This summer, channel your inner cowboy at cookouts with bison meat.

Is there anything more emblematic of the rugged american west than the idea of free-roaming bison? think majestic herds thundering through the Great Plains or a handful grazing idly with the silhouette of the Grand Tetons in the backdrop— B-roll for countless Westerns.

Tap into that iconic cowboy country imagery at home by swapping beef for bison. Commonly known as buffalo—a misnomer, since the true buffalo (African and Asian water buffalos) are a distant relation—bison meat has been growing in popularity in recent years, thanks to its lean profile and robust flavor.

Cable network magnate and self-styled cowboy Ted Turner may be the most visible proponent of bison, having purchased his first herd in 1976. Today, he has approximately 51,000 bison on 14 of his ranches in the Western U.S.—the largest private herd in the world. In 2002, he launched Ted’s Montana Grill, a fast-casual chain that features a selection of bison dishes (bison nachos, braised bison short ribs) and has grown to 46 restaurants across 16 states.

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Flavor-wise for bison, think along the lines of venison crossed with grass-fed beef. And with that exoticness comes a power-house of nutrition. With approximately 120 calories and 24 grams of protein per 3-ounce serving, bison compares favorably to ground beef, which at 80-percent lean meat, clocks in at 230 calories and 23 grams of protein. Bison, especially the grass-fed kind, also has been found to have high levels of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E.

A good rule of thumb for integrating bison into your cooking routine is to use it wherever you might use beef. A few caveats though: Since bison is leaner, you’ll want to keep the heat lower or adjust the cooking time down so it stays tender, and if you’re considering using it in a dish where fat is important (like meaty pasta sauce or burger), you might need to add fat back into the dish in other ways (e.g., cheese or bacon) to get the right effect. For straight bison burger patties, consider making them a little thinner, so they’ll cook quickly without drying out.

For an introduction to bison, the rib-eye makes an especially appealing cut. Th e intense marbling adds a richness to the meat, making it easier for the bison novice to cook well. For the grill, try a marinade of red wine and garlic or tequila and lime. Or, for a classic rendition, a bistro-style treatment on the stove top—a heavy sear and baste of butter before it finishes in the oven, as described in the recipe above—makes a delicious, simple dinner. Round out the plate with crispy roast potatoes and a dark green, such as broccoli rabe or Swiss chard. For a wine match, consider a red from Northern Rhône or a brambly pick from Languedoc-Roussillon, which will pair well with the earthy, rugged flavor of the meat—a fine toast to the wide open spaces of the West.

BISTRO-STYLE BISON RIB-EYE

Ingredients:

2 boneless bison rib-eye steaks, at room temperature
2 tablespoons butter
Cooking oil
Salt and pepper

Method: Preheat oven to 350 F. Season bison steaks with salt and pepper, to taste. In a large sauté pan (preferably cast iron or stainless steel), heat 2 tablespoons of cooking oil over high heat. When the pan and the oil are hot and almost smoking, add the steaks to the pan, and cook on each side for 2 minutes—or until you achieve a brown sear. Add 1 tablespoon of butter to each steak, then place the pan in the oven, and cook until the steak is medium-rare (four to fi ve minutes or 120 F internal temperature). Remove the steak from the oven, place it on a carving board, and let it rest for seven to 10 minutes, basting occasionally with the butter mix from the sauté pan. Serve immediately. Serves two.