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Pre-sliced (in the deli case) cold cuts

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Replying to another post, I thought I'd make the following it's own topic...

Until I moved to the Midwest I'd never encountered pre-sliced (in the deli case) cold cuts. What the hell? I don't want some supposedly-efficacious, sittin' around who knows how long, sliced to someone else's idea of "thinness," meat. I want it sliced fresh and to my specifications. Which is why local supermarkets don't get my business at the deli counter more often than not; I've had workers actually argue with me because I want my cold cuts sliced fresh.


Is this phenomenon more prevalent than I imagine it to be(cuz...I've never seen it anywhere but southern Illinois and Indiana in general)?

Cold cuts have a very short shelf life...the more surface area that's available the quicker they'll oxidize...not to mention, I like my cold cuts just short of shaved(I don't get people that want a thick cold cut---unless it's genuine turkey breast--- not composite). It's a texture thing.

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  1. My credentials: Deli worker in a local grocery store while in college in Iowa. I think I fit your deli worker criteria PERFECTLY.
    First off, from a customer service standpoint they should always be happy to slice your meat anyway you want. It's their job. And they should do a single slice, get your approval, then continue. Personally, I never minded it because I knew for a fact that most of the pre-sliced meats in the deli case had been there too long. We did not slice fresh every morning if there was too much left over from the previous day. Oh, and those pre-made sandwiches? Even older.
    Second, up-scale meats are relatively new to the Midwest market (I'm talking the majority of the Midwest here, there are always exceptions). I worked in the deli in the early 90's and there just weren't many options. The ham came from a giant pressed pink rectangle. The Turkey was a giant tan oval. Strangely, the roast beef at my deli kicked ass in the beginning but later (of course) a newer, more processed brand was purchased in order to cut costs. Those meats still exist and are still sold in most grocery stores around the nation.

    Honestly, if the meat quality is poor to begin with, it doesn't really matter that much if it's pre-sliced. People didn't (and don't) expect much from the delis, it was just an alternative to Oscar Myer. The ONLY alternative. Outside of upscale stores, most shops pre-slice. I've lived all over the US and it's everywhere -- even places that serve Thurmans or Boars Head pre-slice. Most people don't have the patience to wait for their meat to be sliced.

    1. I couldn't believe it when I saw pre-sliced deli meat. I think it might have been in a supermarket in Las Vegas. I'm not a big fan of cold cuts to begin with, but refused to purchase pre-sliced.

      1. most supermarkets i have seen have the meat pre-sliced. i find the local german and italian markets are actually cheaper (!!!) than the supermarkets anyway with their meats, and slice to order. there is one conveniently located about a block and a half from my house. glorious!

        4 Replies
        1. re: dani_k

          I'm from Pittsburgh, PA and every major grocery store I've been to has their cold cuts pre sliced. No big deal to me as I don't really think of cold cuts as something particularly fresh to begin with as I do with say fish. I mean they are highly processed highly salted pieces of meat, not sure I get the whole freshness thing with freshly sliced versus pre sliced.

          1. re: Rick

            drying out faster, shelf life (being highly salted doesnt entirely protect from going bad), flavor loss, texture changes ... not to mention being exposed in a fridge with many other meats and foods of varying flavors and thereby tainting the flavor of the meat you are purchasing.

          2. re: dani_k

            I have never seen that here. They slice it, to your preference, as you stand there. They will also pass out samples, if you're not familiar with the meat, or cheese.

            btw dani_k, I am a Dani, too.

            1. re: danhole

              well, you MUST be cool with a name like that!

          3. Let's not forget that a lot of deli sections now have more and more "convenience food", including the pre-sliced deli meats and cheeses that are in cryo-vac packages vs. the piles of pre-sliced stuff in the case that you are referring to. While the stuff in the cryo is generally more expensive, and you don't have a choice of the thickness of your slices, the one big advantage might be that these slices have seen much less human contact and open air. I don't know that for sure, but with all the automation in the grocery biz, I have to believe that's true.

            1. At the chain supermarket I go to for some items, their deli has many of their deli cuts presliced, I dont buy my cold cuts from them. I buy my deli meats from an Italian deli, and they have none presliced, and cut the meat to order.

              If anyone has had a sandwich where the deli freshly slices the meat and cheeses, and makes the sandwich immediately can attest for the huge taste difference freshly cut deli meats have over their presliced counterparts.

              1. Just to add: the nearby butcher shop(which is far from high falutin' :) doesn't do pre-sliced, but the Safeway across the road does...

                I was also thinking maybe it's a gesture of abundance or, merely, stocking the case? You have acres of overflowing mayo salads so why not heaps of pre-sliced meat?

                1 Reply
                1. re: aelph

                  Hmmm, forgot about all those mayo salads getting crusty around the edges, Ambrosia with little marshmallows starting to shrivel, 3-Bean Salad turning to mush and Pannini's with the petrified meat.

                2. Easy test... get a half pound of freshly sliced Parma prosciutto, eat. Try it again in 3 days. You will definitely notice the difference. While the other deli meats may not dry out as much..there is still a significant difference. Also in Pgh, we get our cold cuts at Penn Mac in the Strip- all freshly sliced to order (lots of samples too!).

                  1. I know this thread is a few months old, but I wanted to weigh in. I recently encountered the pre-sliced deli phenomenon and I am on a personal mission to get my grocery store to stop this practice. I find that the pre-sliced meats and cheese absolutely taste different and have a less desirable texture. Not to mention that I also like mine sliced very thin. My store actually gave me a hard time about slicing fresh for me. I told them they could either do that or I would go somewhere that would. I think of it as a lazy practice that has zero benefit.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: bullygirl

                      Here in NE, I've not run into this much other than for pastrami. The grocery store deli's sell this stuff that is pre-sliced at the manufacturer and plastic/vacuum wrapped, so that the deli folks just open the bag and dump it out in a bin in the counter. They dump it out in the morning, and it sits there all day - if I stop by after work on the way home, I can see how dry the meat is, and how it's beginning to turn brown. Of course, I ask for fresh, often I'll even take whole uncut chunks, since I like to thick-slice it myself and pan-fry it (kosher bacon).

                      But my question is - who buys this stuff? The only way the delis (and the providers) get away with this is because people accept it. Why do these people bother with a deli - just get the shrink-wrapped, pre-sliced stuff if you have no care for thickness or freshness (actually, I'm sure that the shrink-wrapped stuff is fresher because it's vacuum packed). Let those of us who care stand in line - and since we care, none of us would tolerate pre-slicing, so the delis would stop doing this... in theory.

                    2. I'm in Indianapolis and do most of my shopping at Marsh. The deli here cuts it for you - first slice is presented to see if it's the correct thickness and then the rest is cut.

                      Pre-sliced gives me the willies.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Cookiefiend

                        Same here, Cookiefiend. Even the commercials for those plastic crypts of long dead deli meats and cheeses give me the willies.

                        I don't draw the line at much, but pre-sliced cold cuts? Brrrrrrrr.

                        >>My store actually gave me a hard time about slicing fresh for me

                        Noooooo, seriously? That should be against the law.