The price of brisket has soared about 20 percent on the wholesale market in the past year to a record high, creating more than a slathering of concern in the hallowed pit-smoked haunts of Tarrant County and across Texas, where the cut is synonymous with barbecue.
The crunch is felt at Longoria's BBQ in Everman, where the sliced beef sandwiches, sausage and jerky are made from brisket, said owner Danny Longoria. Brisket is the lower-chest slab of beef.
"Some people say it goes up every year at this time because of St. Patrick's Day," said Longoria, 43, who added that he had to raise prices 50 cents a pound, from $10 to $10.50. "Others say it's because more economical cuts are in greater demand."
Dallas Green, a champion barbecue smoker from Parker County, woke from a five-week coma after a motorcycle accident to find brisket prices had soared. He didn't need more bad news while convalescing from head injuries, broken ribs and a fractured pelvis, he said.
"Just friggin' outrageous," Green, who returned to work a week ago, said in a call from his Hudson Oaks restaurant, Cowboys Barbeque & Rib Co. But he's decided to eat the higher cost to build traffic to his venture, less than a year old.
Chris Carroll of Spring Creek Barbecue and Charlie Geren of Railhead Smokehouse said they're similarly straining to keep from raising brisket prices, while other chains have edged upward.
Mike Roach, president of Fort Worth-based Ben E. Keith Foods, one of the region's biggest suppliers to restaurants, said by e-mail that demand for brisket has been "very strong lately as a result of the retail consumer trading down from more costly cuts such as sirloin and rib-eyes."
The average wholesale price of brisket rose to $1.78 a pound for the week ending March 5, up from $1.48 a year ago, a about 20 percent increase, according to CattleFax, a beef industry analytical service. At the same time, some pricey cuts like bone-in strip loin fell to $3.59 a pound from $4.28, a 16 percent drop.
"Three years ago, a consumer who would have gone out and bought a strip loin or porterhouse steak now says, 'I'm nervous about the economy and don't want to spend as much,'" said Joe Muldowney, a market analyst at New Jersey-based Urner Barry Publications, which has tracked such price swings since 1858.
"So they're buying hamburger and brisket," Muldowney said. While more expensive than a year ago, they're still cheaper than the luxury cuts.
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