in case you think about the things of which Mr. Roger Miller sang.
All of that aside, the sawmill tycoon Mr. Williams had hired my Dad to paint a number of signs in red and black letters warning: “Danger: Buffalo Cannot Be Trusted.” Silly as that might sound, as if one of the woolly creatures might have cheated the owner at 7-card, the signs were actually a hedge against liability.
Had the following information been available back then, in the late 1970s, it would have been too lengthy for “Signs-by,” as my Dad was sometimes jokingly referred to because of his company’s name, to paint. Again, from the NPS:
“The best description of a bison’s temperament is UNPREDICTABLE. They usually appear peaceful, unconcerned, even lazy, yet they may attack anything, often without warning or apparent reason. To a casual observer, a grazing bison appears slow and clumsy, but he can outrun, out turn, and traverse rougher terrain than all but the fleetest horse. They can move at speeds of up to thirty-five miles per hour and cover long distances at a lumbering gallop.
“Their most obvious weapon is the horns that both male and female have. But their head, with its massive skull, can be used as a battering ram, effectively using the momentum produced by two thousand pounds moving at thirty miles per hour! The hind legs can also be used to kill or maim with devastating effect. At the time bison ran wild, they were rated second only to the Alaska brown bear as a potential killer, more dangerous than the grizzly bear. In the words of early naturalists, they were a dangerous, savage animal who feared no other animal and in prime condition could best any foe. A bull with lowered head, snorting and pawing the ground, with tail stiffly upraised, conveys a universal warning of danger to all nearby that is impossible to ignore!”
Maybe that is more than you want to read, nevertheless, albeit that sign about not trusting buffalo may have been the oddest sign my father ever painted, it certainly was one of his most appropriate works. For you see, Mr. Williams had quite a few people — the curious, the emboldened by stupidity or from what an acquaintance of mine used to call “Jesus in a Jar,” or even those stoned from some illegal but naturally-growing substance — who found their way up to the fence to pet the nice buffaloes. It would have taken only some tragic incident, some one infused with “Sweet Lucy” who met a buffalo head-on with the beast being clocked at 30 mph, to bring one of the area’s many well-known personal injury lawyers to stop by the bison herd, sniff around and declare: “I love the smell of litigation in the morning!”
Well, this was to have been about bison, buffalo, six of one, half-dozen of the other, which is marinating in my icebox. Have you ever heard of an icebox? Then you’re too old! My buffalo steak is much leaner than beef, has less in cholesterol, has zero carbs, and contains 24 grams of protein per serving (2 servings for me.) The 8-ounce steak cost about $6. Which more than favorably compares to a more marbled, fatty beef ribeye. Either way the bison is splurging a bit for me. But nonetheless I am just curious to see just exactly how my, hopefully, medium-done bison steak tastes.
Bison or buffalo, you make the call, is getting more popular and demand is outstripping supply in some places. My favorite buffalo hamburger is no longer served at the local eatery where I would once stop. Nolan Ryan, yes, the baseball player and now executive of the Texas Rangers team, supplies much of this particular restaurant’s beef. It is Angus, by the way. I suppose that is, as opposed to Brahma.
I hope my steak and baked sweet potato tastes as good as I have been imagining while writing these lines. If not, perhaps I shall seek a nice home, home on the range, where the camp cookie knows his bison butt from first base.