Two weekends ago I took a trip to Buckeye, Arizona, 40 minutes west of Phoenix. My mission? To visit Arizona Buffalo Company to see the buffalo and get buffalo meat.
If you think the females are big
What surprised me most was the size of the buffalo and quickly they move their hefty bodies. I leaned my arms over the top railing of the fence to get a good picture. My point and shoot 35mm camera is weak on the zoom, or so I thought. I was particularly interested in the babies.
One big creature came charging at the fence. Surprised me! Turns out it was a she, not a he, protecting her little one. She briefly rattled more than the fence and I decided to take some distance shots. I was utterly surprised to find that some of my pictures did come out pretty good. If you’re wondering why the buffalo’s coats look so shaggy, they’re shedding their winter coats in time in preparation for our triple digit days.
Photo right: Rachel Albert-Matesz © Copyright 2009
The herd of mothers and babies moved farther away from where my friend and I, and our tour guide stood. Then I noticed the bull, on the opposite side of the field. All of the buffalo I’d been watching from up close were females.
From barter to buffalo ranching
Kristin McGuire, operations Manager for Arizona Buffalo Company gave us a tour of the ranch and their small store and told me about how the owners got started raising and selling buffalo stock and meat.
Bryan and Mary Adams owned a construction company in Colorado. In 1990 one of their customers wanted to give them buffalo in trade for their work. Not the meat––but three live buffalo calves.
They were already familiar with Buffalo and enjoyed buffalo meat, so they accepted. Seven years later their work brought them to Arizona and they decided to start Arizona Buffalo Company. They grew their heard by purchasing from auctions from the National Bison Association and Western Bison Association and by "Private Treaty," buying buffalo from private ranchers. Now they have between 50 to 70 buffalo that they sell and/or lease to the public (I’ll get to the rent-a-buffalo part in a minute).
Grassfed gourmet meat
Although they used to feed th buffalo grain for 120 days prior to slaughter, Bryan and Mary now feed their animals exclusively on grass and hay, producing premium pasture-raised buffalo with a higher omega-3 content than when they were fed on grass and grain.There are so many nutritional and environmental benefits to feeding the animals a grain-free diet. You can read more about grassfed meat on my previous posts about grassfed meat if you click here. Photo right: Rachel Albert-Matesz © Copyright 2009.
Buy it, you’ll like it
If you want to try buffalo or you already know you like it and want more, you can buy Arizona-grown buffalo meat directly from Bryan and Mary, from their ranch store, from Bountiful Baskets, a local coop buying club, or by mail order. In the fall and winter you can also buy it at two farmers’ markets, including Tonopah Rob’s Saturday Farm Market in Goodyear, AZ.
You can buy buffalo by the package as individual steaks, roasts, packages of ground buffalo, burgers, liver, etc, or in bulk. It’s most economical in larger amounts, a quarter or half a steer at a time. When you order a quarter or half a buffalo, you can have it custom cut.
A quarter of a steer runs $4.65 a pound based on the hanging weight, which averages 100 to 125 pounds. Prices for half a steer run the same (but you get twice as much meat). Figure a 25 to 30% shrink (reduction in total weight) after 10 to 14 days of dry aging. It comes frozen.
While 80% of the buffalo meat they sell comes from their farm, another 20% comes from other ranches that belong to the other NBA (National Bison Association) and the NBA co-op, which provides an outlet for selling buffalo from other farms that belong to the association. This helps them meet local demand and helps other buffalo farmers.
Rent a buffalo
Besides selling buffalo for food, Arizona Buffalo Company raises buffalo calves for cutting horse programs. It is kind of like renting or leasing with option to buy. People pick up a buffalo when it reaches 6 months of age. They pay a one-time fee representing the current price for the calf. They take for about 18 to 24 months and use it for training cutting horses that need to practice with real herdable animals. The customer has can keep the buffalo, although they don’t work well for training purposes once they get beyond a certain age and size, or they can bring the buffalo back to the ranch and trade it in for a fresh, young calf with no additional fees. The animals have to be in healthy condition to return to the ranch. Usually they go straight to slaughter and are not put back into the heard at this point.
I was already sold
I already knew I’d like the buffalo meat. I like grassfed beef and lamb, wild game meats, and I’d tried buffalo burgers many years ago. This time I was even willing to take home some buffalo liver and overcome my life-long aversion to beef liver and liver from other large animals.
Here is one of the buffalo recipes I tried this week. Next week I’ll post the recipe that made me change my mind about liver. I took first and second helping and ate the leftovers the next day for breakfast. Keep checking back. Subscribe to my blog if you want automatic updates when I add content.
These are my broiled buffalo kabobs, right.Photo right: Rachel Albert-Matesz © Copyright 2009
Grilled Bison & Roasted Vegetable Skewers
Prep time: 20 minutes Cooking time: 8 to 10 minutes Yield: 4 servings
I used this recipe, from The National Bison Association as a starting point. You can powder gluten free rice crackers in a spice-dedicated coffee grinder, blender, Vita-Mix, or food processor. Alternatively you could use 1/4 cup rolled oats plus 1/4 cup water or nut milk or 1/4 cup powderded Shan Yao (use a coffee grinder to powder) mixed with 1/4 cup warm water. Shan Yao (Radix Dioscorea) is a starchy white tuber sold in Asian markets and Chinese herb shops; look for the dried, sliced version in bags or boxes.
Note: If you have metal skewers, you don’t need to soak them before grilling. You could replace orange marmalade with fruit sweetened apricot, peach, fig, or pineapple preserves. I like St. Dalfours brand, which lists fruit as the first ingredient.
Spicy Barbecue Sauce:
1/4 cup orange marmalade (I improvised with 3 tablespoons frozen orange juice concentrate + 2 teaspoons honey + 1 teaspoon lemon juice; see notes above)
1 tablespoon (salt-free) chili powder blend
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon apple cider, brown rice vinegar (you could use lemon juice)
Bison & vegetable skwers:
1 pound ground Bison
1/4 cup cracker crumbs (you could pulverize gluten free rice crackers)*
1/4 cup chopped cilantro or Italian Parsley
1 egg white, beaten (I used a whole egg; yolks are super nutritious!)
3 ounces crumbled feta cheese (I left it out; you could add it back)
3 tablespoons pitted, chopped Kalamata or other black olives
3/4 teaspoon finely ground unrefined sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
16 (2-inch squares) red, orange or yellow bell peppers (I used 2 small peppers)
12 (8-inch) wooden skewers, soaked in water for 20 minutes
Spicy Orange Barbecue Sauce (recipe above)
Enough assorted vegetables to fill 8 skewers, cut into chunks, halves or wedges: onions, cherry tomatoes, zucchini, mushrooms, etc, optional
1. In a small bowl, mix all ingredients. Use as basting sauce.
2. In medium bowl, combine ground bison, cracker crumbs or powdered shan yao plus water, cilantro, egg, feta, olives, sea salt, cinnamon, black pepper, and garlic. Mix with your hands or a fork until well blended.
3. Shape into 8 large meatballs.
4. To prepare a skewer: alternate 4 bell pepper squares and 2 meatballs per skewer. Repeat process making 4 skewers. Cut other vegetables into chunks or wedges to grill and threat on skewers if desired.
5. To grill: Allow coals to burn down to ash grey. Barbecue bison and vegetable skewers for 5 minutes (less if you want it rare). Turn, baste bison skewers with Spicy Barbecue Sauce and grill 3 to 5 minutes longer or until done (preferably still rare or medium rare). Baste vegetable skewers with coconut or olive oil and remaining barbecue sauce and grill 5 to 7 minutes longer or until tender. Serve.
To broil: Preheat oven to high broil. Place bison and vegetable skewers on a rimmed baking sheet or in an oblong metal pan. Broil 3 to 4-inchs from the heatsource. Turn them after 3 to 4 minutes and base with barbecue sauce. Cook for another 3 to 4 minutes.
6. Refrigerate leftovers and use within 2 to 3 days. Serve close to room temperature or reheat briefly in a toaster oven or over a steamer.
Per serving (includes barbecue sauce): calories 419; protein 34 g; carbohydrates 34 g; iron 6mg; fat 17g; cholesterol 84 mg; sodium 998 mg
Nutrients per 2 teaspoons barbecue sauce (using their recipe, not my modifications): calories 60; protein 0.52g; carbohydrates 15g; iron .49g; fat 0.5g; cholesterol 0 mg; sodium 30 mg