For those looking to make a traditional Thanksgiving spread this year, rising turkey prices could be a source of frustration.
The pains of inflation are already forcing restaurant and barbecue owners across Texas to look for alternatives, both in their establishments and for their family gatherings.
Editor of Texas Monthly Barbecue Magazine Daniel Vaughn spoke with Standard about what is behind this price increase and what consumers can expect in the near future. Listen to the story above or read the transcript below.
This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity:
Texas Standard: Grilled turkey – I know it’s a thing. Are you doing this on Thanksgiving? How big is a grilled turkey?
Daniel Vaughn: The grilled turkey is huge. Not only people doing it in the backyard in their smokehouses – either a whole turkey or a turkey breast – but barbecues offering their big Thanksgiving dinner sets, which usually include a whole turkey or those turkey breasts they serve throughout of the year.
So what is behind this apparent shortage of birds? Or is it just because they are getting so expensive that people can’t afford to bring them?
Well, there is a shortage, and this causes them to rise in price. In the US, there has been a particularly strong avian flu among turkeys and chickens, which did persist during the warm summer months, which is not usually the case. This warm weather usually kills bird flu, but this one was persistent. And between January and July alone, 5.4 million turkeys were killed on farms across the state or nationwide because of this bird flu and to help stop its spread.
What does this do to the bottom line? How much more expensive are turkeys?
Well, the point is not only that the turkeys themselves are more expensive, sometimes 150% more expensive. But also, when you’re talking about whole birds, a lot of them are just different options, right? So when you buy a turkey, you’re usually looking for a specific size, whether it’s 10-12 pounds, 12-15 pounds, or those big 20-pound Tom’s turkeys. And you just might not have all these different options. And of course, these restaurants that want to order turkeys for their big Thanksgiving dinners don’t have those options either.
How big is the holiday season when it comes to barbecue business?
Oh, he’s huge. You know, I think one of those things – especially with the high beef prices we’ve seen over the last couple of years – is turkey and poultry, which has been a lifesaver of sorts, and they’ve been price stable and been one of the those profitable ones. centers for barbeque joints. And the fact that they are not, only complicates the task.
Well, what do you hear from pitmasters? How are they trying to cope with the lack of birds?
Chicken, chicken, chicken. Here’s what they say. I mean, if they haven’t just completely eliminated turkey from the menu because of the price or just because of the difficulty of getting it, you know, a lot of them have switched to cooking chicken – be it boneless breast and skinless thighs or just making half chickens. So, you know, this has been the answer of many pitmasters.
Are beef prices still high or are people avoiding it? What’s happening?
Prices for brisket and beef in general are still high. They are not at the crazy levels we saw in mid-2020. But you know, they usually drop those spikes pretty quickly, which didn’t happen in 2020 and 2021, and so far prices haven’t really returned to pre-pandemic prices.
So how do you see the impact of this turkey shortage and the huge cost increase? I mean, 150% is a lot. There are many barbecue businesses that have really struggled to get back on their feet during the pandemic.
Well, yes. I mean, you have something like Evie Mae’s BBQ in Wolffort near Lubbock. And you know, they’ve been doing this big turkey dinner for years, and this year they just decided to cancel it altogether. They thought about making smoked ribs instead of turkey, but then they just decided to give their people a break and give their employees some extra free time so they don’t have to worry about trying to cook these dishes. But, you know, it has definitely helped them make money in the past, and they won’t have that.
I know many pitmasters I’ve talked to, and when I asked them what they would eat at their table, most of the answers were either they eat ham anyway, or they’re going to prefer beef. be in the center of the table this year.
Do you see long-term ripple effects here, or will we eventually return to turkey prices where they were and all will be well in the world?
Well, I’ve been talking to some food vendors who said the farms they work with have told them that these high prices and some of these supply issues will continue into next spring. So there is no definite end in sight.