The scene: Memorial Day is the second biggest day of the year for outdoor grilling and backyard barbecue (tied with Labor Day), according to a recent poll by the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association. But this coming weekend, there is a better chance than ever before that the meat going onto the grill is going to be bison, which is suddenly enjoying its moment in the sun.

Earlier this month, President Obama signed the National Bison Legacy Act into law, naming the bison the nation’s first ever official mammal. But the movement onto our dinner plates has been growing for years. Great American Bites recently visited Ted’s Montana Grill, a bison-centric upscale restaurant chain launched by billionaire CNN founder Ted Turner, who also happens to be the world’s largest bison rancher, with more than 50,000 head. Turner’s restaurant group has grown 50-fold since it debuted in 2002, and the popularity of the healthier red meat has been spreading.

Many consumers and restaurant menus refer to it as buffalo, especially for burgers, but technically scientists use this for the African and water varieties, and ours is just bison. But whatever you call it, it is the closest tasting meat to beef, though leaner and generally considered sweeter, and it is significantly lower in fat. It is also raised naturally, which has helped grow its popularity. “Demand for wholesome protein alternatives is at an all-time high, and the bison industry has done a great job of producing a consistent high quality meat product,” said John Flocchini of Wyoming’s Durham Ranch, which supplies bison to restaurants and retailers nationwide (and will shortly sell direct to consumers through According to location-based search engine Foursquare, more than 10,000 restaurants in the United States now have bison on their menus.

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