BBQ lovers: Here are some reasons why brisket is starting to cost more

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AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Barbecue lovers may be paying a little more for brisket as prices rise for this cut of beef.

According to Dr. David Anderson, professor and extension economist in the Department of Agricultural Economics at Texas A&M University says last week’s average price for choice quality grade was about 15% higher than the same week in the previous year. 

“It’s really indicative of this growing demand in the marketplace from all of us consumers who like barbecue,” he said. 

Anderson says last week, the price for choice quality grade brisket was about $1.80 per pound, compared to $1.56 this time a year ago.  

Sliced brisket from Bert’s Bar-B-Que. (Steffi Lee/Nexstar Broadcasting)

“Briskets used to be very inexpensive compared to all the other cuts, but as this growth in barbecue has gone up, it’s now the third-highest primal value cut, just behind the rib and the loin,” he said. 

Experts and restaurant owners say potential causes for the increasing cost are popularity and the demand outpacing availability, even though there’s been a growing supply. Bert’s Bar-B-Que in Austin, which has been operating for nearly five decades, knows the importance of having brisket on the menu.  

“If you went to Texas and you said, I had great chicken and ribs, they say, well, what about the brisket?” Gary Johnson, owner and operator of the 24th Street location, said.  

Johnson’s experiencing increasing brisket prices. But customer loyalty is key, so he doesn’t want to constantly adjust prices on the menu.

“We’re just stuck on a rollercoaster, so when it’s high, we just have to eat it,” he said. “That is what is the hardest part for me.” 

“In the old days, I’d say 15 years ago, maybe the brisket [prices] would go up occasionally once a month and they’d come right back down – only a couple of percentage points,” he added. “Now it can go 15 to 20 percent in a week or two and that’s what’s so upsetting.”  

Bert’s Bar-B-Que works with three main suppliers. Though price is important, Johnson says it’s worth paying more per pound for freshness, like if the brisket’s been processed within the last two or three weeks.  

Gary Johnson shows a brisket smoking inside the pit at Bert’s Bar-B-Que. (Steffi Lee/Nexstar Broadcasting)

“There are only two pieces of brisket per steer and so if you start adding up how many briskets are cooked a day, that’s a lot of cattle,” Johnson said. 

On a 12-pound brisket, for example, after the yield is only around six pounds after you trim the fat. 

Though restaurant owners may speculate about the various factors behind the prices, such as the current popularity, Johnson doesn’t think there’s one direct answer. 

“I don’t think anybody has a real handle on it, to tell you the truth,” he said. 

Even though the prices pose some challenges, Johnson says it’s important to show up for his customers, while providing the best quality of food and service as possible. 

“Even if we’re having a bad day, we have a smile on our face and we’re really appreciative of the customers,” he said. “And the good brisket – don’t forget.” 

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