The Drought Keeps Pushing Up Beef Prices, and It May Soon Impact Your Barbecue Budget

Categories: Food News

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Catherine Downes
Brisket: Outperforming your 401k.
Beef: It's what's for rich people.

Prices of Texas' most loved protein source continue to rise this year, reflecting the impact of more than three years of drought. Weather conditions have forced ranchers to cull their herds in response to water access and feed prices, and the U.S. cattle heard has fallen to its lowest level since 1950. It's projected to dip further.

The continuing decline is only expected to push beef prices higher, to levels that might soon affect the most staunch beef consumers on earth: Texas Barbecue fans.

Jill Bergus runs Lockhart Smokehouse with her husband Jeff, and she says their beef costs have been rising about 7 percent per year for the last three years. "We've been able to keep our prices steady since we've opened, " Jill says of her restaurant menu, "but I think it's something we're going to have to re-evaluate.

Justin Fourton, who owns Pecan Lodge at the Farmers Market, says he has yet to raise prices, either. "We're taking a hit, more or less," he says. If prices continue to rise at their current rate through spring and into summer, though, "I don't think we'll have a choice."

Hiking menu prices is not to be taken lightly, as customers are very sensitive to changes, according to Bergus. If she raises the price for a pound of smoked brisket too high, customers can decide to grab some pastor tacos for lunch instead. So when price of brisket rises, owners are pretty much forced to absorb it.

They could always switch to pork barbecue, but if that happens enough Texas may start to smell a bit like Tennessee.

"Yeah, we thought about putting more turkey on," says Fourton. "But it just won't work. There's not enough demand for it."

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Sharon_Moreanus topcommenter

USA has the smallest herd since 1951 and lowest beef output since 1994.

Ranches have been holding onto their heifers longer.

With feed and water declining it just going to get worse.

ScottsMerkin topcommenter

If Im going to eat BBQ its going to be the good stuff at places like this where Id be willing to pay a little more to continue to eat there.  Plus, it seems these places are always so busy and in demand that a price hike wouldnt be noticed too much.  Then again, Im just a customer and not a restaurant owner so what do I know.

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