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Aug 5, 2009 02:04 AM

Costco - Prime Beef Vs Choice test

After talking about the choice Vs Prime steaks at Costco on another thread I decided the only real way to get to the bottom of this was to do SxS tests. I'm starting with Top Sirloin steaks and will follow up with Rib Eyes and NY strips in the future. I also mentioned that the meat cutters seem to really hack up the meat in our area. We have some thing like eight Costco's in our area and I frequent four on a fairly regular basis so this is not a single unit issue. I'll post photos of the poor cuts as well.
I spoke to a meat cutter who indicated that all of the Prime beef Costco is getting is imported from Mexico and graded in the USA and this is how they are allowed to use the USDA Prime rating. I searched through a stack of packages and could not find any Prime Top Sirloin with a USDA inspectors roll stamp. I picked the best package of both the prime and choice I could find. When I show the SxS comparisons they will be of the best steak from each package. Sadly the prime steaks were cut even more poorly than the choice. Both packages were roughly the same weight. Choice was $3.49 a pound Vs $4.99 for prime.
I did a tasting with three others. Three agreed that the choice had a better flavor or was "beefier". Every one agreed the Prime was more tender. When I told every one that the Primes were roughly $6 more for the package every one agreed the Choice was the better buy.
I want to be clear that we only tested a few steaks from one store and while this is subjective my hope is that it is better than no direct comparison at all.
Lets start with a shot of what a properly cut Top Sirloin should look like.
The first image is NOT Costco meat.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Now the labels from each package.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Fritter

      The next two photos show the packages SxS and one of the primesteaks that has been "hacked". That divet in the steak is a knife cut. This was the worst steak in the prime package. Over all two steaks in the prime package were poorly cut Vs one in the choice package.

    2. Here we have a close up of the two lesser steaks from the Prime package. The first is obviously not the best steak. The second is cut in a pie shape and is wedged (uneven thicknes). If you compare these to the standard butchers cut in my initial post you can see some of these are more like chunks of beef than steaks. Average weight was roughly 20 ounces each.

      1. In this set there is a shot of the uneven thickness of the Choice steaks and then a SxS comparison of the Prime Vs Choice. The last photo on the right will be the one that I suspect most of you will be interested in expanding.
        My personal conclusions were a bit of a draw. The Primes were more tender but they only displayed a minimal amount of improved marbling over the Choice. The six dollar premium on the package of prime won't break the bank for many but as one of my guests said it will still buy starch and veg for a dinner.
        There were some comments in the other thread that these Prime steaks are the same as steaks used in restaurants. Many steak houses have a standard SOP not to buy Texas Beef so I don't think in those cases beef imported from Mexico would work. Unless any one plans to run a restaurant and use Costco as a meat supplier I'm not sure that will be relevant to most.
        The Prime top sirloins I tested here were not nearly as good as other prime top sirloins I've had or used in the paat. The price at Costco is far lower although the true end price is a bit deceptive based on the yield. I will be grinding about 50% of this purchase because the meat is so poorly cut.
        Having said that I don't mind a fresh ground sirloin burger and $3.49- $4.99 a pound isn't a bad price for that.
        I should also note the Prime steaks were far wetter. On the other thread another CH mentioned that they felt the Costco steaks in Canada had been needled. When I was processing my photos I did indeed see what appeared to be holes in one of the prime steaks. When I use the next batch of the prime Top Sirloins I will closely inspect them. I had not thought of that even though I have worked with a fair amount of needled meat. The texture of the prime steak was indeed similar to meat that had been needled or tenderized.

        1. Sorry for the photo error on my last post but I can't edit the photos. Here are the two correct images.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Fritter

            Thanks. That was damn interesting!
            Timing was perfect. I was at my local (Des Moines,Ia) Costco Saturday. They had the Prime sirloin. It's the first Prime beef I've found there in all the time I've been a member.(3yrs?)
            The cuts were as you described, and pictured. A bit of a mess. One chunk almost 3" thick. at one end, tapering to maybe 1/2 ". The marbleing looked no better than the choice.
            GF wanted to buy a pack, but I talked her out of it. When I've been lucky enough to find Prime beef in the past, just the appearance brought tears to my eyes. This did not excite me.

          2. Thanks very much for this interesting research and all the photos!

            5 Replies
            1. re: GretchenS

              Thanks. The taste tests were fun. :)
              Prime rib eyes have been fairly common here so I hope to do the same with them in the future.

              1. re: Fritter

                The Costco in my area usually has western Canadian beef, grade "AAA" from Alberta. This is typically raised on grass and hay, hormone free, and finished on grain, usually barley. Sometimes the rib eyes look nicely marbled, but most are typical "AAA".

                Is it practical for you to compare a "AAA" rib eye from Windsor, to a corn finished USDA Choice rib eye from Detroit?

                1. re: jayt90

                  Honestly I don't know. I'm not sure what the laws are regarding carrying fresh meat across the border. IIR the US gets uptight about fish coming in to the US.
                  I haven't been to Windsor in a while but that might be a good reason to go.
                  I'll look into that. I think it would be an interesting comparison and I could get some dill pickle potato chips!

                  1. re: Fritter

                    Canadians can bring back groceries including meat from the U.S., duty free.
                    I believe that custom is reciprocal, but have not been in MI or NY recently. Have to get a passport now! I hope the border situation becomes more reasonable soon.

                    1. re: jayt90

                      I haven't crossed in a while but in the past the problem was never going into Canada it was getting back into the USA. Not that I'm against smuggeling a steak. (shhhhhh)
                      I used to work at DTW and knew the head customs inspector so I'll try to see what I can find out. In fact I'm headed to Comerica Park on Sunday any how so maybe we will swing over to Windsor. If not then maybe in the future.