Moo-Dunnit: How Beef Replaced Bison on the American Plains—and Plate

Saddle up, folks: Today’s episode involves the cowboys' lullabies and meat riots that helped make beef an American birthright. With the help of Joshua Specht, author of Red Meat Republic, we tell the story of how and why the 30 million bison that roamed the Plains were replaced with 30 million cows. You'll never look at a Porterhouse steak—the first cut of beef invented in America—the same way again.

A black and white photo of three cowboys on horseback behind a group of a couple dozen cows, who seem to be moving toward the camera.

Cowboys and cattle. Dawson County, Nebraska. 1938, courtesy the Library of Congress.

Episode Notes

Joshua Specht and Red Meat Republic

Joshua Specht is an assistant professor of history at the University of Notre Dame, where he studies politics and institutions in 19th century America through the lens of political ecology. Red Meat Republic: A Hoof-to-Table History of How Beef Changed America is his first book.

Overhead angled shot of two browned porterhouse steaks sizzling on a grill over coals, steam and smoke rising from them

The porterhouse steak—a giant version of the T-bone steak.

Bison skulls piled up to be turned into glue, fertilizer, or ink at the Michigan Carbon Works near Detroit, in 1892. From the Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library.


Click here for a transcript of the show. Please note that the transcript is provided as a courtesy and may contain errors.