How Texas Barbecue Joints Are Tackling the Rising Costs of Meat

by Suzanne Halliburton

Texas barbecue — and we do beef — really hits the spot on a weekend afternoon. There’s nothing better than a plate of brisket, a side of beans and potato salad with a chunk of cornbread.

Used to be, a plate of Texas barbecue wasn’t that expensive. But meat prices, particularly beef, have skyrocketed since the start of the pandemic. In order to stay in business, some Texas barbecue spots have gotten creative with their customers. The Wall Street Journal polled some of these owners to find out how they’re dealing with the rising cost of the food they serve.

Skeeter Miller owns The County Line franchise in Austin. It’s more upscale barbecue, but it’s still brisket, sausage and ribs. The restaurant serves a “Big Daddy Platter.” That’s another way of describing a heaping platter of smoked beef ribs. Price has increased from $18.99 to $32.99.

Miller figures he can’t do anything about the escalating prices. But he can be accountable to customers for the price hikes. He told the WSJ that he gave his waiters his cell phone number. A customer who complains to them about prices is given his private number. However, Miller said no customer has called him, as yet.

“If you go into a high-end steakhouse you expect prices to be high, but when you walk into a barbecue restaurant, you don’t,” Mr. Miller said.

Texas barbecue features all the meats. But Texans brag on their brisket. Late last year, CNBC had the price breakdown on how much various meats or proteins have increased. Beef and veal topped the list at 20.1 percent, followed by pork at 14.1, chicken 8.8, eggs 11.6 and fish/seafood 11.

CNBC also reported that the pandemic left cattle ranch nowhere to send their beef in 2020. They then had to cull cattle. And they finally cut back on production, which cut their supply as demand started going up.

So let’s check back in with the Texas barbecue joint owners.

“It is a crisis and we are deeply concerned,” Emily Williams Knight, president of the Texas Restaurant Association, told WSJ. She said that if the prices continue to rise, pitmasters in small towns could go out of business.

“In Texas, in all 254 counties you can go get barbecue—that’s what we could lose.”

Texas barbecue joint owner Stephen Joseph said he’s snot letting any meat go to waste. When he does slice fat off his brisket now, he mixes it in with burgers and sausages. He also uses aluminum foil to cook the briskets, as opposed to butcher paper.

“I don’t think it makes as good a brisket, but sometimes you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do,” Joseph told WSJ.

Joseph owns Joseph’s Riverport Bar B-Q in Jefferson, a small town near the Texas-Louisiana border.

Another Texas barbecue owner decided to install a full bar when he opened another location to bring in more money to offset beef prices.