The Jew And The Carrot

The Great Brisket Crisis of 2014

By Michael Kaminer

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Arby’s Smokehouse Brisket Sandwich has launched a brisket crisis. Credit: Arby’s.

Guard your briskets!

Brisket prices are skyrocketing nationwide as voracious demand for a “limited edition” Arby’s brisket sandwich eats into supply for the prized cut of meat.

Fueled by a hugely successful online marketing campaign, the fast-food giant is consuming more than a half-million pounds of brisket every week to keep up with its 3,300 stores demand for the “Smokehouse Brisket Sandwich,” whose schtick is that it smokes for thirteen hours.

At Jewish-themed restaurants around New York, brisket already commands premium prices. At the tourist-friendly Carnegie Deli, a brisket sandwich will set you back $17.99. Mile End’s smoked-meat sandwich, made of seasoned and marinated brisket, is a relative bargain at $15. A brisket sandwich at Katz’s Deli — albeit perfectly cooked and stacked sky-high — clocks in at $17.45. Owner Jake Dell says he’s eating the cost of the brisket shortage on the back end. “I can’t change my prices every week. Prices are only going one way and it’s clearly not down,” Dell told the Forward.

According to Texas Monthly’s barbecue-fanatic site TMBBQ, the sandwich went viral after Arby’s posted a record-breaking, Warhol-esque, 13-hour “commercial” that showcased the smoking process for a single piece of meat in real time. Though the spot aired on just one old-school television station — in Duluth, Minnesota — word spread about the video online, and the bonkers reaction included serious coverage from The New York Times to Mashable to Eater.

Almost singlehandedly, TMBBQ reports, Arby’s has pushed brisket prices from roughly $2.50 per pound in early March 2014 to $3.15 per pound by mid-April. Now, foodies are fearing a possible shortage of raw brisket in a meat market that’s already depleted; while the popularity of BBQ — and deli — keeps growing, the US cattle population has reached record low levels, TMBBQ says.

Grubstreet puts the brisket boondoggle in perspective this week: “The cut of beef is more popular than ever, but of course there are only two per cow, which is why price has jumped 44 percent since last year,” the site reports. One “estimate on the chain’s impact is sobering: If you figure 281,736 pounds per week, plus a ‘conservative’ 43.2 percent product loss, it comes to around 3,000 head of cattle every single day, a period during which only 60,000 produce brisket.

“So, that sandwich? It’s using about 5 percent of America’s entire supply, which almost certainly will affect your local barbecue establishment at a time when cattle production is unnaturally low.”


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