Prepare to empty your wallet in order to fill your backyard grill. Summer barbeques will cost more than they did a year ago, as multiple pressures turn up the heat on farmers and consumers alike.
"It’s all going up,” said Jack Conklin, while tending to the grill during a tailgate party at Tropicana Field.
Conklin said he had his friends chip in to cover the costs of the parking lot cookout.
“It’s that expensive,” he said.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture says the price of most meat is up compared to a year ago. Pork chops jumped up six percent; ribs cost seven percent more; hamburger and steak prices have increased four percent. Only chicken prices have dipped.
To ask why most meat is costing more, we visited both a cattle ranch and the University of Florida’s Institute for Food and Agricultural Sciences.
UF’s Ed Jennings swiftly boiled down the situation.
“It’s supply and demand,” he said.
The U.S.D.A. says a piglet infection cut the pork supply. With beef, the herd is the smallest it’s been since 1951.
"Less beef means higher prices" Jennings said.
North of the IFAS office, Pasco cattle rancher Larry Barthle weighed in. Barthle explained that higher prices today are the result of drought out west. He said farmers there were forced to rush cattle to market.
"No grass, forage,” he said. “So, the herds were liquidated because there was nothing that people could do to feed them."
A temporary surplus has yielded to leaner supplies and higher prices today.
Barthle says his operating costs, such as fuel, water, fertilizer, and labor, have also increased—just like everyone else’s—and that costs everyone more.
Still, he expects beef prices to stabilize.
"The market can change every day," he said.
BARBEQUE FOR LESS
Smart shoppers can avoid price increases without sacrificing their backyard barbeque. One of the best strategies is to buy your meat the same day you’re cooking out and take advantage of clearance sales.
At Wal-Mart, meat that is reduced to clear is marked with bright yellow labels that offer discounts of anywhere from 20 to 40 percent.
"It’s the same quality," said Frank Oliver, the manager of the Wal-Mart neighborhood market on Hillsborough Avenue in Town ‘n Country.
Oliver said informed shoppers quickly snap up the daily specials, which are usually put on the shelf early in the day.
"That's the first thing they go after," he said. “They’re saving money.”
Other stores offer similar daily specials.
Target, for example, places red coupon stickers on meat it is ready clear. Publix grinds a special hamburger meat called “Market Ground,” which is usually a top-quality blend at chuck prices. We found it selling for $3.69 per pound – a steal.
Alternatively, Barthle suggests buying beef in bulk to cut your net price per pound.
"Buy a whole loin," he said. “You can slice it as thick as you want.” And then freeze your leftovers for the next cookout, Barthle said.
Jennings recommended that price-conscious consumers trade down to save money.
"You can definitely look at some lower priced cuts,” he said.
Jennings said stepping down to a different cut doesn't automatically mean tougher texture or loss of flavor.
He recommends marinades and adjusting cooking times – usually longer at lower temperatures – to achieve your desired taste and tenderness.
“It's all in the method of preparation," he said.