Brisket Was Cheap and Delicious; Now It’s Expensive and You Have to Wait in Line
Humble Cut of Beef’s Sudden Popularity Drives Up Prices, Upsetting Some Barbecue Traditionalists
Brisket used to be a cheaper alternative to top cuts like sirloin, but the tasty meat has seen a sudden spike in popularity and prices are soaring.
Not long ago, Texas-style smoked brisket was an inexpensive, workingman’s meal piled on butcher paper at roadside barbecue joints.
It’s still that, but now it’s also showing up alongside garlic-confit-infused collard greens and potato salad with pickled mustard seed in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood, as well as stacked high between slices of bread at fast-food restaurants.
Brisket’s sudden popularity is driving prices to record highs, upsetting some barbecue traditionalists who say the runaway demand for the humble cut of beef is getting out of hand.
“It’s like gold now,” states aTexas barbecue family whose pit masters have done this work for generations.
Smoked brisket, a spice-rubbed hunk of slowly cooked meat traditionally eaten without sauce or cutlery, has always been treated with near-religious zeal by devotees in the Lone Star State.
But the infatuation with Texas-style brisket is spreading across the country. Foodies are stampeding to restaurants in New York, Chicago and San Francisco, waiting in long lines to secure a few slices from a true practitioner of the smoking arts. Connoisseurs are embarking on barbecue-joint pilgrimages, ingesting pounds of meat a day and waxing eloquent about its perfectly rendered fat and crusty exterior.
In Austin, one of the nation’s most renowned brisket purveyors, Franklin Barbecue, now attracts such hordes that some people camp out overnight, in order to savor the work of a bona-fide brisket master before the meat runs out around 3 p.m.
Choice-grade brisket, which comes from the cow’s tough pectoral muscles, was selling at $3.34 a pound in the spot market this week, up from around $2.30 at this time last year and $1.59 five years ago, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
There is sound reason behind the smoked brisket boom.
Once you come down to Texas and you have a phenomenal slice of fatty brisket, it’s really hard to compare to what you experience eating other types of barbecue.
A proper brisket is smoked with wood for up to 18 hours to develop a dark crust on the outside and a juicy, tender interior, he says. Its current iteration can be traced back to the Central Texas meat markets run by Czech and German immigrants who tossed meat that didn’t sell into the smoker.
But now pit masters in the cradle of Texas brisket are having a hard time getting the popular cut. There are only two briskets per cow, weighing anywhere from six pounds to more than 12.
After charging $9.99 a pound for years, a gentleman, who runs a BBQ in Smithville, a community of 3,900 people about 40 miles southeast of Austin, had to increase the price to $13.49 a pound, and is considering pricing brisket daily to reflect market trends.
It may have to become like fresh fish – priced daily.
The effects of the smoked brisket rush are reverberating beyond barbecue restaurants, hitting Jewish delis, where the hyper-popular cut is brined to make corned beef and other specialties.
While all beef has become more expensive because of a punishing southwestern drought that has forced cattle ranchers to thin their herds, brisket prices have outpaced increases in other cuts.
Some industry observers estimate that fast-food chain Arby’s swallowed up 5% of the already tight brisket supply when it reintroduced its Smokehouse Brisket sandwich last summer, promoting it with a 13-hour commercial featuring a brisket gradually cooking inside a smoker. The company didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Smoked barbecue brisket is also gaining followers among Jews more familiar with the oven-baked variety served at many family gatherings.
In a sign of the newfound obsession with the meat, the 65 available spots for “Camp Brisket,” a January seminar, were filled in less than five minutes. The event organized by Foodways Texas, a group devoted to preserving the state’s culinary heritage, drew would-be pit masters from as far away as Kazakhstan who paid $495 to trim, smoke and consume heaps of brisket for two days.
Some in the barbecue world are happily catering to the expanding numbers of brisket acolytes, How about a “urban BBQ bowls,” with layers of brisket, garlic- mashed potatoes and green beans – pretty creative!
But purists say the brisket craze violates the origins of barbecue as an accessible, no-frills meal, and scoff at the lines of food lovers snaking out the most popular joints.
Source: www.wsj.com, 2-5-2015