Buffalo ChipsPosted on January 18, 2023
I remember reading as a boy the importance of the bison on the American prairie. This noble beast provided meat, leather, warm robes, bones and sinew to make tools – truly “the Indian’s commissary” as General Philip Sheridan put it. But what intrigued me most was the idea of cooking over buffalo chips. At a young age I didn’t realize exactly what that meant. The idea of chipping a buffalo sounded like a pretty monumental task.
After learning the true nature of buffalo chips, I was fascinated. My childhood obsession was learning primitive survival skills. I had already learned to make fire with the bow and drill method, so using buffalo chips to fuel that fire seemed like the logical next step.
Unfortunately, there was a notable lack of buffalo roaming the neighborhood at that time. I decided I would have to deviate from tradition and substitute the “chips” of other species. I had quite a bit of raw material gathered up and drying in the back yard when my mother put an abrupt halt to the project.
Years later, I was doing a predator survey on a ranch that happened to have a few head of bison ranging with the cattle. Memories of the buffalo chip experiment came rushing back – this was my big chance. My untrained eye couldn’t always be certain whether a particular specimen was from a cow or a bison, so I had to wait until I actually saw it drop. Naturally this made the whole process take longer. As a control group I gathered a quantity of regular cow patties as well. To make it even more interesting, I also decided to test jackrabbit pellets. There were always plenty of those around.
Thoroughly drying my materials added even more delay to the experiment, especially since my dogs kept trying to sample the goods. When everything was finally ready, I built three small fires (cheated a bit by using matches) and began to feed them the fuels. The jackrabbit fire was a total failure. The pellets burned to ashes so quickly I wouldn’t have had time to fry an egg, much lest roast a piece of meat. I suppose that’s why you never read about pioneers using rabbit chips.
Once I got sufficient coals going on the other two, I skewered a couple of slices of beef and commenced to cooking. I once read that meat grilled on a buffalo chip fire “requires no pepper” so I didn’t use any sort of seasoning. When my preference of medium well was reached, I set the food aside to cool and doused the fires.
I know that my sense of taste isn’t as sharp as most people’s. Many years of eating jalapenos and dipping snuff are probably to blame. But I couldn’t detect any difference between the two pieces of beef. Only logical, really, as the cattle and the buffalo grazed together -- same grass in, same grass out. As for the flavor overall…. First off, there wasn’t the slightest hint of manure taste. I had been hoping for this result of course, but not really counting on it. It did taste different than meat cooked over wood or charcoal. Not really better, not worse – just different. Altogether acceptable.
I doubt that I’ll ever bother to cook over buffalo chips again. I don’t usually start a fire with a bow either, nor squeeze water from cactus pulp. But it’s comforting to know that should I ever need to do those things, I can.
Written By Jim Harris
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