The pitfalls of the pitmasters: The high cost of Texas barbecue

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In Texas, barbecue is usually sold by weight and customers expect a full tray of smoked meat. With inflation and other factors, barbecue joints are struggling to stay afloat. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

For years, Texas barbecue has been on an upward trajectory, garnering more attention, more awards, and inspiring more barbecue spots to open. But all that success has a downside. Inflation and increased competition mean that many of the state's barbecue joints are struggling to make a profit. As Texas barbecue goes, so goes the nation?

Daniel Vaughn, who has one of the coolest job titles in the food world — Barbecue Editor at Texas Monthly — wrote about the dilemmas facing pitmasters and barbecue restaurateurs. Every four years, the publication releases a list of the 50 best barbecue spots and he says even those in the top 10 are not immune to these struggles. 

The famous Franklin Barbecue in Austin is known for its brisket. When beef prices go up, the business feels the squeeze. With only two briskets per animal and the rising popularity of Texas-style barbecue across the country, demand for the cut has driven up the price. Trimming, seasoning, and smoking the meat can take up to 24 hours, which translates to high labor costs.

"When people go out for Texas barbecue or when people come to visit Texas, they want smoked meat on butcher paper. So there's no way to make up your losses," Vaughn says.