DETROIT -

Outdoor chefs are in for an unhappy surprise as the summer grilling season approaches.

 The cost of firing up the backyard grill is going up. It is re-kindling the chicken vs. beef debate.

 The average retail price for beef is up to about $5.30 per pound. That is a record being fueled supply and demand. The nation’s cattle herd is smaller after last year’s record corn prices.

 GETTING THE MOST FOR YOUR MONEY

 If you just have to have the taste of beef, experts say find a good butcher who knows how to cut the meat in a way to enhance flavor. Also, find recipes, or take a class, to learn how to get the most flavors out of the cheaper cuts.

FAST FOOD TURNING TO CHICKEN

Fast food restaurant chains are getting on the chicken bandwagon as well. Burger King came out with a limited-time menu in the fall where chicken was featured center stage. The menu included items such as popcorn chicken and a chicken Parmesan sandwich.

McDonald’s introduced the popular Chicken McBites for a limited time last year, and the company has been aggressively marketing its new Mighty Wings.

HAMBURGERS STILL #1

When it comes to grilling, hamburgers are still the No. 1 choice, according to the 24th annual Weber GrillWatch Survey. Hot dogs, steaks, chicken pieces were also popular. But the new trend of the past three years is the increasing use of vegetables in addition to meats, said Mike Kempster, the executive vice president at Weber grill maker.

People are becoming flexitarians and going meatless more often. Health and costs are factors, especially for women cooks, Kempster said. “The guys just want the beef,” Kempster said.

A recent beef and pork survey by the Technomic food trend consultancy found that 46 percent of diners said they have noticed beef prices going up, but only 21 percent said they are already ordering less beef.

“Consumers aren’t changing their behavior,” said Kelly Weikel, a senior consumer research manager at Technomic. But it’s not going to take much more for them to order something different at a restaurant. When the price increase $1.50 to $2 more, 49 percent of beef-eaters said they’ll make a switch, according to the survey.

THE NUMBERS

The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Friday reported the wholesale price for choice beef, commonly called the cutout, at $201.68 per 100 lbs (cwt), eclipsing the previous record of $201.18 set on Oct 16, 2003.

 National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) weekly retail scanner data shows Memorial Day ranks third in weekly holiday beef retail sales at about $370 million, behind U.S. Labor Day sales of $380 million. The U.S. July Fourth holiday is No. 1 at around $400 million.