I earned a good living raising beef for money when I was a young buck growing up in the Cumberland Highlands of Eastern Kentucky. I’d go to the stock market in London, Kentucky buy a young calf for a pittance, and set to raising it on our family farm. Once it had a good hoof weight I’d round up a buyer, and we’d take it to a rural slaughterhouse where the young steer would be transformed into freezer packets and I’d have a wallet stuffed full of cash. Kentucky’s beef bona fides have been in order for over a century. Despite its diminutive size (it’s 1/6th the size of Texas; Kentucky is home to over one million head of beef cattle. It’s the biggest beef state east of the Mississippi, and fifth largest in USA.

Of course, Texas ranks near the top with just over four million head.

But with Texas beef herds at historically low levels, we’re about to see the effect where it hurts the most; in the queue at the barbecue joint.

In 2012 Texas beef inventory stood at 4,565,000.

In 2013 that number had dwindled down to 4,015,000.

Where did those half a million heads go?

Unfortunately ol Bossy probably found herself frozen diamond hard, and on a cargo ship overseas as USA beef exports topped six billion dollars for the first time in history last year.

The average price of beef at the grocery store now stands just north of $5

Why are we shipping all that valuable meat overseas to pagan Hungarian bowmen and recalcitrant Poles?

The drought.

While we all enjoy sitting on a patio in the dead of winter eating a bowl of queso and drinking a Topo Chico, our winning battle with Mother Nature is coming at a price.

Those rainless Decembers and Januaries we’ve been enjoying these past few years mean that ranchers have been downsizing their herds relentlessly.

Heads of beef in Texas have diminished by a one million count in the past few years.

While we have all been enjoying a good laugh at New Yorkers who routinely pay $25 per pound for brisket, our happy days as mindless chuckleheads may be drawing to a close.

Texas pit bosses have held the line on their barbecue prices so long now that it’s going to affect their ability to remain solvent.

If it weren’t for beans and potatoes, Austin would be minus several barbecue joints in our Winter inventory.

Markup on these smokehouse staples has always been through the roof, and now with margins on brisket, hot guts, and beef ribs at historically low levels these side dishes are keeping a lot of area meat men in the financial black.

That and beer. That row of taps you see at your favorite smokehouse? Make sure you buy a couple pints off of it to help line the coffers of your local mom and pop.

Will barbecue, once the province of the working man, become a boutique food that only a few fat cats, and members of the landed gentry be able to afford? We’re already heading that way but don’t blame your local pit boss. He’s trying to earn a living just like the rest of us, and market forces, not naked greed, are driving the price of that chopped beef sandwich (remember when they were five for $5?) to the moon.

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epilogue:

“With this development you will see many former brisket houses turning toward pork shoulder, pork butt, turkey, pork hot guts sausages and chicken. The reason is simple. We can still get pork cheaply from giant mid-western purveyors who haven’t had to thin their herds like the Texas cattle ranchers have.”

From an article I wrote way back in 2012 when I was attempting to predict The Future Of Texas Barbecue

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