Is Mail-Order Meat Better Than Grocery Store Meat?
We’ve all grown used to the luxury of shopping online and the satisfaction of items appearing at our doors a few days later. That’s the way of the world when it comes to Bluetooth headphones, new releases from your favorite author, and that hamburger Halloween costume you just had to have (extra cheese, please!), but does food fall into the category of things better bought online? More specifically, is mail-order meat really better than what you can find in the average grocery store?
The answer is almost always a resounding yes! Leave aside for a moment the unparalleled convenience, heightened transparency, and wider selection offered by most online meat distributors — strictly in terms of quality, mail-order meat often surpasses what’s at local supermarkets. Though particular practices vary from one delivery service to another, their meat is generally superior for 2 main reasons: they source higher-quality meat, and they tailor their products to exact specifications most retail stores ignore. We’ll look at each factor to show why mail-order meat is usually the way to go if you (like us) value flavor above all else.
Great Meat Flavor Starts with Great Meat
Most online meat companies work closely with top-notch farms and facilities to purchase only the best meat. In the case of USDA beef grades, that means Prime and top-tier Choice products. Some meat distributors go so far as to run a Top Choice program that guarantees they receive only the most highly marbled USDA Choice beef. With mail-order meat companies, specialty meat stores, and high-end restaurants taking first pick at the best meat, most chain retailers settle for the less desirable and more cost-effective Choice and Select cuts. A trip down your local grocery store meat aisle is probably all the proof you need.
Cutting Meat Properly Is Only Slightly Less Complicated than Cutting Diamonds
Even if meat retailers of all kinds chose to source exclusively high-quality meat, every cut still has an issue or two before a butcher gets their hands on it. Top sirloin includes a nearly inedible sciatic nerve that should be removed; New York strips feature an overly tough “vein steak” on one end of the cut from which they’re harvested; and filet steaks can contain meat from up to 3 different muscles. For this reason, most mail-order meat companies enforce strict specifications to optimize every cut of meat.
Speaking of grocery stores and other retailers, the vast majority of them buy whole subprimal sections of meat (that is, cuts within the primal sections, not meat graded below USDA Prime) then sell all cuts from that section under the name of the subprimal.
So, one package labeled “tenderloin” may contain the much more desirable center cut, whereas another container merchandised as “tenderloin” might include the tough “heel” portion of the meat. The average retailer seeking to maximize and turn out inventory has no choice but to merchandize the less palatable pieces as well as the sought-after center cuts, creating something of a gamble every time you buy. Smaller portions also help with cost control, so grocery stores usually offer only 12-ounce strips and 8-ounce filets.
Meat Flavor vs. Meat Costs
Combine the major factors of quality and specifications, and you get a clear picture of how retailers approach their meat sales. Premium, mail-order meat is typically sourced, cut, and packaged with flavor in mind; grocery store meat is generally sourced, cut, and packaged to meet price considerations. Groceries also tend to focus on “family packs” of steak and other meat that ends up being thinner but more economical for families trying to buy a week’s worth of meals. Better meat always requires greater effort, which the average retail store isn’t prepared to put forth in the industry’s current climate.
It’s worth noting that what’s outlined above generally applies to only large chain retailers; in fact, some smaller grocery stores boldly buck industry trends with meat departments that operate more in line with online meat distributors. They may source top-end beef, wet-age or dry-age steaks, and employ expert butchers who stick to strict specifications. But by and large, mail-order meat will be of higher quality than grocery store meat — and we invite you to try it out for yourself. When the time comes, refer to our guide for thawing frozen meat and enjoy your favorite meals like never before.
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