Brisket shortage has barbecue lovers facing rising costs

Jan 22, 2015 11:25 AM by CBS News

Barbecue lovers are facing sticker shock from a brisket shortage. In Texas, they cooked up four tons of the smoky specialty for Gov. Greg Abbott's inauguration party. But brisket's growing popularity there may come at a bad time, reports CBS News correspondent Vicente Arenas.

Customers line up at Fargo's Pit BBQ in Bryan, Texas, for a plate full of the top-rated brisket co-owner Belender Wells has been serving for 15 years.

Business is good, but the restaurant is facing a new challenge: a dramatic spike in the cost of beef.

At first, she didn't know her business was going to make it through.

"The choices we have to make -- because to maintain the quality, you are going to have to raise your price or you go out of business," Wells said.

Brisket prices have increased 60 percent in the last year, from $2.21 per pound to $3.52.

"Today in the brisket market, it is the perfect storm going the wrong way," Texas A&M University meat science professor Jeff Savell said. "There are fewer briskets today than in the past. But there is a greater demand for briskets."

It's become a hot-ticket item because of upturn in the economy and growing popularity of Texas-style barbecue nationwide. But droughts in states like Texas and California have forced ranchers to thin their herds to the lowest levels in 60 years.

Brisket is considered the gold standard of barbecue. When prepared correctly, it is slow-cooked for eight to 12 hours, with a dark outer bark and juicy, tender inside.

"Texas barbecue without brisket, well it's just pork. That's no fun," Texas Monthly Barbecue editor Daniel Vaughn said. "Texas-style barbecue has become a lot more popular all across the country. Even fast food chains like Arby's have gotten on the bandwagon of brisket."

Vaughn estimates Arby's consumes about 300,000 pounds of brisket a week -- nearly 5 percent of the country's stock. That further limits supply.

Higher prices, police say, may have driven one man to allegedly steal at least $2,000 worth of meat from 19 different grocery stores in Austin, Texas, so he could sell it to local restaurants.

Fargo's finally had to raise its prices, from $12 per pound to $16.

"It is a lot but there was a two-year gap where I didn't raise prices at all," Wells said.

For the customer's that remain undeterred by the cost increase, Fargo's will continue to slice beef, though they'd also prefer to cut prices.

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