I certainly love me my beef and I'm not a health nut, so the high saturated fat content of a well-marbled steak has never really bothered me. Moderation is my tactic, indulging in steaks and burgers only when my line of work leads me to (unfortunately, that's a lot more often than my doctor would like it to be).
That said, given how much I love lean wild venison, I jumped at the chance to try out the wild buffalo from Wild Idea Buffalo Company available to order online, or at a Dean and Deluca market location in New York (1150 Madison Avenue and 560 Broadway), Washington, D.C. (3276 M Street NW), and Charlotte, North Carolina (6903 Phillips Place Court).
Last Friday night we grilled up a ribeye steak, a New York strip, and a couple of burgers. As far as the cooking process goes, it's not all that different from cooking beef. The key is to use a two-level fire so that you can sear it over the really hot side and finish it over the cooler side. Cooking temperatures are also similar although with a well-marbled beef steak, you need to cook it hot enough to get the fat melting. Buffalo, with a far lower fat content (there is almost no marbling in buffalo meat), can afford to be cooked a few degrees rarer than you'd cook an equivalent piece of beef.
Lower fat content also means that cooking is much faster. The insulative properties of fat means that heat penetrates beef relatively slowly. Lean buffalo meat cooks a good 15 to 20% faster, I've found, so you've got to keep a careful eye on it, particularly on a hot grill.
So how does the flavor compare? Well obviously, without marbling, buffalo meat is not as rich or mouth-coating as beef. On the other hand, being 100% grass-fed and essentially wild, these beasts have a pronounced flavor that's not gamy, but, well, grassy. The steaks I tried tend to shed a lot more liquid when sliced open than an equivalent beef steak, even when fully rested. I'm not sure what the explanation for this is, but either way, they were not lacking for moisture.
In fact, the only cut that I wasn't too crazy about was the ground buffalo meat, but I suspect that largely has to do with the cryo-vack packaging than the actual quality of the meat. Compressed, cryo-vacked ground meat never makes for great burgers—the meat is already too far compressed for the ideal light and fluffy texture a good burger should have. Flavor-wise, they're excellent, and they do a good job of retaining moisture.
The Wild Idea buffalo will be available at Dean & Deluca at least until the end of the month, and from their website thereafter.