After years of lackluster barbecue, Dallas is finally home to some of the state's finest barbecue joints. But as lines wind out the doors of Lockhart Smokehouse and Pecan Lodge, other barbecue restaurants are struggling to keep up with the rising cost of food, particularly the brisket that so many of us love to eat by the pound.
In a post on barbecue enthusiast and meat tourist Bryan Norton's blog, Texas BBQ Treasure Hunt, Norton details the staggering costs that barbecue restaurants face in keeping their doors open. Any omnivore who's ever been to a grocery store knows how expensive good beef is, even the less pricey cuts used in Texas barbecue. In the beginning of 2015, brisket prices hit an all-time high, and beef prices show no sign of slowing down.
At Texas Monthly yesterday, Daniel Vaughn declared "the end of cheap beef." According to Vaughn, the price of whole choice brisket rose from $2.14 per pound at the beginning of 2014 to $3.45 by year's end. The cost of Prime beef is even higher, and beef prices won't be tapering anytime soon, thanks to a persistent drought in Texas and beef shortages across the country.
Back at Texas BBQ Treasure Hunt, Norton notes that brisket, the barbecue staple that made Texas famous, was once an "unloved" and inexpensive cut of beef. But now barbecue joints are moving away from using U.S.D.A. Certified Prime briskets in their operations because they're too expensive. Restaurants that continue to offer it despite the price hike are forced to pass that cost on to consumers.
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Unfortunately, it isn't just beef that is making barbecue expensive to produce. Perhaps the most surprising finding in Norton's post is that barbecue restaurants can spend upwards of $25,000 per year just to offer diners the free bread that is expected at a Texas barbecue joint. Keeping diners stocked in pickles, onions, barbecue sauce and crackers isn't cheap, either, especially when wasteful patrons toss them in the garbage. One unnamed barbecue joint reported spending $5,000 per month on the free condiment bar alone.
— David McLain (@starsfandave) January 8, 2015
Local barbecue restaurants and enthusiasts seemed to echo Norton's findings. The blog post was shared on Twitter by Lockhart Smokehouse, which may be falling victim to the waste that Norton mentions. One diner, @starsfandave, tweeted the restaurant to share that it consistently gave him three pieces of bread instead of one, with the remainder going in the trash. Even Vaughn co-signed the post via tweet.
To combat the difficulties barbecue joints face in keeping their products affordable, Norton offers helpful tips to diners on how to further support their favorite businesses, like paying cash to avoid costly credit card fees and ordering cheaper proteins, like smoked turkey and sausage links. As Dallas' barbecue scene grows stronger, these reminders could mean the difference between several great barbecue restaurants and just a few.