(Bloomberg) -- Brisket is on fire.
The beef cut has busted out of Texas and is showing up on restaurant menus all over the country. Advances in barbecue technology are making it easier than ever for amateurs to whip up competition-worthy platters in the backyard. The surge for demand on both fronts has pushed U.S. prices to records, defying a broader slump in livestock markets.
It used to be that home cooks were intimidated by the challenge of turning the huge slabs of meat into smoky goodness. (A full cut can weigh in at 18 pounds or more.) With an electric-powered wood-pellet smoker, you can set the grill to a desired temperature, walk away, and come back some eight to 12 hours later to tender perfection.
Normally with brisket, “99% of people are going to screw it up,” says Shane Miller, senior vice president of beef enterprise at Tyson Foods Inc. “But if you get a pellet smoker, you’re a hero.” The company recently reintroduced the cut to its customers and found willing takers in retailers such as Walmart Inc.
Brisket is a rare bright spot in beef. Demand has been consistent overall, but supplies have been so large they’ve kept prices for most cuts under pressure. Wholesale beef prices are the lowest for this time of year since 2013. Even pork, which got a boost earlier this year as swine fever shrank China’s hog herds, has fallen from its April peak. Meanwhile, investors have fled the cattle market.
Money managers decreased their net-long cattle position to 41,138 futures and options as of June 11, U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission data showed on Friday. The figure, which measures the difference between bets on a price increase and wagers on a decline, is the lowest in almost a year and is down from this year’s peak in April of 154,550. Funds are net-bearish in feeder cattle, the animals entering feedlots to bulk up on corn.
By contrast, wholesale brisket climbed to a record $2.3993 a pound on June 3, and the price is up about 11% in the past 12 months, U.S. Department of Agriculture data show.
There was a similar surge about five years ago, with one key difference. “This price level is occurring when production is 10% higher than 2014 and 2015,’’ says Bob Brown, an independent market consultant in Edmond, Oklahoma. “It shows that underlying demand for brisket is significantly higher than five years ago.”
Bigger Than Texas
Part of the current boost is attributable to a seasonal demand jump in Texas, which buys up half of the nation’s retail briskets in the second quarter, according to Sarah Havala, a commodity researcher at Topco Associates LLC, the largest American retail food-group purchasing organization.
But it’s bigger than Texas.
Fiesta Restaurant Group just rolled out brisket tacos, and the White Castle hamburger chain introduced a brisket slider earlier this year. Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse in San Diego has a “dry-aged burger” on its menu, which is about 70% brisket. Brian Christman, executive chef at Double Eagle, says the fatty tissue in brisket upholds the flavor of dry-aged beef better than a lean cut does.
Tony Mantuano, who’s behind Michelin-starred Spiaggia in Chicago, just opened Maddon’s Post with Chicago Cubs Manager Joe Maddon. The restaurant’s rigatoni with brisket is a top-three menu item, Mantuano says.
“Brisket is popular today because the meat is incredibly flavorful, which is largely due to the percentage of meat to fat,” Mantuano says. “If cooked properly, the fat melts away, basting the meat and keeping it juicy.”
The Pellet-Grill Effect
For the home cook, pellet grills are taking over, Edward Decker, vice president of merchandising at Home Depot Inc., said in a March conference with investors.
“Smoking is tough because you’ve got to get the temperature set in a kamado grill or a cold smoker, offset grill,” he says. “These new pellet grills are almost unfair. You load up the pellets, you turn it on, and you walk away for nine hours and you have a perfect brisket.”
Other tools are also helping consumers make the perfect brisket, such as thermometers that allow barbecuers to monitor their meat via phones. Equipment that attaches to a grill, such as the Flame Boss, uses fans and probes to control and monitor temperature.
James Cruse, a pitmaster at Central City BBQ in New Orleans, said he’ll use a Flame Boss at times, but he doesn’t always use one to make an ace brisket.
“You can cook brisket in a trash can,” he says. “And if you can maintain a constant temperature, you can cook a good brisket.”
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