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Brisket prices heating up with summer weather

By David P. Anderson, Extension economist, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service

Brisket prices are heating up just like summer temperatures. One of the most interesting beef demand trends over the last few years has been the growth in demand for briskets. It’s not just new craft BBQ joints popping up everywhere in Texas, but even big chains like Arby’s jumping in and they all serve brisket.

Briskets used to be an inexpensive beef cut that benefited from long, slow cooking at low temperatures. They are no longer inexpensive. What used to be a very inexpensive cut, the primal brisket is now only behind the primal rib and loin in value. In the last week of May, the comprehensive cutout brisket value was $213.47 per hundredweight (cwt), up 19.4% from the same week the year before. Just during May brisket prices jumped from $194.39 to $213.47 by the end of the month. The monthly average price was up 12% compared to last year. In comparison, only the primal short plate was up as much as 1% and the primal rib and loin were both down about 1% from a year ago.

Many top-end BBQ joints working to produce a truly exceptional meal use and advertise USDA Prime or branded briskets. USDA Prime briskets hit $215.76 per cwt at the end of May and were outpaced by branded primal briskets that hit $220.82 per cwt. Prime, branded, and Choice primal briskets are up 21% compared to a year ago, while Select and Ungraded are “only” up 17% and 15%, respectively.

This is a case where demand is outstripping supply, leading to quickly rising prices. Fed steer and heifer slaughter is up a little less than 2% through May compared to last year. Quality grade composition of beef supplies matter. About 8.1% of cattle graded, graded Prime in May, compared to 6.9% in May 2018. Slightly fewer cattle graded Choice 70.1% in May 2019 compared to 70.4% in May 2018. Select supplies were down just over a percentage point in May. Increasing steer slaughter and cattle on feed should increase available supplies in coming months.

The future growth rate in the nation’s cattle herd will be critical for brisket prices. While we cut many products from other primal beef cuts, a brisket is a brisket (forgive my simple economist description). As herd growth slows and overall cattle prices decline, brisket supply growth won’t keep up with current demand growth. It’s likely that restaurant prices will rise in response to higher wholesale brisket costs to try to preserve a bit of margin.

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