Brisket costs more than ever, with dreams of lower prices up in smoke, experts say

Tracing the trail of BBQ to Kansas City

From the Carolinas to KC, The Star's food editor Jill Silva talks America's various styles of barbecue.
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From the Carolinas to KC, The Star's food editor Jill Silva talks America's various styles of barbecue.

If you’re planning a barbecue with smoked beef brisket, you may have to pay more than ever for the cut of meat, experts say.

Brisket prices reached an all-time high this summer as everyone from backyard pit masters to fast-food restaurants dive into the hot market, according to a Texas A&M University news release. In late May, the cost of brisket had climbed nearly 20 percent from the same time last year, reaching the most expensive cost ever, the university said.

“These prices have really skyrocketed, and this is a demand-driven phenomenon,” Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service livestock economist David Anderson said in the news release.

The demand is coming from all directions.

While big chains such as Arby’s have rolled out brisket options, the cut of meat is also becoming more accessible to home cooks with ceramic smokers, wood pellet smokers, YouTube tutorials and TV celebrity pit masters, the Beaumont Enterprise reported.

“I tell you, it’s just taken off and gone crazy,” said Danny Mikes, owner of Fat Boys BBQ in Temple, Texas, and president of the Central Texas Barbecue Association, according to the newspaper. “And they’re paying more for it. The demand for it just drives the price stupid...There are very, very good cooks everywhere that have really learned how to do brisket.”

New suppliers are entering the brisket market to meet the demand. Tyson Inc. reintroduced brisket to its retailer customers so grocery shoppers can find its product on store shelves, according to Bloomberg.

Jason Ott, with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, said brisket is “about 1% of a harvested cow,” and “there are only two sections of brisket per cow,” KRIS reported.

The new supply apparently hasn’t been enough to lower the price you pay at the grocery store. Terry Moench, owner of Moody’s Quality Meats in Corpus Christi, said the cost of brisket at his market is 30 percent higher than last year because of widespread demand, according to KRIS.

“So there’s not as many briskets as there would be on the common marketplace, because they’re being used by restaurants or they’re being used in other fashions of the industry,” Moench told the Corpus Christi TV station.

That’s a far cry from when brisket was desired because of its affordability. Now it’s the third-most expensive cut behind primal rib and loin, Anderson said in the Texas A&M University news release. And it’s not just because we’re in the thick of barbecue season — according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, wholesale brisket prices have increased 11 percent in the past year, The Eagle in Bryan, Texas reported.

This means the higher prices could be here to stay.

“If you can’t do brisket, then nobody is going to come see you,” Jeff Savell, a professor at Texas A&M University, said in the news release. “If you think about all the top-ranked barbecue restaurants in the state, they all do brisket wonderfully. It is just part of the game.”

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Chacour Koop is a Real-Time reporter based in Kansas City. Previously, he reported for the Associated Press, Galveston County Daily News and Daily Herald in Chicago.