If your Katz’s deli sandwich is shockingly expensive, you can maybe blame Arby’s. Beef prices are rising across the country, but brisket has seen an even greater increase compared to other cuts of meat. And at least one barbecue expert thinks it’s due to the aforementioned fast food chain’s half-hearted attempt at a smoked meat sandwich.
Writing for Texas Monthly’s dedicated barbecue blog, TMBBQ, Daniel Vaughn first reported on the brisket shortage in April. He noted that at the famous BBQ joints in Texas (where brisket is by far the signature dish throughout the state), proprietors were paying consistently around $2.00 per pound for raw brisket recent years- but that has jumped well over $3.00 for some weeks in 2014. For establishments cooking thousands of pounds of brisket every week and hesitating to raise prices on regular customers, that represents a huge additional cost.
At the time, Vaughn chalked up the increase to the devastating drought and cattle depletion that has hit the US. (Cattle levels are currently at their lowest since 1951.) And that is certainly a huge factor. But why did brisket prices increase so much more than, say, ground chuck or ribeye?
But at the end of May, Vaughn identified another culprit: the Arby’s Smokehouse Brisket Sandwich. Introduced with great fanfare throughout the chain’s 3000+ locations this spring, Vaughn calculates that the chain conservatively needs 6,000 briskets every day. That’s 5% of the nation’s brisket supply.
He also points out that while ground meat can be made from many parts of the cow, each head of cattle can only produce two briskets, making a limited supply for increasing demand.
Vaughn cites an increase in the spread of Texas BBQ across the country, but we all know another brisket-heavy cuisine is experiencing a renaissance in the US: the Jewish deli. Could new delis, not to mention home cooks rediscovering their bubbe’s recipes, be fueling the shortage too?
Even an institution like Katz’s is not immune from these market fluctuations. Owner Jake Dell told the Jewish Daily Forward he is eating the cost increases for now, as he doesn’t want to increase sandwich prices “every week.”
Even so, a brisket sandwich at the famous Lower East Side deli will set you back almost $18. Between this and the only recently-ended Knish Drought, let’s hope nothing happens to the US bagel supply.