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

Brisket: Outperforming your 401k.
Brisket: Outperforming your 401k.
Catherine Downes

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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