Bison is an alternative red meat that is showing up at more grocers nationwide. (This is the meat of the American buffalo, which is actually a bison and more closely related to a cow than a true buffalo, but people tend to use the terms interchangeably.)

Once, bison were hunted to near extinction. But these days they are raised primarily for consumption. Bison meat (which is raised without hormones or antibiotics) can be incredibly tender and flavorful, with a sweet, rich beefy flavor.

It also happens to be amazingly lean, packing fewer calories and less fat than beef and even skinless chicken.

That low-fat profile comes with a price. Bison has a tendency to cook quickly, so itís easy to overcook it and make it tough.

Though bison is available in most of the same cuts as traditional beef, the most common varieties are ground and steaks. You can use bison much as you would beef. The trick is to modify the cooking method to account for the leanness.

When cooking ground bison, itís best to work in some sort of liquid flavor to keep the meat moist. This might mean eggs or tomato paste for a meatloaf, or some sort of pan sauce or gravy if you are browning it in a skillet. That also makes it ideal for meatballs simmered in sauce or for chili.

For bison steaks, think fast and furious. Season them, then pop them under the broiler or on the grill for just a few minutes per side.

ó J.M. Hirsch

Associated Press