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best national chain grocery for usda beef? [moved from L.A. board]

i don't have a hows, bristol farms or whole foods close to me.

i do however have ralphs, albertsons, henrys and stater brothers close-by. costco and sams club are also choices.

which one has the best grade of beef?


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  1. probably gonna get moved, but Costco.

    1. I'd imagine that all the places you mentioned above carry "choice" grade beef. Maybe they try and fool you with terms like Vons uses like "Ranchers Reserve", which is proabably still choice grade.

      I prefer Costco because of the prices, package size and the product turnover seems to be pretty high.

      1. I don't disagree with Costco, but if the Ralph's near you has a butcher counter they also have some choice and prime beef. For dinner last night I bought a choice grade tenderloin that was marvelous! They don't cut to order (I had to use two precut pieces of beef to get my 4lb roast), but they will trim. The prepackaged meat out on the coolers is not as good.

        1. I agree with Costco. Von's Ranchers Reserve is not choice, it's a grade below and none too tender.

          1 Reply
          1. re: eartha

            It's all pretty confusing. According to this article its hard to say what Von's Ranchers Reserve is? It also says Costco selects the top of the range in "choice".


          2. Costco is the hands-down winner, even over WF, unless you have a good specialty butcher and are willing to pay the price. The selection of cuts is limited however and you have to buy in large quantity so be prepared to use or freeze.
            I think Albertson's/Acme beef has better flavor on a consistent basis than Von's/Safeway, especially the sirloin. And great sales.
            "Rancher's Reserve" is a made-up designation that doesn't corelate to any USDA grading but allows Von's latitude in what they sell so the quality varies. Our local store just got a frou-frou upgrade with a meat counter that super trims the meat and cuts to order at the same price. The butcher says it's identical to the wrapped meat in the cases, but for show. At the end of each shift, they wrap it and put it in the cases.
            Ah, marketing!

            1. I asked the Costco man dressed like a butcher might be, when he stuck his head through the glass barrier to restock the packaged beef, 'where does your beef coome from'? He said 'I don't know'. Later I read the meat was cut, packaged, etc somewhere else, and most chains DON'T have REAL butchers, since they cost TOO much.

              At least, at WF in LaJolla, they know they have their own Ranch in Nebraska to supply their beef. Seems there are different sources for stores in different regions. The New Bristol farms in LaJolla 0,9 miles from WF says their source is a ranch in Brawley, CA. Though it is desert out there, they irrigate a pasture. Hope it isn't a story, since their meatloaf and stuffed peppers are fantastic! Henry's really bothered me and I avoided their meat, since the Harris Ranch stuff from that feed lot up by Fresno, stinks to high heaven after cooking like the feed lot, when you drive past it. Those poor cows stand in manure all day without a blade of grass in sight! Makes you wonder if that is why immune deficient diseases like Mad Cow Diseae have become a problem!

              If you don't mind shipped frozen meats, you might look at U.S.Welllness meats website. Their source is a ranch in Missouri and some of the stuff is organic. It might be fresher then what is in the local stores, when it is shipped to you.

              Wish that Guy in the whites knew where the Costco meat came from, I might have bought some!
              But I avoid meats at all supermarket grocery chains, becuase of bad experiences in the distant past. I did buy meat at the Rancho Mirage Pavilions, which was part of Von's until Von's was bought out by Safeway. But 10 years ago, they had what talked like real butchers! :)

              I am very impressed with Bristol Farms meats and produce.

              6 Replies
              1. re: nutrition

                I'm sure if you talked to the head guy in the white coat he'd be a butcher and I'm sure at WF its the same situation.

                That Harris Ranch feedlot in Coalinga is where cattle spend their last 3-4 months to put on up to an extra 400 pounds before their slaughtered. All cattle spend time at a feed lot before they're slaughtered.


                1. re: nutrition

                  you "hope it isn't a story..." but it is only PART of the story.
                  Beef doesn't go directly from any ranch to a market. It goes to a USDA-inspected slaughterhouse, usually by way of a feedlot, a lot like the one near Fresno.
                  Even the head butcher at Costco probably couldn't have told you the zip code origin of the sub-primal cuts that they receive. None of the chains, including WF, receive whole carcasses any longer and few butcher shops do. Stores can only afford to carry the cuts that sell so they buy sub-primals. The rest is processed in other ways and never reaches retail stores.
                  Unfortunately for all of us, butchering is almost a lost trade. It's rare to find a trained butcher in any grocery store today.

                  1. re: MakingSense

                    I believe the majority of beef in this country is final processed by IBP in Iowa, recently purchased by Tyson. They stopped shipping whole carcasses 30 or so years ago due to the shipping cost: spines, heads, hoofs whatever weren't worth the freight charge.

                    1. re: coll

                      The majority of beef in the US is processed in Kansas, Nebraska, Texas, and Colorado. That big Tysons plant handles largely pork since Iowa is major pork producing state.
                      It is not cost effective to ship meat that doesn't sell at retail so carcasses are broken down there. Not much call for hoofs and heads in US supermarkets. Manufacturers of by-products are located near the slaughterhouses. Everything from gelatin to pet food to processed meats.

                      1. re: MakingSense

                        What are cattle heads used for? I imagine there is some sort of market for them, maybe used to make packaged beef broth?? Is there a market for cow brains in this country?

                        1. re: onefoodguy

                          As far as I know, everything is used in some way. Offal is sold in US markets with excess shipped abroad where there is more demand. They can only sell so many cabezas, kidneys and brains since American aren't big consumers of offal. Skins for leather. Bones are boiled for stock, gelatin and other byproducts. Bonemeal and other things for fertilizer. Pet food from scraps.
                          There are lots of companies using byproducts located near big packing houses.
                          The one thing NOT done is using any of it for cattle feed. This is the way BSE is transmitted.

                2. Costco tried carrying a few different cuts for a while, but I guess they didn't sell and they stopped experimenting. They had cross-cut (flanken style) short ribs, for example. I wrote them an email (never got a response) suggesting that they wrap up some of the specialized cuts and put them in the freezer - that's what the local gourmet butcher (Butcher Boy in North Andover, MA) does. Imagine being able to buy Hanger or Skirt, or even an entire Brisket (they currently only sell the flat or first cut) at Costco. They do sell the double-packs of flank steak, which along with the tips are probably their best bargain.

                  While BJ's beef doesn't compare as far as matching Costco's high-quality choice for the steak cuts, they have more variety of bulk, sub-primal cuts in cryovac. You can buy USDA Choice whole bottom (outside) round, whole top round, and several shoulder/chuck cuts - the quality isn't quite as important for these lesser cuts, as long as they're Choice. They also have a good selection of pork, including the shoulders and double-packs of butt (blade) that are perfect for pulled pork, where Costco only carries the loin roasts/chops, and various ribs.

                  1. Food Channel last night had two episodes of Good Eats with Alton Brown on tenderloin. He showed how to buy the whole tenderloin in the Cryovac at a warehouse club (like a Costco) and how to trim it and cut it into useable cuts for different entrees from Steak Au Poivre to Philly cheesesteak sandwiches.

                    I'd read somewhere that some high end steakhouses don't buy prime grade filet mignon because marbling in a filet doesn't make a difference in the taste or tenderness in that cut of beef to justify the high price for prime.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: monku

                      That's true, they get select as there is not much difference, except in price.

                      1. re: coll

                        I've never been a filet fan, not enough flavor and too tender. I kid my buddy who always orders the filet when we're at a steakhouse- I tell the server he wants the ladies steak.

                      2. re: monku

                        I do a little catering and I have used the USDA Inspected grade of tenderloin which I roasted and served with sauces. It was perfectly fine.

                      3. thanks all, great postings... based on geography, costco looks like the best choice for me.

                        remember when we can buy a side of beef from gemco (or was it fedco?).

                        1. The U.S.Wellness meat is grass finished for a better taste, meaning they don't stand in manure for 3-4 months putting on wwight for the slaughter house!

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: nutrition

                            "Better taste"? To your preference. It's a different flavor than grain finished, and grass-fed beef can be grain-finished, which others prefer. Some prefer totally grain-fed. It's all a matter of taste and nothing can be said to be "better," since taste is subjective.
                            The abattoir isn't pretty in any case, even at US Wellness, and cattle aren't slaughtered in grassy fields.

                          2. I had heard that there are only 4 major suppliers of beef in the U.S., so if this is fact, then the major stores buy from the same suppliers. You are probably going to have to try different stores as tastes vary.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: BRN

                              Not necessarily. A lot of sales of the biggest companies are export, bulk sales to restaurant chains like McDonald's, the US Military or to food companies which produce processed consumer foods, rather than meat sold at retail.
                              A lot of small and medium size packing houses (an industry euphemism for slaughterhouse) sell to regional supermarket chains like Publix or Ukrops. No packing house is always getting its finished beef from the same feedlots.
                              Meat isn't factory produced so it will naturally vary depending on many factors. Millions of cattle are raised by thousands of ranchers in multiple situations that affect their flavor. They are finished in feedlots all over the US.
                              In 2004 there were 689 federally-inspected packing houses. Even if a majority of those were owned by a few companies, there would still be a great variation in the final product.
                              (There are non-federally-inspected facilities, which are state inspected, if the meat will not be shipped out of state.)
                              Some chains are entering exclusive relationships with packers as they attempt to "brand" their beef such as Safeway's "Rancher's Reserve." Even within that supply chain, there may be some variation between two steaks unless they are cut from the same carcass.
                              The process is complicated and imprecise. Agriculture is imprecise. The best you can do is learn as much as possible about where your food really come from - not myth, scare tactics or hearsay - and deal with stores you trust.

                              1. re: MakingSense

                                How interesting. Thanks. Here is an alternative if/when you have a farmers' market nearby. Try grass fed beef from a local producer. Much more expensive, but leaner and you know how it was raised. It's a treat, that's for sure. I manage a farmers' market here in Springfield, MA and we had grass-fed beef for the first time this past year. I purchased a brisket which was superb. For the first time ever when I took it out of the 'fridge the next day, I didn't have to take off lots of hardened fat.

                                1. re: BRN

                                  Grass-fed vs. grass-fed/grain-finished vs. grain-fed is a taste preference. Grass-fed tastes pretty gamey to most people who aren't familiar with it and it can lack the marbling that makes beef tender and juicy. Not everyone will consider it a treat.
                                  To me, it's just a different taste that I enjoy, particularly in places like Argentina where they raise breeds that do well on grass pasturing. In the US, I've had some really great grass-fed and some not-so-good. It's not that YOU know how it was raised, but that the farmer knows what he's doing.

                            2. Unless you can find something like a Hows(southern calif) you cant go too far wrong with Costco.

                              1. I agree about Costco for quality and price. The downside is you have to buy a LOT. No prob if you're having a party or large family but for most it's way too much (I don't like to freeze meat).

                                Harris' is a good alternative and many big chain supermarkets carry it, at least on the west coast. Many more cuts available and seems like a very good "slot" between premium orgranic/grass-fed brands and the below choice house brands at major supermarkets. Good balance between quality and price.

                                1. I have only had hamburger and brisket from our locally raised grass-fed beef, so can't speak to other cuts. But, the farmer sold out every week at our market with lots of repeat business. You do have to be careful that you don't overcook the more tender cuts because it is MUCH leaner than non grass-fed beef.

                                  I would need to try other cuts to be more authoritative.

                                  One meat that I find to be exceptional when purchased from a local farmer, is lamb. It is never gamy, never fatty, and has a flavor that is delicate. For folks who say they don't like lamb, I recommend that you try native lamb; you may change your mind.

                                  1. Is Safeway "national"? I grew up in Santa Maria (home of Santa Maria BBQ, naturally), and a butcher at the Safeway there "invented" tri-tip.

                                    That's pretty impressive to me in terms of supermarket butchery.

                                    1. All very Omnivore's Dilemma-ish. I highly recommend it for anyone who has not yet read it!