The secret to great buffalo burgers is understanding how to add moisture and flavor to the burgers without masking the buffalo’s natural flavors.
Ground buffalo or bison, as it’s often called is a great choice for making delicious burgers. Naturally lean with complex flavors, using bison creates burgers with extra zip.
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What makes buffalo so intriguing as an ingredient is its red meat that has a full-bodied complex flavor profile that is both lean and healthy.
Bison have a rich history and are one of the most culturally significant animals in North America. A part of what has been fueling their comeback across the Great Plains is ranchers raising them to sell to restaurants and consumers. If you’re interested in learning more about cooking with buffalo, read Thinking About Buffalo as an Ingredient.
Creating A Better Recipe
Living in the midwest, where the buffalo still roam and where it is fairly common to see buffalo on menus, it’s easy to forget how exotic they can seem to people who’ve never seen one outside a zoo or had a chance to try a burger or steak.
When we were developing this recipe, we wanted to create something that was both accessible and delicious. Something that would work for people who want to try cooking with a new ingredient and for burger lovers.
The easiest way to think about ground buffalo vs. ground beef is that buffalo is leaner, more flavorful, and slightly more expensive.
Some of the most frequent questions about cooking buffalo burgers are around how to keep them from falling apart and drying out. The key to solving both of these issues is using ingredients that season the burgers while adding moisture.
The secret to this recipe is using a little Worcestershire and BBQ sauce to add moisture that holds everything together while deepening the burger’s flavor.
What you shouldn’t do is use dry ingredients like breadcrumbs that diminish the taste of the burgers or compacting the patties so much that they turn into little bricks. There’s also no reason to add ground beef to the burgers, something that was common when this type of burgers first started showing up on restaurant menus. The best burgers are all about letting the bison shine.
To season the burgers use your favorite burger seasonings; we like to use a little smoked paprika and BBQ sauce to add a touch of smokiness and pop. Buffalo is one of those ingredients that is great on its own and excels at absorbing flavors from whatever spices and herbs are used. So have some fun trying different flavor combinations.
We’ve found that ⅓ pound burgers are about the right size for dinner and create the right burger to bun ratio. Since ground buffalo usually comes in one-pound packages, this recipe can easily be scaled up or down, with each pound of meat producing three burgers.
Ground buffalo is available from Umami’s market, online, and many high-end grocery stores. A couple of things to look for when you’re buying buffalo is to try and find organic and pasture raised.
Historically bison were an integral part of prairie ecosystems, and buying meat from ranchers who use organic farming techniques and give the buffalo room to roam can help prairies thrive. If you want to learn more, read Dan O’Brien’s Buffalo for the Broken Heart.
How to Cook Buffalo Burgers
In general, buffalo can be cooked the same way you would a beef burger. The one thing to watch out for is if the heat is too high or they’re cooked too long, the burgers can dry out and taste relatively bland.
A couple of tips for better burgers, when you’re forming the patties, compress them lightly, so they hold together but not so tight they turn into hockey pucks. To get the burgers to cook up flat, create a small depression in the top of the patties with your thumbs.
The best way to cook these burgers is on a medium to medium-hot grill. Cooking them on a grill adds a little char and brings out the buffalo’s natural flavor. They can also be cooked on the stovetop using a cast iron pan for five to six minutes per side.
It’s ok to eat bison burgers cooked medium-rare if the meat has been ground fresh and comes from a source you trust. We prefer ours cooked medium.
A general guide for cooking time and doneness is to cook the burgers over medium to medium-high heat for:
- 4 to 5 minutes per side for medium-rare
- 5 to 6 minutes per side for medium
- 6 to 8 minutes per side for well done
To reheat the burgers, place them on a medium grill for 4 to 5 minutes per side. They’ll be a touch drier than when they were first cooked but still taste delicious. Do not reheat them in the microwave.
The burgers can be topped with whatever your heart desires. For this recipe, we recommend using some aged cheddar, homemade barbecue sauce, and bacon.
- 2 lb ground buffalo
- 1/2 cup white onion , minced
- 2 cloves garlic , minced
- 2 tbsp BBQ Sauce
- 2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp ground pepper
- Finely mince the onion and garlic. Place the ground buffalo in a bowl with the onion, garlic, smoked paprika, salt, and pepper. Mix in the Worcestershire and BBQ sauces.
- Use your hands to mix everything as if you're giving someone you like a good back rub, making sure the seasoning gets spread evenly through the ground bison.
- To form the burgers, split the mixture into equal parts and use your hands to form patties, working the meat until the patties hold together.
- Using your thumbs create a small depression in the top of the burgers; this will help them keep their shape on the grill.
- Grill the burgers on a medium to medium-high grill for 5 to 6 minutes, flip and cook for another five to six minutes or until the burgers have the desired level of doneness.