Local barbecue joints impacted by meatpacking shortage

John Murray, pitmaster for Milt’s BBQ, said the cost of brisket has nearly doubled in the past few weeks, so
he is warning customers that prices will continue to fluctuate in the future.

You may have noticed a rise in meat prices at the grocery store or that Wendy’s has sold out of hamburgers; soon you will notice local barbecue joints raising their prices to stay afloat.

“We have to raise prices too. I don’t want the customer to think we’re just jacking up the prices. We’re doing what we have to, to stay open,” Pitmaster for Milt’s BBQ in Kyle John Murray said.

In the past few weeks the cost of brisket has nearly doubled, so Murray is warning customers that prices will continue to fluctuate in the future.

The demand for beef is high, so is the amount of beef available, but meat processing plants have closed their doors after hundreds of people tested positive for COVID-19.

At least 38 meatpacking plants have ceased operations at some point since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, USA Today reported. The highest reported infection rate in Texas is tied to the JBS beef processing plant in Cactus, located in the Texas Panhandle. At least 159 coronavirus infections and one death have been associated with that outbreak.

Often meatpackers stand shoulder to shoulder, a situation which becomes an incubator for the virus.

As more meatpacking plants take necessary precautions to keep their employees, their families and surrounding communities safe, the meat supply has taken a huge hit.

Since President Donald Trump’s executive order to reopen the meat processing plants, seven more meat processing plants have closed.

The effects have finally trickled down to small businesses like Louie’s BBQ, located in Buda.

“Our representative warned us that the price would go up next week, so we ordered brisket ahead of schedule to receive the current price before the price increased,” said Matt Carver, manager.

Brisket is the primo product of barbecue joints, especially in Texas, but it’s been increasingly affected by the pandemic. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported 605,000 cattle were processed this time last year. This past week 425,000 cattle were processed, meaning a difference of 360,000 briskets, Texas Monthly reported.

Carver said there was an increase of $1.50 per a pound in his latest order.

“It doesn’t sound like a lot, but we order hundreds of pounds a week, so a dollar fifty cost adds up and we don’t see the price going down anytime soon,” Carver said.

Unfortunately, the consumer is also being taxed with the sudden price increase. Carver originally charged $23 for Prime cut brisket, but will now charge $24 per a pound. They could have charged $25, but chose to take a fifty cent margin hit.

“We can’t escape raising the price on customers. Raising the price might make customers second guess if they want to spend that much on brisket and lower the demand. It will be interesting to see more barbecue places get creative and offer specials,” Carver said.

His competition is also raising their prices, so it is affecting barbecue joints unilaterally.

Louie’s and other barbecue spots selling Prime meat are only now starting to feel the first wave of meat shortage. The restaurants and grocery stores selling Choice meat, a more widely used meat, are seeing prices double.

That is why brisket at H-E-B, which usually ranges between two to three dollars a pound is now costing between four to six dollars a pound.

It’s difficult to predict how long prices will increase, but Murray said local support will get him and his business through this rough patch.

“Support your local barbecue joint and know that we’re trying to balance affordable meals and stay open. We’re feeling the price uptick as much as the customer is,” Murray said.

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