Why Is Brisket So Expensive?

Over just a few years, brisket has gone from being an infamously difficult and virtually unknown cut of meat to the Next Big Thing in American cuisine. And its price tag has jumped too. Although meat prices have risen all over the nation, the cost of brisket still seems weirdly high. Why is brisket so expensive?

Brisket is so expensive because of the high demand for it brought on by Texas and the famous BBQ culture it created. There are also only two briskets per cow, and cattle farming is becoming less viable. Consumers compete with restaurant chains for this versatile cut of meat too. 

why is brisket so expensive

Read on to learn the exact reasons why this superstar cut of meat has seen its price spike over the last few years. We’ll look at each reason in detail before summarizing why brisket is so expensive overall. 

Texas, the Brisket State

First, we have Texas to thank for brisket being so expensive. Texan BBQ is a favorite cooking style, and brisket is its most famous cut of meat. So whether or not you’ve had genuine Texan brisket, you’ve undoubtedly heard the buzz about it.

Texas takes its brisket seriously, and it’s still responsible for about half of America’s brisket consumption. It started this trend too when Texan BBQ joints and celebrity chefs introduced their brisket style to the country.

People now stand in lines – or sometimes even camp overnight – outside the Lone Star State’s best BBQ restaurants for a taste of their famous briskets.

You’ll also find that Texas has the most diversity in brisket. Although Texan BBQ typically slow-cooks brisket after giving it a dry rub, that isn’t the only way. You can also find Texan brisket smoked or served in sandwiches, bowls, or even tacos.

The Growing Barbeque Culture

But, of course, brisket wouldn’t be so expensive if it was loved by Texas alone – it’s spread right across the country. Barbeque is easy to eat, enjoyed by almost everyone who eats beef, and it isn’t too hard to cook either.

Everyone from home consumers to restaurants has become obsessed with brisket, which has caused a surge in demand for it. This demand, of course, hasn’t been matched by a growing supply, though. So, brisket’s price has shot up.

And, until the cattle industry either sees an unprecedented boom or the trend fades, you can expect brisket to maintain its high price tag – or for that price tag to go up.

Pellet smokers have revolutionized cooking your brisket too, which has also raised the price of brisket. Beforehand, the brisket was notorious for being time-intensive and overcomplicated to make. 

However, with an electric-powered wood-pellet smoker, anyone can make great brisket. You just set the smoker to the right temperature, load in the brisket, and come back nine hours later.

Overall, this combination of brisket’s colossal popularity and ease of cooking has resulted in it becoming one of America’s most popular cuts of meat almost overnight. But, unfortunately, the days of a cheap barbeque lunch are gone.

Each Cow Only Has Two Briskets

A brisket is a cut from the pectoral muscles. However, each cow only has two sets of pectorals, so you can only get two briskets from it. 

So, while butchering a cow might get you a few dozen steaks and loads of ground beef, the brisket supply is pretty much fixed. Of course, nobody can do anything about this either since this isn’t an issue with the butchering process itself – it’s the cow’s anatomy at fault here.

Furthermore, not all cows can provide a large brisket either. Some cows are smaller than others and can only yield six pounds of brisket, whereas others can give over twelve pounds. This difference means that the heaviest cuts can be costlier due to their rarity.

Only two briskets per cow mean that farmers must slaughter many more of their animals to fulfill the demand for brisket. Doing so can also create a surplus of the other cuts of meat, which might not sell as quickly. So, again, brisket appears more expensive.

Many Recipes Use Brisket

Brisket is also a surprisingly versatile cut of beef. Even if you aren’t into barbeque, there are still thousands of ways to turn brisket into something delicious. 

Because brisket holds flavor so well, it’s the perfect cut for testing out dry rubs and marinades. This quality also means that it’s excellent alongside a good sauce. Everything from nachos to sandwiches works well with brisket – but there’s only so much brisket to go around.

Jewish culture has a special place for brisket too. Not only do Jewish delis brine brisket make their signature corned beef, but it’s a popular holiday meal too. The large size of brisket makes it excellent for feeding large families, Jewish or otherwise.

You can compare brisket to a Thanksgiving turkey in this way. Each year, around the holidays, the price of turkey shoots up. A similar thing happens with brisket when demand skyrockets in Jewish communities around their holidays. But, because of barbeque culture, that demand doesn’t necessarily go down much either.

The Cost of Cattle Farming

Farmers have had it rough, too. Farming has always been a difficult task but recently, increased regulations, and rising land costs have made it more difficult than ever. These difficulties are, of course, reflected in the price.

And even though all farmers aren’t doing great, cattle ranching has been hit some of the worst. Despite the great demand for brisket, the supply hasn’t increased much – we have droughts to blame for that. 

Unlike sheep or chickens, cows need to graze on large amounts of grass per day to yield good meat. Unfortunately, droughts kill grass because there isn’t enough water to grow properly. That means farmers have to thin their herds out to prevent most animals from starving to death. 

And, since the amount of brisket per cow can’t be changed, this increased scarcity has driven the cost even further.

The best brisket comes from healthy cows too. Of course, this is true for all beef. Still, a low-quality cut of brisket is especially noticeable – it’ll be less fatty and taste worse overall. Keeping a herd of cattle healthy and harvesting quality brisket in these times has become incredibly difficult.

Lastly, fuel prices have also raised the brisket costs – alongside the cost of all meat. Since ranches are often far from urban centers, the beef must be trucked over long distances. And if you raise the cost of fuel, trucking becomes more expensive. And so does the brisket.

Competition with Restaurants

Of course, restaurant chains and big-name brands have caught the brisket bug too. It isn’t only individual consumers and small-scale barbeque joints that are in the market for brisket. Restaurants like Arby’s are ordering the cut in massive quantities.

Many restaurants now offer brisket dishes, whereas a decade ago, you’d barely see the cut on any menu at all outside of Texas. But it is all over America now.

Not only does this make brisket look like a premium cut of meat, but it also means that the amount of brisket available to your local butchery is reduced. Chains have already bought up most of the supply.

Final Word

To summarize, brisket is so expensive because of the massive demand. Texas-inspired barbeque culture has lifted this cut of meat to new culinary heights, and everyone from your dad to Arby’s is now buying brisket. 

Nevertheless, the supply of brisket hasn’t gone up either. Cattle farmers can’t provide more brisket because there are only two per cow. Furthermore, increased fuel and land prices, droughts, and new regulations have made farming harder.

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