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Bison—Barbecue’s Next Frontier?

July is National Bison Month, and bison meat is roaming in from barbe-culture’s fringes to its mainstream. However, barbecue purveyors tend to offer just bison ribs and forsake the rest of the animal. (You may have had a bison burger—they’re pretty tasty for such a lean meat—but that is, of course, not barbecue.)

Photo courtesy of the National Park Service

There’s a lesson to be learned from Native Americans who developed a method for pit-cooking the entire animal. Chief Plenty-Coups of the Absarokees (Crow Indians) recalled in a 1930 interview:

Chief Plenty Coups, ca. 1880

We used to dig a hole in the ground as deep as my waist…. We would heat little boulders until they were nearly white and cover the bottom of the hole with these stones. Then we would cut many green boughs from the chokecherry trees and cover the hot stones a foot deep with them. Upon these we would place thick chunks of buffalo meat, fat and fresh from the plains, sprinkling them with water…. Finally we spread the animal’s paunch over the hole, covered it all with its hide, put gravel on this, and kindled a log fire. Men kept the fire going all day and all night yet never burned the robe…every bit of good in the buffalo was in the pit. Little was wasted except the brains. I have made myself very hungry telling you this. I will talk of something else to forget meat-holes.” * 

Here’s hoping that today’s pitmasters will remember the meat-holes and rise to the challenge.

*Quote from American: The Life Story of a Great Indian by Frank B. Linderman (first published 1930).

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