By Kenny Wiley
Brisket prices and demand are climbing rapidly as a reflection of the Texas barbecue industry’s sustained surge, according to Texas A&M University industry experts.
David Anderson, an agricultural economics professor and AgriLife Extension economist at Texas A&M, said Wednesday that he and others anticipate a record amount of total meat production in the U.S. in 2019. He said briskets, bacon, chicken wings and hamburgers have shown particular strength in recent years.
“For the particular cuts of briskets, demand is really skyrocketing because of, I think, the growth of barbecue restaurants,” Anderson said. “What we are seeing is an increase in prices because of that demand, even though the supply is growing.”
According to Anderson, the comprehensive cutout brisket value was $213.47 per hundredweight as of the end of May, which was up 19.4 percent from the same week in 2018. Anderson said the price per hundredweight at the beginning of the month was $194.39, and the monthly average price was up 12% compared to May 2018. In comparison, only the primal short plate was up as much as 1 percent, and the primal rib and loin were both down about 1 percent from a year ago.
Alan Caldwell, owner and pit master of Fargo’s Pit BBQ in Bryan, said Wednesday afternoon that the price has climbed further over the past few weeks. Recent sales, despite the end of the school year, have been robust, Caldwell said. He added that the cost of brisket has had challenging effects.
“We don’t want to adjust prices just yet — we’ll see if this thing levels out by the time the students get back, and then we’ll make that decision,” Caldwell said. “The meat is the backbone of the barbecue, and it’s expensive. It’s that time of year for barbecue, but it’s expensive right now.”
Jeff Savell, a university distinguished professor of animal science at Texas A&M, said that “brisket prices have gone up, as well as other meat prices, and supply and demand is an easy answer for that.” Savell said that the state’s top barbecue places are using high-quality “top-choice” brisket, which he said is the upper part of the choice grade. He explained that there is less top-choice brisket being produced when compared with “choice” or “select” grades.
“The four big states for beef production and packing production are Texas, Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado,” Savell said.
Davey Griffin, a professor and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension meat specialist, said Wednesday that consumption of brisket in Texas outpaces the amount produced in the state.
“There are places all over the country and all over the world that use brisket, but the biggest part of the briskets that we know these major companies produce — especially these high-quality ones, are shipped to Texas,” Griffin said. “They’re used all over the country, just in different ways.”
Griffin said that some non-barbecue national chain restaurants have added brisket options and use lower-grade options that also have impacted the market and increased demand.
U.S. Department of Agriculture data indicates that wholesale brisket jumped to a record of $2.3993 a pound on June 3. The price climbed about 11% percent over the past 12 months.
Anderson said that briskets initially grew in popularity because of their affordability, but that cut is now the third-most expensive from a cattle carcass.
“They’re usually cheap and tough, but they’ve also responded very well to low-temperature cooking over a long period of time,” Anderson said. “It has gone from something very low-priced to now there are only two cuts more expensive than a brisket: the rib and the loin, or the steaks and high-value stuff.”
Anderson said that following the most recent drought, cattle prices have been at record highs in the United States. He added that cattle supply has been growing in recent months.
Savell said barbecue consumption in Texas is nearing unprecedented levels, even compared to other popular cuisine in the state such as Tex-Mex. He cited YouTube videos, newspaper and magazine articles and television specials as evidence of the industry’s popularity, as well as the long lines and road trips consumers embrace to pursue the food.
“I don’t know of any food group right now that has that same type of loyal following,” Savell said. He said that A&M’s barbecue-themed classes and workshops are in high demand, as well as its annual Barbecue Summer Camp, which was held for three days in College Station earlier this month.