Recipes from the River: Bison Burgers with Strawberry Kale Salad

There is something so positively summer about grilling. For me, it brings up memories of the hot, sandy beaches of Idaho’s Salmon River. It makes me think of swimming in eddies, charcoal-stained sundresses, and nearby laughter. Nostalgia aside, I just love to fire up the grill.

Grilling on a river trip presents a special set of challenges. Environmental exposure, wet coals, and heck—just dragging that darn heavy metal fire pan out of the boat can be a struggle! It’s always worth it for that summer vibe though.

River Recipe: How to Make Bison Burgers

Below you will find one of the OARS Idaho crew’s favorite river recipes: A fruity, summery kale salad compliments a hearty bison burger.

Why Bison Burgers?

Bison is a lean red meat with a rich, familiar flavor. It is known to be a healthy red meat, in part due to how bison are raised. Although every ranch is different, many bison have a grass-only diet and are slaughtered and processed locally. To find out more about what makes bison meat special, I turned to an expert.

Matt Skoglund, along with his family, own and operate North Bridger Bison, a regenerative bison ranch in southwestern Montana. For ranchers like Matt, raising a good bison starts with good land management practices. Diversity is key to this management strategy, as a more diverse diet has been linked to a healthier animal, and therefore healthier meat. “We want our land to be as diverse as possible, not only in the grasses and plants, but also from the birds down to the butterflies,” says Matt. “We ultimately manage for diversity.” Pasture rotation is critical, as it mimics bisons’ historical grazing habits, giving the land plenty of recovery time.

Harvesting methods are also important. Matt and other holistic bison ranchers opt to field harvest their bison instead of shipping the animals to a slaughterhouse. Field harvesting is one of the most low-stress, low-impact, and humane methods to slaughter meat animals.“It’s much more labor intensive for us, but we are really passionate about it.” says Matt. “It’s better for the bison itself, as well as the meat.” After a field harvest, bison is often processed locally.

Bison Burgers Recipe

Where to Find Bison Meat

You can buy bison meat at many grocery stores, although for a more sustainable and quality product consider buying directly from the source. Direct-to-consumer meat sales provide a better price and more options for the consumer, as well as better profit for the rancher. If you can’t make it to the farmers market, no problem. Ranchers like Matt ship their bison, dry-aged, packaged, and frozen, all over the country.

How to Make Bison Burgers

If you’ve ever been on an Idaho rafting trip with OARS, then you know it’s signature river recipes like our bison burgers with a light and bright strawberry kale salad that take our camping meals to the next level. Here’s how to elevate your next “burger night” OARS-style.

OARS River Recipe: Bison Burgers with a Strawberry Kale Salad

Ingredients | Serves 6

Burgers
1.5 lbs (24 oz) Ground bison
Salt & pepper
Butter, olive or avocado oil
Bun of your choice: brioche recommended

Aioli
3 tablespoon mayonnaise
1 splash worcester sauce
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
2 cloves garlic

Additional Burger Toppings:
1 red onion (caramelized)
Havarti cheese
Arugula

Salad
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey (use a local honey!)
¼ cup lemon juice
2 heads baby kale
1 package strawberries
½ head radishes
1 cup nut mix, suggested: pumpkin seeds, walnuts, and cranberries
Salt & pepper

Prepping kale for a salad

Directions

If you’re cooking over charcoal, start your coals 20-30 minutes before grilling. As you wait for the coals to be ready for use, you’ll want to caramelize the red onion, then make the aioli and prep the salad. Once the grill is ready, cook the burgers.

Caramelized Onions & Aioli

1) Thinly slice 1 red onion. Cook in a cast iron over low heat with 3 tablespoons of butter (or olive oil) for at least 30 minutes until they are golden brown. Stir often.

2) While the onions are cooking, dice garlic for the aioli.

3) Combine diced garlic with mayonnaise, worcester sauce, and smoked paprika and whisk together. Let sit.

Kale Salad 

1) De-stem and chop kale and place in a large bowl. Sprinkle kale with a bit of salt and olive oil and massage to tenderize the kale.

2) In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, dijon, honey, and lemon juice. Add salt and pepper to taste.

3) Dress the kale and let it sit.

4) Thinly slice strawberries and radishes and toss with kale. (Sprinkle nut mix over the top just before serving.)

River Recipe: Strawberry Kale Salad

Bison Burgers

1) Season bison meat with salt and pepper, briefly working the seasoning into meat by hand. Then, form 6 equal size balls with the meat.

2) Preheat the grill to medium-high. If using coal, you should be able to hold your hand over the coal for about 3 to 4 seconds. Once it’s hot, lightly coat the grill grate with oil or butter. (Bison burgers can also be cooked on a stovetop over medium-high heat in a cast iron pan, if preferred.)

3) Drop burger balls onto the grill (or cast iron pan) and use a fork to smash each ball into a flat patty shape. Cook to desired doneness. For medium-rare burgers, cook patties for about 3 minutes or until meat has turned gray about ½ way through. Then flip the burgers, place cheese on the top (if desired), and cook for another 3 minutes. Remove from heat and let bison burgers rest for 1 minute. Adjust cook time to 4-5 minutes for well-done and 1-2 minutes for rare.

NOTE: bison is a redder meat than you may be used to; a rich red color does not necessarily mean it is undercooked.

4) Coat both sides of the bun with aioli. Add patty, arugula and caramelized onions. (Pro tip: stack the patty on the arugula, then add the onions so the bun doesn’t get soggy!)

As you savor this delicious dinner, be sure to imagine yourself back on the shore of your favorite wild river with OARS.

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Is there a recipe from the river you’d like to recreate at home or on your next camping trip? Let us know in the comments below.