Out of all the suppliers in the area, I most often go with Costco Business Center because they have the most consistent quality on proteins and I don’t have to scavenger hunt 20 different places for product (not a paid post, but holler at me Costco and let’s make make something happen.)
“That’s BS! Why is brisket $32/lb on the menu if it costs you $5/lb?” > somebody looking at the menu, probably.
Great question. I believe in transparency so let’s chop it up (pun intended) and break down why BBQ is so expensive.
First, when you buy a brisket there’s a raw weight. In the case of this one in the picture, it’s 9.26 lbs @ $4.99/lb for a total of $46.21.
Next you get it home and you’ve got to trim it. There’s stuff that’s just going to burn no matter what or can’t be eaten (hard fat) on a 12-16 hour cook so you have to get it off. After trim, the 9 lb brisket might weigh 7 lbs. A good trim can be the difference between a great finished brisket and a terrible one.
This gives you a new “raw weight price” of $6.60/lb or $46 total.
Once you season it (salt + pepper + garlic) it’s time to throw it on the pit.
At this point, if you’re using a small smoker, you can estimate around $8 in coal and flavoring wood. If you run a pellet smoker, it’ll cost you a few bucks less. But we cook over live fire ALWAYS so we’ll add in the $8.
New price: roughly $7.74/lb or $54 total.
Next comes your two BIGGEST costs:
Labor and Shrinkage.
You gotta watch that pit for the next 12 hours (minimum). Let’s say you don’t want to do it and hire someone at saaayyyy $5/hr?
Congrats. You just saved $60 because no one in their right mind is inhaling soot and burning themselves for those peanuts. So you get to make it yourself.
So let’s say for hypotheticals you did pay yourself that rate, so we’ll add in $60.
(sidebar: this is the dilemma BBQ businesses face and one of the hardest problems to solve. Do you hire someone and pay them really well, raising your overall cost again, or do you find a shortcut by changing cooker type= gas, pellet, etc. to something that requires less babysitting but gives a less impressive flavor. Most really good big places solve this problem by going the first route and just doing insane amounts of meat. So you only have to pay the pitmaster for essentially “1 cook” if that makes sense).
New total: $16.31/lb for brisket or $114 total.
Once the brisket is cooked, something else happens. During the course of the cook, the brisket is going to lose around HALF it’s weight (meat is mostly water) in water weight. When you’re finished, your 7 lb brisket is going to finish around 3.5 lbs or maybe closer to 4 if you’re lucky. Sometimes it’s more, sometimes it’s less.
New brisket price: $32/lb.
So now we have a finished brisket that cost us $32/lb or $114 total to take from raw to beautiful, juicy smoked meat.
And we haven’t even got into packaging, marketing, paying for the other costs of business and my absolute favorite: the 8.75% sales tax in Chula Vista.
How do you end up in a rabbit hole like this in the first place? By walking into a BBQ place and saying “these prices are ridiculous. I can do it myself for cheaper.” Well let me tell you a secret: you can but then you can’t.
When you do it yourself, you’re going to cook around 100 of these before you get it to a product you’re proud of and before you know it every week your wife is giving you a side-eye because you’re spending time with your true love (according to her) “that darn smoker”.
I don’t say that to discourage anyone from making their own BBQ or to sway you to order from me. Like I said, I believe in transparency and want you to know why you pay what you do and how I ended up in the sunken place, smoking meat every weekend.
For me though, because I’m neurodivergent and completely obsessed with things when I can’t figure them out, BBQ is a good hobby ( I think??) and an outlet that I enjoy sharing with ya’ll and am lucky to have the opportunity to.
Just remember when you order food from your favorite places, that you aren’t paying them for “how much food costs” you’re paying them for their expertise, the customer experience, your clothes not smelling like a bacon factory and the convenience to walk in, enjoy your meal and leave when you’re done.
Hope you’ve enjoyed the breakdown and yes, brisket prices are going up when we return next month, but we are also adding other items to provide an alternative to spending your entire paycheck on a meal in some guy’s backyard. Even though it is the best BBQ in the South Bay.