There's a substitute for beef burgers and steaks that is higher in protein and lower in cholesterol buffalo meat.

Buffalo has 25 to 30 percent more protein than beef, outdoorsman A.J. McClane wrote in the current issue of Esquire, and has less than half the cholesterol, less than a third the fat and is much lower in calories.The hardy buffalo also thrives without being dosed with antibiotics or hormones.

McClane described the buffalo burger as juicy, tasting like prime fresh-ground beef sirloin, but with a somewhat denser texture. He wrote that he has added buffalo steaks and roasts to menus of the semiannual Chevaliers de Tastevin dinners in Palm Beach, Fla., where they draw rave notices.

At one time uncounted millions of buffalo roamed the United States from Illinois to Georgia to and north of Pennsylvania and western New York.

It is said the animal had more than 100 uses, from robes to soap, but millions of bison were no match for the white man's .56 caliber Hawken gun.

By the 1770s, the herds had been exterminated in the Central Plains and by the 1880s, when the railroad crossed the Western Plains, the animals were almost extinct.

As the buffalo reached its nadir, the American cowboy and the longhorn steer had come along to supply Americans with meat.

Perhaps the greatest culinary tribute paid the buffalo in print was the best-selling recipe book called "50 Bison Dishes," by Mrs. Vernon Palme, published in 1886 when the herds were on the verge of extinction.

Today, buffalo meat on the market comes from semi-domesticated animals being raised on about 700 commercial ranches.

Buffalo meat is sold by specialty butchers and it is available directly from U.S. Department of Agriculture-inspected producers, who express every cut from shrink-wrapped frozen patties to steaks and roasts. They even ship quarters and halves.

As for recipes, everything that can be accomplished with beef is suitable for buffalo.

The Buffalo Association of Fort Pierre, S.D., suggests that because of its lack of fat marbling, buffalo should not be cooked as long or at as high a temperature as beef. Cook to an internal temperature of 120 degrees for rare, 130 degrees for medium rare and 140 degrees for medium.

The most sought-after and expensive cut is the tenderloin, since there are only about eight pounds of fillet in an animal that dresses out at 650 pounds.

Buffalo tenderloin can be marinated in olive oil, garlic and herbs including thyme and rosemary, then either sauteed or grilled over charcoal.

Whichever your choice, a sauce can be made from the tenderloins, using beef stock and olive oil from the marinade, along with anchovy paste, capers and tomato puree.

To find a supplier for buffalo meat, write to the National Buffalo Association, P.O. Box 80, Fort Pierre, SD 57532.