Smoked turkey is a staple of Thanksgiving and many BBQ restaurants bank on Thanksgiving turkey sales for their yearly revenue. However, the avian influenza epidemic has gutted BBQ restaurants around Texas.
Lauran Weiner, the owner of Big Al’s and daughter of the late Alvin “Big Al” Plaskoff, said this year is worse than in prior years.
“We’re terrified,” said Weiner. “Every year we kind of get a little scare that we won’t have enough turkeys, but it never manifests. It did this year.”
Some restaurants have been forced to remove the menu item altogether. A Waco-area restaurant, Helberg Barbecue, is one of the casualties of the turkey shortage.
“It was actually the first menu item to even be highlighted or written about in Texas Monthly Magazine, and so that kind of put us on the map,” said Philip Helberg, owner of Helberg Barbecue. “We do a lot of turkey sales around Thanksgiving, we kind of bank on it.”
In the Dallas area, Smokey John’s Bar-B-Que also removed turkey breast from the menu.
“It’s so hard to find whole turkeys right now. It’s totally affecting us trying to put out holiday menus,” Brent Reaves, president of Smokey John’s Bar-B-Que, laments.
As a result of the shortage, Reaves expects Smokey John’s to sell less than 100 turkeys this year — a far cry from the 300 they have sold in years prior.
Along with shortages, customers will have to pay extra for turkeys this year. According to the USDA, the price of turkey meat has increased by 73%.
“Prices are higher than I’ve ever seen them in history,” said Sam Greenberg, owner of Greenberg Smoked Turkeys, which has been in business for more than 82 years. “I’m worried about next year. Turkey prices went up again today. Right now, the price per turkey for me is 36% higher than last year.”
For Dallas families, Thanksgiving portions may be limited this year as barbecues and poultry companies struggle to “meat” expectations.