bison burger with alderwood smoked salt and muenster cheese

If you crave a good burger, but don’t want to eat beef, a bison burger is a great alternative to traditional ground beef. Bison, also known as buffalo, is leaner in fat than beef and turkey, lower in cholesterol, and higher in protein. You can buy bison pre-ground, but to make the best burger, I choose a boneless chuck roast cut of bison and grind it at home. I’ve included a variety of suggestions here that will hopefully give you a juicy homemade burger and help to prep your tastebuds for those many summertime meals.

If you go the route of grinding your own burger meat, I’ve included a short list of tips. For the full perspective on why and how you should grind your own meat, read this excellent post from the blog Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Kitchen by Cathy Wheelbarrow, co-founder of the popular Charcutepalooza challenge where you can learn to salt, smoke, and cure your own meat.
Here are the quick basics:

1. For the bison burger, buy a boneless chuck roast cut of bison. If you can, purchase from a local sustainable farm that raises and slaughters its own meat. If not, buy a quality grass-fed brand from the butcher at the store.

2. For grinding the meat, you can use a food grinder attachment like the Kitchen Aid FGA or a food processor.

3. In advance of grinding the meat, put your food grinder attachments or food processor parts in the freezer so they will be very cold when you are ready to use them. This helps reduce the risk of bacterial contamination.

4. Chop the meat into small pieces. If using a food grinder attachment, make sure the pieces of meat will be small enough to fit through the grinder feed once they are nearly frozen.

5. Chill the meat until mostly frozen. This helps the meat grind evenly.

6. When grinding, work quickly and keep everything well-chilled if grinding a large amount of meat.

It’s usually my husband’s job to form, season, and cook the meat. For flavoring the bison burgers, he uses a finely-ground alderwood smoked salt that I found at Central Market. You can also order the salt online. It’s a dark brownish-black salt with a smokey aroma that reminds me of sitting around a campfire in the woods. He also uses a barbeque seasoning mix from Big Boy’s BBQ in Sweetwater, Texas. The owner kindly gifted us a large cupful of the seasoning after we stopped and ate there during a long road trip to visit relatives. If you don’t have your own favorite barbeque seasoning, Pappy’s Choice Seasoning or Lawry’s Seasoned Salt works really well too.

After seasoning, my husband always cooks the bison burger in a cast-iron skillet. For a lean meat like bison, cooking on a solid flat surface instead of an open wire grill is better since the meat bastes in its own fat and juices as it cooks and creates a more flavorful burger. He also uses a special technique to melt the cheese on the burger that he saw one of the line cooks at a local burger joint use. I’ll detail that in the recipe below. Stay tuned for step 2 next week: homemade whole wheat hamburger buns.


Bison Burger with Alderwood Smoked Salt and Muenster Cheese

10 ounces of ground boneless bison chuck roast
alderwood smoked salt
Your favorite barbeque seasoning, Pappy’s Choice Seasoning, or Lawry’s Seasoned Salt
2 slices of 1/8″ thick muenster cheese, 1 ounce each (you can have your deli pre-slice the cheese)

Gently form the ground bison into two 5-ounce patties, about 5 inches round and 1/2 inch thick. Sprinkle a liberal amount of the smoked alderwood salt and the barbeque seasoning on one side of the burger. Heat a cast-iron skillet or heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat. Place the burgers in the skillet with the seasoned side down, and sprinkle the side that is up liberally with the two seasonings. Cook the burgers for 2 minutes, then flip and cook for another 2 minutes.

It’s important to not overcook the bison meat to retain tenderness, so watch carefully. The burger should still give slightly when lightly pressed. Place one slice of the muenster cheese on each burger, and pour 1/4 cup of warm water in the skillet around the burgers. Quickly cover the skillet with a large lid, and let cheese melt for about 20-30 seconds. Remove lid, and remove burgers from skillet to plates. Serve on a whole wheat hamburger bun with mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup and grilled onions.

 

Makes 2 burgers

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