Which Grocery Store Has the Best Steaks? (good, bad, & ugly)


Lots of people love steak. But let’s face it, not all meat is created equal. So many steak lovers have wondered which grocery store has the best steaks?

Having sold thousands of steaks over the years in my career, here’s what I know:

The best grade of beef is Prime, and organic grass-fed is premium in terms of meat quality, taste & health. Unfortunately prime beef is only available in small quantities to grocers like Wegmans or Whole Foods Market due to low demand due to its premium price. But the best nationwide grocer for steaks is Whole Foods.

However, it’s not quite that simple.

After all, there are so many different kinds of cuts, gradings, aging, and much more.

So, this article is going to be all about your favorite cut of meat! We’re going to talk about what makes one steak better than another.

We’re also going to talk about which supermarkets have the best quality meat and how to pick a steak at the grocery store. We will define USDA meat grades and grass-fed versus grain-fed organic beef.

Are you ready to know all you need to know about purchasing steak at the grocery store?

Just keep reading!

Like steak, but not sure if Prime is worth the money?

I recently conducted a blind taste test of USDA Choice, USDA Prime, Certified Angus, and Grass-fed ribeye steaks.

Prime is definitely the most expensive of those 4, but did it taste the best?  Find out my results in this recent article and brief video where you’ll see it all unfold!

Just click that link to see it on my site!

What is steak and what part of the cow do they come from?

Steak is not just any piece of meat. Steak is generally defined as a cut of meat that is sliced across the muscle fibers.

There are many different kinds of steak, each coming from different areas of the cow. Each type of steak has different characteristics.

Ribeyes come from the rib area. T-bones, porterhouse, filet mignon, and strip steaks come from the loin.

Some steaks, like skirt steak and flank steak, are cut with the muscle fibers. They come from the short plate and the flank. They also tend to be tougher than other steaks.

Arguably, one of the hardest things about cooking steak at home is picking and purchasing steak at the supermarket. It’s not surprising, either. There are a ton of choices!

What makes one type of steak better than another?

We all have our own idea of what makes a steak “good.”

The same applies when we talk about “better” steaks. For this article, we’re going to assume that the better steak is super flavorful yet tender. We’re also going to assume that cost is not a factor.

Filet Mignon comes from the tenderloin portion of the cow.

It contains very little fat and comes from a non-weight-bearing muscle. This, along with it not containing much connective tissue makes it the most tender cut of meat. However, the lack of fat does not make it the most flavorful.

This is why it is usually served with some sort of sauce or wrapped in bacon.

Strip steaks, like the NY Strip, is a good balance of flavor and tenderness. It’s got some fat in it, making it more flavorful than the filet mignon. It’s also a well-worked muscle, making it less tender.

The Ribeye is the most flavorful cust of meat. Look for high marbling. This is the white swirling you’ll see in the steak. The more marbling, the more flavorful the steak. If cooked with care, it can also be very tender.

So, what makes one steak better than another steak? A good amount of fat (for flavor) and cut from an area that doesn’t do much work (for tenderness).

Which supermarket has the best quality meat?

There are tons of supermarkets out there, so this article is going to focus on a handful of well-known supermarkets.

When shopping for meat, you should look for good marbling and nice red color with no brown spots.

Another factor in the quality of meat is whether the cow is given growth hormones or antibiotics. Animals fed right and treated humanely are not just for marketing. They make for better tasting, healthier meat. As a bonus, you can feel good that the cow lived it’s best life before it landed on your plate.

Publix

According to the Publix website, their meat is raised with no antibiotics or added hormones. They are also fed a 100% vegetarian diet. However, they don’t specify whether they are grain-fed or grass-fed.

While Publix indicates that the GreenWise Angus is humanely raised to certain requirements, they don’t specify what those standards are. They also do not indicate whether these standards apply to any other cut of beef sold in the store.

It’s also worth pointing out that places like Whole Foods guarantee their meat and poultry has no added growth hormones or antibiotics EVER. Whereas many brands and stores simply guarantee that their meat and poultry tested free of those things at the time of slaughter.

That means in many cases, the animals or feed have been treated with those things earlier in their lifespan. (source)

Whole Foods Market

Meat sold at Whole Foods has over 100 animal welfare standards it must meet before it is sold in the store.

These standards don’t just apply to beef cattle. They also apply pork, chicken, sheep, goats, and turkey.

If an animal ever gets an antibiotic treatment, it won’t be sold at Whole Foods. They also don’t permit added growth hormones or animal by-products. They also ensure that animals are raised, transported, and slaughtered humanely.

Because there are such stringent standards to the meat that is sold at Whole Foods, you can rest assured that any meat you purchase will be healthy and free of nasty additives.

If you aren’t a fan, you may have wondered why is Whole Foods so popular?

I break down the company from top to bottom in a recent article. Since I worked for them for more than 20 years (not currently), I know a thing or 2 about them, including a lot of insider tips.

Just click that link to read it on my site.

Kroger

Kroger is not as transparent about their meat policy. They do offer antibiotic-free meat and their line of Simple Truth meat products that are free of growth hormones.

They do require that suppliers meet standards set by the North American Meat Institute as well as the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

Trader Joe’s

While Trader Joe’s has a lot of excellent products, meat is not their strong suit.

They do sell organic beef, but they do not have much of a selection. And, as you’d know if you shopped there, everything is prepackaged. They do not have butchers in the store and nothing is cut or packaged in the store.

They sell a lot of marinated meat, but if you are making steak, you will want to make your own marinade, if you marinate it at all. Sometimes meats that are lower quality get packaged in a marinade to mask the lower quality.

So it’s usually best to marinate it yourself.

Wegman’s

Wegman’s sells organic and grass-fed beef, but they do not have any standards as it relates to the humane treatment of cattle.

They are exclusively on the East Coast. With only 89 stores, some of you may have never seen one.

But they are overall a great grocery store. They combine the look and feel of Whole Foods, but in a much larger format with a more lenient set of product standards.

So unlike Whole Foods, you can probably buy that Captain Crunch cereal along with your dry-aged Prime tenderloin and house-made mozzarella.

As far as quality, organic meat does not necessarily mean it’s good meat. Organic meat could be fed grains, which are less healthy than grass-fed cattle. I discuss in more detail the differences between organic and grass-fed meat in the sections below.

How do you pick a steak at the grocery store?

While steak from the local meat market may be the better option for purchasing steak, sometimes is just not possible.

Meat markets (butcher shops) are becoming a rarity. If you do happen to have one nearby, it’s going to mean an extra trip and extra time shopping.

Sometimes it’s just more convenient to do all of your shopping, including meat, at the supermarket.

So, how do you pick a quality steak at the grocery store?

First, check the fat content

You want there to be good marbling, or fat, throughout the steak. Marbling ensures a juicy steak with a deep, rich flavor. Fat on the outer edge of the steak ensures juiciness while helping it retain its shape.

Next, look at the color of the meat

Grass-fed meat usually has a deeper red color with the marbling having a yellowish hue.

Grain-fed meat will be less red with a milky white or creamy colored marbling.

Be sure to make sure there are no brown spots on the surface of the steak, either.

Color is also a marker for the freshness of the meat as well at its age. Fresh meat will be a lighter shade of red after it is cut. Meat that has been in cold storage for a long time will be a darker shade of red.

Younger meat will be brighter colored than older meat. Darker meat comes from an older animal, meaning it will likely be a tougher cut.

Size does matter!

You want to purchase a steak that is at least one-inch thick.

Thinner steaks cook much faster, making them easier to overcook. An overcooked steak will be chewy and dry. You also want the thickness to be consistent so it’s not done on one end and raw on the other.

Don’t confuse an overcooked steak with a well done one. Even a well-done steak, when cooked properly, can be juicy and tender.

Finally, shop for your steaks just before you are about to checkout.

Refrigerate or freeze them as soon as you get home. This is more of a safety precaution than anything. You’d hate to cook a steak to perfection just to get sick from it!

But, of course, for the best steak possible, cook it shortly after you buy it.

What are the USDA meat grades?

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) grades meat at the request of the meatpacker.

The grading system determines the quality rating based on the amount of marbling in the muscle and the age of the beef.

There are generally three USDA grades of beef that you would buy from the supermarket. From highest to lowest, they are:

  • Prime
  • Choice
  • Select

The highest quality of meat is USDA Prime.

It is the most tender and flavorful cut of meat. It is also hard to find and usually reserved for high-end restaurants. You may be able to find it at the supermarket occasionally but at a premium price.

In short, the higher the ratio of marbling, and the younger the cow, the higher the grade.

The marbling determines the tenderness, juiciness, and flavor. Younger beef produces a finer texture, making it more tender.

The second-highest grade is Choice.

It has less marbling and is generally less tender. Less marbling also means less flavor and juice.

USDA Select is the lowest grade of steak you’ll find at the supermarket.

It is very lean and tougher than other cuts.

USDA Cutter and Canner grades are meats that are typically found in convenience foods, like microwave burritos, pot pies, and other processed food products.

When shopping for steak, be sure to look for the USDA shield.

Many grocers will mark packages as “prime” or “choice,” but unless it has the USDA shield, it’s most likely a marketing ploy.

Is organic beef grass-fed and is that better?

Organic beef does not necessarily mean it was grass-fed.

Organic means that the animal was not given added hormones or antibiotics or pesticides in the food. The feed can be grass, corn or soy (grains).

Grass-fed meat means that the animal was pasture-raised and was not fed corn or soy. Grass-fed meat is often organic, but organic does not necessarily mean grass-fed.

Because cattle that are fed grain are inherently less healthy, organic does not necessarily mean better. Studies show that grain-fed cattle have unhealthy omega 6 to omega 3 fats. They have higher saturated fat and tend to be pro-inflammatory. (source)

Grass-fed cattle have a much healthier omega 6 to omega 3 fat ratio.

They also tend to contain more vitamins, are less likely to have E. coli, less saturated fat, and fewer calories than commercial grain-fed meat.

So, if you are looking to purchase the healthiest steak, look for organic grass-fed beef with a USDA rating of at least Choice.

What grocery stores have full-service meat departments with a butcher?

Again, there are countless grocery stores, many of them with full-service meat departments. I’m going to focus on a handful of popular supermarkets.

Publix

Publix has a full-service meat department with a butcher on hand. Butchers are available during regular operating hours to custom cut meat, trim a cut, or repackage portions.

Whole Foods Market

Whole Foods has a full-service meat department with a butcher on hand.

But their meat department also has over 100 animal welfare standards it must meet before it is sold in the store. Some of these standards include no added hormones or antibiotics.

Cows must spend at least ⅔ of their life at pasture. Furthermore, Cows, among other animals, must be raised, transported, and slaughtered humanely.

Kroger

Some, but not all Kroger stores, have an in-house butcher. Check your location to be sure.

Trader Joe’s

Trader Joe’s does not have a meat department with a butcher. They sell meat in smaller, prepacked packages. Nothing is cut in the stores.

Safeway

Like Publix and Whole Foods, Safeway does have full-service meat departments with butchers on hand. Butchers are available to custom cut any order.

Did I answer everything you want to know about purchasing steak at the grocery store?

In this article, we went over all the things you need to know about purchasing steak at the grocery store.

We went over what makes a great steak.

Then we talked about what supermarkets have the best quality meat and how to pick a steak at the grocery store. We also went over USDA meat grades and the differences between grass-fed and grain-fed beef.

Of course, we also talked about what makes one steak better than another.

Then we looked at which supermarkets have the best quality meat and how to pick a steak at the grocery store. We answered all the top questions too, about things like USDA meat grades and grass-fed versus grain-fed organic beef.

Ultimately we answered the question of which grocery store has the best steaks?

My pick for quality, consistency, price, and availability is Whole Foods Market. After all, they operate over 400 stores in multiple countries. While some place like Wegman’s on the East Coast also has great steaks, I can’t give them the win since they don’t operate in most parts of the country.

Small butcher shops, of course, could be well worth checking out too if you have one. But anywhere you can find USDA Prime or at least Choice beef, ideally organically grown and grass-fed, get it! You’ll have a great steak!

I would steer clear of buying meat from places that only sell USDA Select beef and also steer clear of places that don’t have butchers on staff who cut their meat fresh. Trader Joes and Aldi come to mind there.

Are you a chicken lover too?

I have a recent article which breaks down which grocery stores have the best quality chicken. I also take the mystery out of the common terms like hormone and antibiotic-free.

I even explain how some claims you see on chicken packages are just marketing gimmicks and are really meaningless.

Just click that link to read it on my site.

 

Jeff Campbell

Hi! I'm Jeff Campbell. I was a leader for Whole Foods Market for over 2 decades. I worked in 9 stores in 4 states, not counting the hundred-plus stores I've assisted in other ways. I was a Global All-Star, a Gold Pen Winner, and won Top-10 Store (company-wide) 3 times in addition to Best New Store (company-wide).

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