For the most part, there isn’t always a lot of variety when choosing where to get your meat. For example, four companies in America process 85% of cattle slaughtered for boxed beef, meaning that if there’s an issue, it affects a large portion of the meat available to the general public.
This is a problem. When buying meat, it’s essential to make sure that it’s of good quality for more reasons than one-not just for taste and enjoyment, but for health too.
When shopping around for meat, options for the best quality can be limited. Still, that doesn’t mean it isn’t there. You just need to know where to go.
So, what grocery store has the best meat?
What to Look for When It Comes to Meat Quality
When deciding what grocery store to go to to get your meat, you need to know how to pick the best. This is what to look for.
A USDA Label
On any meat you buy, you should look for a label from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which rates the beef and lets you know its quality. There are three different ratings that the USDA uses:
- USDA Prime Beef: Generally sold in hotels and restaurants, this is beef from young, well-fed cattle that you should have no issue with.
- USDA Choice Beef: It’s still high-quality beef but with less marbling. It will still be juicy and full of flavor.
- USDA Select Beef: Leaner and more tender because of the even less marbling. It may not have as much flavor, but great for marinating.
If the beef you’re buying doesn’t have one of these labels on it, it’s time to walk away from it.
You may have noticed that marbling seems to be a key aspect in determining the quality of meat. But what exactly is marbling, and how do you know how much to look for?
Generally, more marbling equals a better quality of meat. Marbling looks like white streaks through the darker color of the meat, and the fat content helps keep the moisture inside as you cook it. This results in juicier and more tender beef, which is why it’s so important.
If it looks like the meat has a considerable amount of it, you’ve found good beef. It doesn’t take an expert to spot, so don’t worry about studying it too much.
Using the labels and your eyes, you’ll be able to get a feel for marbling fairly quickly.
If you’re on the hunt for good-quality beef, you should also look for the grass-fed variety. Only about 4% of cows used for meat are grass-fed, but the number is growing every year, and there’s good reason for that.
There are several significant benefits to grass-fed beef. Grass-fed beef has been proven to be higher in things like Vitamins A, E, B12, B6, iron, and zinc.
It’s also good for heart health, as it has lower levels of saturated fat. It can come with a risk of high cholesterol or parasite infections, however, so always be wary of any meat, but the advantages tend to outweigh the disadvantages here.
It can taste a little gamier than other beef too, which some people prefer for its deeper flavor.
Which Grocery Store Has the Best Meat?
Now that you know what to look for, which grocery store do you go to when looking?
Remember that it is, of course, possible to find bad meat at these stores too if something has gone wrong, but these are the best places to begin your search.
Best for Quality: Whole Foods
Whole Foods prides itself on its organic food and high standards for meat. For example, beef has to be raised on pastures for two-thirds of its life, and they provide many different options depending on what you’re looking for:
They also must meet Animal Welfare Standards. There are various standards for each animal to ensure the meat was produced without any unnecessary cruelty.
If you’re looking for something other than beef, it’s not just that they focus on. They have standards for others to meet too. They have a serious commitment to chicken welfare, and absolutely none of their meat is allowed to contain supplemental growth hormones.
They don’t skip out on frozen food either, which also must meet their organic meat standards. They even make their hotdogs without synthetic nitrites.
Best for Selection: Sprouts
If you don’t have Whole Foods nearby or are simply looking for another option for good quality meat, you can check out Sprouts.
Their beef is always fresh, and they never freeze it. It’s rated USDA Choice, which means you know it will be juicy and flavorful.
They also have a grass-fed selection higher in omega-3 fatty acids than grain-fed beef, which is handy for disease prevention! They’re minimally processed with no artificial ingredients.
Looking for something else, like chicken? Don’t worry, they’ve made sure that’s good too. They have methods to lock the juices in their chicken that ensure it’s good quality, and much like their beef, it has no artificial additions or added hormones.
Much like Whole Foods, it isn’t the cheapest option. But sometimes you get what you pay for, and good meat often isn’t cheap.
Best in the South: Publix
If you’re in the South, you’re in luck. Publix also has some excellent quality meat, and there’s a Publix around every corner when you’re down there.
Publix can also be somewhat more affordable than Whole Foods and Sprouts, which are known to be expensive. By shopping here, you can save money without compromising the quality of the meat.
They have antibiotic-free meats and meat that’s ready to cook, and they pride themselves on their customization. If you don’t see what you want, it’s easy enough for their meat cutters to get you exactly what you need, so don’t be shy about asking and describing your needs.
For the perfect balance of health, quality, and affordability, Publix is a great option. Unfortunately, in most states in the US, it’s just not the most convenient since it would involve quite a bit of travel to reach!
Best for Value: Aldi
Are you looking for an even more affordable option? Aldi is proof that good quality meat doesn’t have to break the bank, and it’s available all over the US, despite its origin being in Europe, so it shouldn’t be challenging to find one.
Aldi tends to avoid big brands and claims to buy locally, but that doesn’t mean their meat is of lower quality. They still test it and follow similar standards to the other best grocery stores, but because they’re more careful about where to buy their meat, they can offer it at lower prices.
If you’re looking for a specific big-name brand of meat, then Aldi may not be the place for you. However, remember big-name brands aren’t everything, and if it’s only quality you’re into, you can find it at excellent prices here.
What Else Should You Look For?
Even when you’ve found the right place to go, and you know what determines good quality meat, there are some other things to watch out for. Don’t forget these, or you may end up buying a subpar cut that isn’t worth the money.
The Sell-By Date
Some meat should be frozen or cooked within one to two days of purchase and others within three to five. It’s not federally required for stores to put a sell-by date on meat items, so it’s better to play it safe if there’s no date on there at all. However, some stores will do so to keep their customers safe and ensure the quality of their meat.
When in doubt, freeze the meat or cook it within two days, and it should be fine.
If you ever see meat being sold that has a sell-by date in the past, do not buy it, and it would also be wise to report it to the store. Not only is that meat going to taste bad, but it could also cause someone to get sick.
Some sell-by dates are merely vague suggestions you don’t have to abide by, but don’t risk it with meat!
The Position on the Shelf
If you’re really smart about buying meat, you’ll know that the position on the shelf often gives a lot away about the freshness of the meat.
Why is this?
Grocery stores want to sell the less fresh meat first and then move to the fresher stuff. It’s cost-effective, as it means there’s less chance of something going bad.
However, if you want the freshest stuff available, slyly digging to the back of the shelf or the bottom of the cooler and taking a cut of meat from there is your best option.
Condensation on the Packaging
For meat to stay fresher for longer, it should be tightly sealed, allowing nothing to get inside the packaging. Sometimes this doesn’t always happen.
There could be a small hole that’s allowing air and moisture to get in, meaning the meat won’t last as long.
If there’s condensation on the packing you can’t wipe away with your finger, it’s on the inside and means some air has gotten in.
This might not be a problem if you plan on cooking the meat right when you get home but if you want it to hold out for a day or two, look for something else.
The meat you’re buying should have smooth edges. If it’s jagged, then it may be of lower quality and, in the case of poultry, could even have bones left in.
The skill of the cut is often directly related to the quality of the meat, and it’s essential to remember this.
Pay attention to how consistent the cut of your meat is, and if it doesn’t look just as good every time you buy it, consider switching to a new store or butcher.
Functional Fridges and Freezers
Sometimes technology isn’t on our side, and faults happen. Store meat in a cooled environment to ensure it keeps its quality.
If you’re buying meat out of a fridge, make sure the fridge is still cold and working. If it’s been faulty for any period of time, then the meat may not last as long and may have already started to go off.
If you’re buying frozen meat, this is even more important, and it’s simple to tell if a freezer isn’t as cold as it should be because you may see water dripping from it.
Make sure the meat has been stored in an adequate place by taking a second to look around, feel the inside of the fridge or freezer, and have confidence in your decision to buy the meat from inside of it.
All fresh meat has a bit of a smell, and that’s okay, even if you aren’t the biggest fan of it! However, stay away from the meat if it smells strange or like it’s actively rotting.
This is another case where you should report it to the grocery store, as this should never be sold, and some unsuspecting customers might buy and consume it if they aren’t familiar with meat.
Grocery Store Meat Alternatives
Now, shipping and logistics have dramatically improved over the past decade to where buying meat online is a viable alternative to buying it in a grocery store.
And if you are buying high-quality cuts, you might can even score better pricing. Here are some of our favorites.
Crowd Cow is a website that specializes in selling meat by the box. The benefits of buying from this business are that the quality of the meat is guaranteed and bulk purchases may save you money.
The disadvantage is that you must place your order online, and shipping the beef to your location may be costly. They have options for grass fed beef and pasture finished beef. Order as much as possible with a full box to receive the best price.
FarmFoods is an online store that specializes in selling a huge selection of meats. They have a comprehensive selection of beef, including brisket like flat and point, as well as other meat products (like bison!).
The benefits of buying from FarmFoods are that they provide a wide range of goods, they maintain high standards of quality control, and free delivery is available on purchases of $99 or more.
Snake River Farms
Snake River Farms is the best place to get beef online. They’re a top provider of American-raised beef and pork.
The benefits of purchasing from Snake River Farms include their strict quality standards, the range of cuts they provide, and the fact that they source all of their meat domestically.
Agridime is a store that specializes in selling high-quality meats. They have a wide selection of different beef cuts and sizes to choose from, and their prices are very competitive.
If you’re looking for the best place to buy meat online, Agridime is definitely a store worth considering. Their quality is top-notch, and their prices are very reasonable.
Porter Road is an on-line butcher that sells high-quality meats of every cut. The firm has a dedication to sustainable farming and only purchases meat from animals that were not given antibiotics or hormones. Beef is available in a variety of cuts, with free delivery on purchases of over $100.
If you’re looking for quality meats with convenient delivery, Amazon Fresh is a great option. They have a wide selection of meat, and their prices are usually very competitive. Plus, they offer free delivery on orders over $50.
However, there are a few things to keep in mind when shopping at Amazon Fresh. First, their inventory can vary from week to week, so it’s important to check their website before placing an order.
Second, their prices can be higher than those at other grocery stores. But, if you’re looking for convenience and quality, Amazon Fresh is a great option.
Your Local Farmer’s Market
Your local farmer’s market is an incredible place to buy meat. You can not only get high quality cuts grown with amazing methods – you might can even work it out to buy a whole cow. Also, you can develop relationships to get the most out of your spend.
Wrap Up: How to Spot the Best Meat
When buying meat, it’s essential to stick to high-quality grocery stores such as Whole Foods, Sprouts, Publix, and Aldi.
While other grocery stores can have meat that’s of good quality too, many of them simply don’t stick to the same standards, and it can cause the meat to vary.
Why risk the quality of the end result and, more importantly, your health?
Once you’ve found the grocery store you want to go to, make sure to check things like the USDA label, the sell-by date, and the marbling too.
Bringing all of these things together can help you make an informed decision about your purchase and find the best cuts of meat available.