If you like to grill hamburgers or steaks during the summer, you may want to think about switching over to pork or chicken. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that wholesale prices for beef are at record levels with no relief in sight any time soon.
After achieving new highs for three weeks, choice-grade beef, the most common variety in the U.S., jumped to $2.1137 a pound Thursday, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That level broke a decade-old record for wholesale prices set in 2003, when a case of mad-cow disease in Canada led to a spike in export demand for U.S. beef.
Wholesale prices retreated slightly Friday afternoon, falling to $2.0887 a pound, confirming some market-watchers' suspicions that retailers may be unwilling to swallow the record-high beef costs.
The fat beef prices are the result of years of drought in major cattle-producing states, a trend that has shrunk the nation's cattle herd to its smallest level in six decades.
Higher beef prices are pinching food budgets for consumers already wrestling with a rise in gasoline prices, the expiration of the federal payroll-tax holiday and stubbornly high unemployment. They're also expected to drive consumers to other meats after the holiday weekend, one of the biggest beef-sales periods of the year. That could threaten high beef profit margins for meatpackers like Tyson Foods Inc. TSN -0.20% and Cargill Inc. and also pose a challenge for restaurants and grocery stores.
"Consumers may favor beef more, but they've got to feed their families," said Gary Morrison, an analyst with Urner Barry's Yellow Sheet, a meat-industry newsletter in Bayville, N.J.
Sue and I used to have steak or a roast every weekend during the summer. We'll be lucky to be able to afford burgers and brats. I can't see paying $11 a pound for a decent steak, even though Sue is an expert griller and cooks the meat to restaurant-level perfection every time.
Grilling chicken (please don't call it "bar-be-cue") is a satisfactory alternative, but I would also suggest pork steaks. I got hooked on them when I lived in St. Louis and a thick pork steak grilled very slowly (place the coals around the outside of the grill and put the meat in the middle) can be a delicious meal.
Eventually, the high price of beef will convince ranchers to expand their herds and the price will come down somewhat. Until then, have a nice summer even if you're not going to be eating a lot of steak dinners.