Bridget Goodman, co-owner and butcher at Emery's Meat & Produce in Brewer, trims a skirt steak, one of Emery’s featured items for Memorial Day weekend. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Butcher Bridget Goodman expects a sales boost this Memorial Day weekend, when the grilling season kicks off and many will gather for the first time in a while after Maine lifted economic restrictions and mask mandates early this week.

Red meat continues to be the most popular grilling food in Maine, Food Network reported. Ribeye and sirloin steak cuts are in high demand, as are spices, rubs and other products for smoking or grilling meat, according to Goodman, who co-owns Emery’s Meat & Produce in Brewer.

Many customers are even buying primal cuts: a large section of the animal such as a rib or loin, which Goodman then cuts into smaller portions for freezing. Last year, freezers, like other appliances, were in short supply, so primal cuts weren’t in demand, she said.

Clockwise from left: Tim Goodman, co-owner of Emery’s Meat & Produce in Brewer, gets a steak from the meat counter for a customer on Wednesday, May 26, 2021; Bridget Goodman, co-owner and butcher at Emery’s Meat & Produce in Brewer, said she expects a sales boost this Memorial Day weekend as more people can gather since the state lifted pandemic limits; Meats in the walk-in meat cooler; Goodman weighs meat for a customer; Customers read the product signs with prices above the meat counters. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik / BDN

“Because people are getting together, they’re buying in larger quantities,” Goodman said.

Elevated sales of both cookout foods and grills are expected to continue this Memorial Day, with both rising quickly last year because more people were cooking at home during the pandemic. Memorial Day weekend is one of the biggest weekends of the year for consumer purchases and many will be putting appliances they purchased earlier in the pandemic to use.

U.S. consumers spent more than $4.9 billion on grills, smokers, camping stoves, fuel and accessories in 2020, according to market research firm NPD Group. The 14 million grills and smokers sold between April 2020 and February 2021 were up 39 percent compared with the same months in 2019.

“Consumers have turned pandemic-driven boredom into an opportunity to experiment with cooking,” NPD analyst Joe Derochowski said.

This year, grills are continuing a strong sales streak nationwide. Lowe’s, which has 11 home improvement stores in Maine, saw a 15 percent increase in seasonal and outdoor living goods sales nationally in the first three months of this year. Pellet grills have become increasingly popular because they can sear and smoke at up to 600 degrees, a company spokesperson said.

Jack Eisentrager, president of Dunnett Appliance & Mattress in Bangor, says grill sales are strong this Memorial Day weekend. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Dunnett Appliance & Mattress in Bangor saw grill sales double last year over 2019. Through this May they are even with last year, President Jack Eisentrager said. The grills at his store sell from $400 to $3,000, and sales have been extremely high compared to a normal year, he said.

That’s the case with holiday foods as well. The hustle and bustle among shoppers is back as people feel more comfortable getting together, Christine Cummings, executive director of the Maine Grocers & Food Producers Association, said.

Bow Street Market in Freeport saw more sales last weekend in the leadup to the holiday than it did the same week in 2020, assistant manager Charles Beardsley said. He expects sales for the holiday weekend to show a significant increase over last year and reach pre-pandemic levels, partly because the store is back at full shopper capacity.

Clockwise from left: Gary Wilson, who has worked at Bow Street Market in Freeport for 42 years, hands a customer their meat order on Wednesday. Grilling sauces stand on an end cap at Bow Street Market in Freeport; All natural beef sits in the butcher’s case; Charles Beardsley, assistant manager at Bow Street Market in Freeport, stands in the well-stocked spices, rubs and seasonings aisle. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

“We’re seeing people coming in with their family and shopping with larger carts as they are getting back into their camps or second homes,” he said. “You can really tell people are excited to be able to go back out with the restrictions being lifted.”

Steaks and ground beef are hot sellers, including cuts from local meat producer Pineland Farms Natural Meats in New Gloucester, which saw orders this week rise 30 percent to more than 125,000 pounds of beef compared with last week, general manager Chris Williams said.

The pandemic also pushed up demand for seafood, plant-based foods and vegetables on the grill, according to Food Network, although meat remained the most popular grilling item for the holiday in Maine compared to seafood in most other New England states. The Food Network counted popularity by recipes for a particular food.

Seafood sales nationwide for Memorial Day were up 59 percent last Memorial Day compared with 2019, and are expected to see another strong holiday weekend this year, according to New York market research firm NCSolutions. The meat shortage last year boosted consumer appetite for seafood, which continues to grow in popularity because more people tried it and liked it, the market researcher said.

Bow Street’s Beardsley said his store’s seafood sales have grown significantly during the pandemic. And Luke’s Lobster has seen a 75 percent increase in online food orders this week compared to the previous week, vice president of e-commerce and retail Lauren Gibson said. Lobster tails and live lobsters are popular items for the holiday. She also is seeing larger orders as customers gather for the holiday.

“I think so many of us are excited for the start of summer — seeing friends and family for the first time in a long time,” Gibson said.

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Lori Valigra

Lori Valigra, senior reporter for economy and business, holds an M.S. in journalism from Boston University. She was a Knight journalism fellow at M.I.T. and has extensive international reporting experience...