Here’s how to decide if it’s really worth it.
Sometimes, it feels like the odds of finding a quality cut of meat at the supermarket are lower than that of winning the lottery. But when you live in an area without a butcher, what’s left to do but sift through the super-stringy cuts of meat for something that (hopefully) doesn’t turn out as bad as it looks?
Now, thanks to the Internet, you don’t have to settle for beef of questionable quality: you can order high-grade steaks online and have them delivered. There are a few caveats to consider before taking the plunge, however, primarily to do with pricing, quality, and food safety issues that can pop up during shipping.
So is buying meat online really better than hitting up the supermarket for fresh slabs? Read on to find out.
Pro: The Convenience Is Tough to Beat
Unlike at the supermarket, where you have to plan your meals around what’s available, buying from an online butcher means you can score super-specific cuts of meat that your supermarket won’t necessarily carry, says Eric Sieden, director of nutrition and food services at Glen Cove, Plainview, and Syosset hospitals in New York. You won’t have to worry about adjusting your menu if your go-to meat isn’t in stock or the quality isn’t great—instead, the exact meats you want will be shipped right to your door.
Pro: With a More Diverse Selection Comes Higher-Quality Options
Because cattle from certain parts of the world are raised differently, ordering online gives you the chance to select from more diverse options that better suit your dietary preferences (an especially handy perk if you don’t live near a butcher). “Products from Japan, New Zealand, and even Argentina, where cattle is raised on grass rather than corn, and is hormone- and antibiotic-free, are available at your fingertips,” says Sieden.
Pro: They’ll (Probably) Taste Better
When researching online steak retailers, go with companies that flash freeze their meats (you can tell this by the small ice crystals that will be on the cuts when they’re delivered). “Flash freezing is a best industry practice that contains the product with minimal time at temperatures that can affect quality or safety,” says Sieden. The small ice crystals mean less moisture will leave the meat upon cooking, resulting in a better tasting steak. (Had the meat been sitting out for a while before freezing, moisture will be pooled or evaporate,” he says.)
Pro: There’s Greater Transparency in What You’re Buying
Many online steak retailers will tell you exactly the farm that your steak was grown. Compare that to many grocers, who might purchase meat from imported farms, and consumers won’t necessarily be the wiser. “If you’re purchasing your meat from an old-school butcher, you likely will have that transparency that’s not usually afforded from a supermarket chain,” says Candess Zona-Mendola, Texas-based food safety expert and editor of MakeFoodSafe.com. Besides having the opportunity to vet the online steak company before you buy from them, some companies also give you the chance to get in touch with questions about the food, and receive answers directly from the people who package it.
Con: Buying Steaks Online Can Get Pricey
“The main con is that the price of these products can be expensive, with the average price of one of these steaks hovering around $20 before shipping costs—around what you’d pay at a run-of-the-mill steakhouse,” says Sieden. That’s not to say it can’t be a cost-effective shopping experience, but you’ve got to do your due diligence. For example, many online steak companies offer memberships where certain cuts are sent at a set fee every week or month, and the prices won’t change despite any fluctuations in the market. But at the end of the day, it’s a convenience service, adds Sieden, so it will almost always cost more than taking a trip to your local butcher or supermarket.
Con: The Vetting Process Can Be Time Consuming
To make sure the company you’re buying from is reputable, it’s important to do your homework. The primary qualities to look for in an online steak retailer is a good food safety culture and transparency, says Mendola. You should know where the meat’s coming from, how it’s sourced and prepared, how and where it’s packaged, and how quickly it’s shipped from the time of order. “Read reviews, and check the company’s local health department for inspection reports,” says Mendola. The process can be tedious, but well worth it if you want to make buying steak online a regular thing. Two companies we really like are Butcher Box and Snake River Farms.
Con: Food Safety Can Be an Issue
If it’s difficult for someone to stick around the house and accept the steak deliveries, then it’s best to hold off on taking the service for a spin until that changes. “Yes, the package will arrive frozen, but this doesn’t mean it can sit on your doorstep,” says Mendola. The steaks need to be put in the freezer right away—but even if you’re home to sign for them, “there are always food safety concerns when it comes to mailing food,” says Mendola. The best rule of thumb is: cold foods (in this case, frozen steaks) must stay at a temperature of at least 40 degrees fahrenheit or below to stay safe to eat.
The Bottom Line
Buying steaks online can be a super-convenient way to stay stocked on your favorite cuts, or simply have more control over the quality of your food and where it comes from. It’s also a great option when you’re in need of specialty cuts that aren’t easy to find in your area, or if you’re having people over for a feast and would rather not have to make due with what the supermarket has available. If you’re not big on buying in bulk or researching the best deals before jumping in, however, it can be a pricey way to go.