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Bringing bison back

The American bison that formerly thundered across the plains in the tens of millions is rebounding after near extinction in the 1890s. In the vanguard are bison promoters like entrepreneur and rancher Ted Turner and restaurant executive George McKerrow Jr., who co-founded Ted’s Montana Grill in 2002. Since then, commercial bison ranchers have doubled the size of the herd to about 600,000 head.

Ted’s is out to show that bison is a premium protein that tastes great, not gamy. “Once people try it, they realize that it is just sweeter and leaner than beef and very familiar, as well as healthier,” says McKerrow, CEO of the Atlanta-based, 44-unit casual dining restaurant chain. 

Bison are raised on natural grass and not given artificial growth hormones. The meat is lower in fat and calories and higher in protein and iron than USDA Choice Beef, according to the National Bison Association.

About 40 percent of Ted’s guests order a bison item such as nachos, chili, a burger, pot roast, meatloaf, short ribs or filet, Kansas City strip or Delmonico ribeye steak. Newbies may be offered a mini bison burger or smidgen of chili or pot roast to break them in.

“It’s not gamy whatsoever,” says corporate chef Chris Raucci. “It just has a really clean taste to it.”

Raucci notes that bison is easy to work with, although it cooks faster than fattier meats. Braising is ideal for short ribs and pot roast. Steaks and burgers are best grilled no more than medium. “You want to avoid overcooking to keep them nice and juicy,” says Raucci.     

Menu Sampler: Ted’s Montana Grill

  • Bison Nachos $8: Pepper Jack, bison chili and fresh toppings
  • Meatloaf Sandwich $11: Thick-sliced bison meatloaf, melted Pepper Jack, grilled onions
  • Ted’s Bacon Cheeseburger – Beef $13, Bison $15: Cheddar or Swiss, smoky bacon and grilled onions

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