Smoked Bison: How To Smoke Buffalo In A Smoker


Bison is making a huge comeback in America. Once this great bovine was on the verge of extinction, but now the numbers have risen and it’s back on the menu. Similar to beef, bison, also known as buffalo, is great on the smoker. However, there are a few differences between beef and bison, so as did some research to find out how to smoke this iconic meat.

The brisket is the most suitable part of the bison for smoking but it should be approached differntly to beef. Bison is much leaner and contains no marbling, therefore can dry out if not cooked correctly. Keep the temperture of your smoker between 225°F and 250°F and wrap the meat at the halfway point and cook until the meat is probe tender.

Best Parts of the Bison For Smoking

Bison is similar to beef in that the brisket and ribs are the best cuts for smoking. As with all low and slow cooking, the parts of the animal with a lot of fat and connective tissue make for the best barbeque. The reason these parts taste so good when cooked slow is because when the connective tissue renders, it transforms into a gelatin like texture. Also, the intermuscular fat and marbling renders down and keeps the meat moist as well as giving the meat a flavor boost. So when deciding which part of the bison is best suited for grilling and which is best for smoking, save the leaner cuts for the grill and set aside the brisket, the ribs and the chuck for slow smoking.

Smaller and Less Fat

The first thing to note is bison has less fat than beef, which means it should be handled differently. Quality prime beef has a high amount of marbling, which gives the meat its tenderness and juiciness. Bison has no marbling, but this doesn’t mean it’s lacking in flavor or tenderness. You just need to treat it differently. Since there is less fat to render, bison doesn’t need as long in the smoker. A normal beef brisket might need 10 hours in order for the fat and connective tissue to render, whereas a bison brisket may only need 7 or 8 hours. The other thing to note is a bison brisket will be smaller than the average beef brisket, which makes it easier to handle and it will cook faster.

When Is Bison Done?

We all know the magic number for brisket is a 203°F internal meat temperature, but for bison, check for probe tenderness rather than temperature. Since bison meat has less fat than brisket, it won’t need as long to render. If you took a bison brisket to 203°F, it may be overcooked. The internal temperature still may be in the 195°F to 200°F range.

As with brisket, it’s important to test for tenderness over temperature. The internal meat temperature should only be guide, and it should give us an indication of where the meat is at. The perfectly cooked brisket should feel as tender as poking butter with a toothpick or a thermometer probe. Learn how to go by feel, rather than temperature. After the bison brisket has reached the wrapping stage, after an hour, begin regular tenderness tests until you are satisfied the meat is cooked perfectly.

How To Smoke A Bison Brisket

1. Trim

Trim the bison brisket, leaving 1/4 inch fat on the top. If you leave any more fat, the smoke won’t be able to penetrate. The fat will also protect the meat, keeping it moist and preventing it from drying out. When placing the brisket in your smoker, face the fat cap towards the heat source to shield the meat.

2. Rub

Apply a generous amount of rub to the outside layer of the brisket. If the rub doesn’t stick, use olive oil or yellow mustard as a binder. If you are using store-bought rubs, be careful when adding extra salt. Most pre-made rubs you buy are full of salt. If you want a great rub, check out Killer Hogs, Slap Yo Daddy or Butcher BBQ. You can’t go wrong with either of these competition standard brisket rubs. Nowadays, I make my own rub in large batches. I find I can have better control over all the ingredients with a homemade rub. If you want to check out the recipe that I’m using for brisket, check out this article I wrote a while back on the best Brisket Rub Recipes.

3. Temperature

Set the temperature of your smoker between 225°F and 250°F. This is the perfect low-and-slow cooking range and will give the meat plenty of time to absorb smoke. We know with beef brisket we can smoke hot-and-fast in the 300°F to 350°F range. However, this is risky with bison. There is no marbling with bison and less fat.

4. Smoke

Smoke the bison brisket for the first few hours untouched. Use a good smoking wood that blends well with bison such as hickory or pecan. Don’t put the meat in the smoker until you have a nice, clean smoke rolling. The first 5 hours are important for bark development. The outer crust is a combination of rub, smoke and dehydrated meat. Don’t spritz or mop the meat during this first phase of the cook, as it may wash off the rub and you will have a patchy bark. Once the meat has been in the smoker for around 3 to 4 hours, begin checking the bark by touching it with your finger. When the bark is firm and the rub doesn’t stick to your finger, then it’s time to begin spritzing.

5. Spritz

Once the bark is firm and the brisket has a dark color, begin spritzing or moping the meat every 30 minutes. This will have several benefits. Spritzing will cool the meat and therefore slow down the cooking. This is very important for low-and-slow cooking. The other benefit of wetting the brisket is it will keep the meat moist and prevent the bison from drying out. Moisture also attracts more smoke and helps the meat develop a thicker smoke ring.

6. Wrap

Once the meat has gone past 150°F internal, then assess whether the brisket is ready for wrapping. With a beef brisket, the wrapping stage usually occurs between 150°F and 165°F, but taking bison this far without wrapping could be risky. Once the bison brisket reaches 150°F and you’re happy with the bark, then get it wrapped. You can use either butcher paper or aluminium foil to wrap the bison. Paper will give you a better bark, but foil is suitable. When wrapping, make sure there are no gaps, and give it two layers. You can spritz the brisket one last time before wrapping, just to add some extra moisture. Before putting the meat back on the smoker, insert a thermometer probe into the meat to track the internal meat temperature. After wrapping, some people increase the temperature of their smoker to speed up the cook. If you’re cooking at 225°F, now would be a good time to raise the temperature to 250°F. Wrapping will cook the meat faster and help push the brisket through the stall. Another option is to finish your brisket in the oven. The meat will take on no more smoke, so you’re just wasting wood and coals.

7. When is it Done?

Continue cooking the meat until the internal temperature reaches the 190’s. Begin checking the meat for tenderness by poking the brisket with a thermometer probe or a toothpick. The meat should feel like poking butter. That’s how you can tell if the meat is done. The final done temperature for beef brisket is 203°F, but this may be different for bison. Go by feel rather than temperature.

8. Resting

Rest the bison brisket for at least 1 hour prior to slicing. Resting the meat will allow all the meat juices to settle and redistribute. If you slice the meat too soon, you risk drying it out. If you’re not ready to slice and serve, place the meat into holding. To hold the bison, keep the meat in its wrapping, then wrap it again in a towel. Then place the meat into a dry cooler. This will keep the meat hot for 4 hours until you’re ready to serve.

My Favorite Meat Smoking Tools

Thanks for checking out this article. I hope you learned a few things. Here are some of my favorite tools I use when smoking brisket that may be useful to you. These are affiliate links, so if you decide to purchase any of these products, I’ll earn a commission. But in all honesty, these are the tools I recommend to my family and friends who are just starting out.

Meat Thermometer: There are dozens of fancy thermometers on the market, but I still use my trusty TP20. For around $50, I have a high-quality meat thermometer with two probes, and can track the temperature of my smoker with one probe, and my meat with the other probe. The ThermoPro TP20 is an Amazon Best Seller because it’s the easiest thermometer to operate, is durable, highly accurate, and comes with pre-programmed meat settings.

Instant Read Thermometer: Arguably, the second most important tool you need is a fast and accurate instant-read thermometer. These tools play an important role in the latter stages of the cook when the meat needs regular checking in multiple areas. I use the ThermoPro TP19 because it can do everything a ThermaPen can do, but for a fraction of the cost. You can check out the TP19 on Amazon here.

Butcher Paper: Wrapping brisket in butcher paper has become a huge trend in barbeque thanks to Aaron Franklin. Wrapping your brisket in paper will give you a nice brisket bark. However, you can’t just use any old paper, it has to be unwaxed, food grade paper. You can find it on Amazon here.

Advanced Thermometer and Automatic Temperature Controller: Once you’re ready to take things seriously, the FireBoard 2 Drive is a six-channel Bluetooth/Wi-Fi thermometer that can monitor up to 6 pieces of meat, control and graph your cook sessions on your smartphone, and attaches to an an automatic blower that will convert your charcoal smoker to a set-and-forget. This is one of the most advanced meat thermometers on the market. You can check it out on the FireBoard website here.

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