What is Going On With Meat Prices? Why the Price of Meat Keeps Going Up

meat prices

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Barbecue has never been a cheap hobby, but it’s more expensive now than ever.

If you’ve walked through the meat department in your local grocery store anytime in the past 6 months, you’ve probably noticed that meat prices have increased substantially.

Between the COVID-19 pandemic, labor shortages, supply chain disruptions, and unseasonable weather conditions throughout 2020 and 2021 there has been a very noticeable level of inflation in the United States. 

Read on to learn why your meat budget doesn’t stretch as far as it used to, and whether we should expect meat prices to slow down anytime soon

I’ll also give you some alternative cuts and other tips for saving money while still enjoying great barbecue. 

The price of meat is up by 13.6%

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for food increased by 7% from January 2021 to January 2022.

One of the most noticeable increases was in the meat category, which incurred a 13.6% increase. Beef, specifically, increased by 16% and pork was not far behind with a 14.1% increase.

A lot of these increases are still remnants of the COVID-19 pandemic which caused major shutdowns to production plants. When production plants can’t process meat, it puts farmers in a difficult position where they must euthanize livestock that cannot be processed timely.

Then, as the production plants were able to reopen, the United States began to experience massive labor shortages and supply chain disruptions.

But what does all of this mean to the average consumer? Essentially, it comes down to supply and demand. 

During the pandemic, restaurants were forced to close or reduce operations on a massive scale.

More people began eating at home, but millions of people experienced a reduction in labor due to businesses closing. People were getting laid off, millions took pay cuts, and many were uncertain about their job security. All these factors directly affect the demand for meat in the American economy.

In a matter of months, the cost of your brisket and pulled pork went way up.

hot and fast style brisket
Rising costs have made barbecue staples like brisket an ultimate luxury

To make things worse, fertilizer and feed prices increased due to the disruptions in supply chain and those factors trickled down to the farmers and ranchers. They, in turn, have to increase their costs to keep up.

Eventually, those price increases trickle down to what you pay at the grocery store. 

What can we expect from meat prices in 2022?

The good news is that all signs are pointing to the rapid price rises slowing down by Spring and early Summer months.

While we likely won’t see a massive reduction in cost, we won’t see the prices continue to rise as rapidly as they have been over the past year. Wholesale beef prices are already declining, and experts anticipate reductions in retail to follow.

“In 2022, food-at-home prices are predicted to increase between 2.0 and 3.0 percent and away-from-home prices are predicted to increase between 4.0 and 5.0 percent”.

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)

This is a much lower projection than we experienced from 2021 to 2022, which is promising.

What are your options for saving money on meat?

One great way to reduce what you pay on meat when shopping is to seek out cheaper cuts.

For example, if you usually opt for a Prime grade brisket, maybe try a Choice grade one next time. Meat is graded by the USDA in the ribeye, so there are plenty of Choice and Select grade briskets on the market with great marbling, and flavor.

Your technique can go a long way when it comes to achieving great barbecue.

If you are cooking brisket, focus on techniques such as proper trimming, wrapping at the right time, and being sure you are slicing your brisket properly, you can create an amazing final product even when saving money on reduced-cost cuts.

Check out our guide to buying brisket for more tips, tricks, and great places to buy.

Another option is to skip the brisket altogether and try out some alternative cuts or more cost-effective proteins. You might try something new and find that you absolutely love it!

For steaks, try our guide to the best value for money steak cuts.

The best cuts of meat for saving money

So, maybe you don’t want to drop $100+ on a brisket, but you still want some delicious smoked meat. Luckily, there are plenty of alternatives that are cost-effective so you can still enjoy your barbecue hobby without breaking the bank.

Pork

Pork is cheaper per pound than beef and is an inherently more cost-effective option for your next barbecue. It is a whole lot cheaper to raise a pig than a cow and that cost trickles down to the retail consumer as well.

a piece of uncooked pork belly on a wooden board
Pork belly is a relatively inexpensive, yet very flavorful cut of pork.

Here are some fantastic pork recipes you can try out:

Beef

Beef is priced per pound, so it is inevitable that you are going to notice a substantial increase in a cut like brisket because whole briskets generally weigh between 12 and 18 pounds.

uncooked beef cheeks on a wooden board
Given a bit of love and the right technique, beef cheeks can be turned into soft, beefy goodness.

Depending on the size of the crowd you are serving, there are a ton of alternative cuts that weigh less but can still take on that delicious smoked, BBQ flavor that you are craving.

Here are some great alternative beef recipes:

Chicken

Chicken is by far the most cost-effective protein, but you can pack a lot of flavors into chicken and really create an amazing BBQ experience.

raw chicken on a rotisserie
Spatchcocked or cooked on a rotisserie – you can’t go wrong with chicken.

Whether you want to smoke some wings, spatchcock a whole chicken, or just grill up some chicken breasts – chicken is versatile and easy to transform into whatever flavor profile you are looking for.

Here are some great chicken recipes to get you started:

Final thoughts

While the experts are not projecting another major increase from 2021 to 2022, meat prices are still higher than many people are comfortable paying.

Trying out alternative protein options and alternative cuts is a great way to reduce your meat expense while still being able to enjoy delicious barbecue with your friends and family. 

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