A friend of mine is in town.
He wanted to try the water buffalo.
I figured hey… I’ve got that new smoker. Why don’t we try smoking the water buffalo ribs?
And so we did.
Temperature was about 250º. Kept ’em in there about 8 hours. Used charcoal to get things started, but then it was all split oak wood logs from there. Just had the ribs with salt and black pepper overnight, then once I put them onto the smoker I rubbed them down with extra virgin olive oil. Closed the lid. Let it roll for 2-3 hours, then wrapped the ribs up in foil for the remainder of the cooking time.
The rule has been low and slow, thus the 250º and the longer cooking time. The meat is so lean, I figured the olive oil would help, plus wrapping them up in the foil for the bulk of the cooking time would help retain what moisture there was.
Thirty minutes before pulling them off the racks, I gave them a baste with some Stubb’s original BBQ sauce.
How did it turn out?
Well, a lot better than expected, but still not hot. Plus, I think we set our expectations kinda low to begin with.
They were a little dry, but what can you expect? This has been the biggest challenge with the meat. Due to the need to break down those muscle fibers, you have to cook for a long time over low and slow heat. But, that just leads to dryness, and given how lean the meat is there’s not a lot of moisture to go around for that long a time. I’m sure there’s a way to do it, but we just haven’t yet figured it out.
Flavor was good. And it was generally tender.
But the thing that we continue to struggle with is something that I don’t think there’s any way around: the texture. The muscle fibers are just thick and long (compared to beef). So it just makes for a different texture, and one that’s tough to deal with. My friend liked the flavor, but after trying to eat some more he just couldn’t… the texture just wasn’t doing it for him (and he admits, texture of food matters a lot to him). If I trimmed the meat off the bones and then cut it against the grain, it wasn’t so bad (the “chunks” of muscle fiber were made small). Even I found myself not rushing back for seconds because while the meat itself was about as tender as you could get it, the combination of that plus the fiber issue just makes for a less than pleasing mouth experience.
That’s been the general experience no matter how we try cooking this thing. Flavor isn’t bad, we can get it into the ballpark of tender, but the texture is always a problem… and while lean is good on paper, it’s not helping with these big-ass muscle fibers. It’s not the same as other game meat that’s lean, when it comes to cooking and preparing it.
It was suggested to me to try a marinade that includes papaya, since it contains an enzyme called papain. Apparently, papain cleaves the myosin (muscle) fibers at the fiber head which basically makes it impossible for the fibers to re-associate. Supposedly papaya-based marinades can turn chicken into mush in a few hours. So who knows. I think it’s worth a try.
Anyway… I must admit that the household is getting tired of the buffalo. Probably a little frustration, both at cooking and at eating. We’ve had the most success with ground (you really can’t tell the difference vs. ground beef) and with doing roasts in the crock pot (i.e. low, slow, and tons of moisture) but even the roasts in the crock pot still end up with you contending with big thick muscle fibers to chomp through.
We’ve still got a bunch in the freezer. We’re going to keep plowing through it as best we can. The experience is good for us all, and while Wife keeps saying “when we do this again, we’ll get it mostly ground and a few roasts”, I keep interrupting her and saying “if we do this again”. I won’t make up my mind until the freezer is empty, because while the experience has had frustrating moments, it’s still an interesting journey to take.