Should you buy your beef brisket at Costco or Restaurant Depot? If you’re trying to choose between the two, it can be a tough call. This guide should provide you with enough information to make the right decision, based on your current circumstances.
Restaurant Depot Brisket vs Costco Brisket
The main difference between Restaurant Depot and Costco is that the former is mainly restricted to people who work in the food service industry, while anyone can purchase a Costco membership. Costco might offer a smaller selection and higher per-pound prices, but their quality is often better.
About Restaurant Depot
If you’ve never been to a Restaurant Depot, that may be because it’s not your typical big-box store. In order to shop there, you must have a valid business license that authorizes you to purchase items for resale. In certain states, you’ll also have to provide your Federal Employer Identification Number (FEIN).
It’s free to apply for a membership account to Restaurant Depot. If you qualify, it’s worth looking into, especially when you consider the fact that Costco does charge a membership fee.
Owners and managers of restaurants, bars, nightclubs, catering companies, delis, coffee shops, and food distributors are all eligible for membership. What’s more, the business doesn’t have to be food-related at all, as long as there’s a valid license on file.
We’d like to emphasize that you don’t have to own the business in order to qualify. Managers are welcome to shop at Restaurant Depot as well. In fact, members can usually get additional cards for whomever they choose, even friends who don’t work for them.
What You’ll Get
Low prices are the most obvious perks of a Restaurant Depot membership. Be sure to check out the monthly specials, which can net even higher savings.
Because the facilities are huge, they’re able to stock a huge selection. Members are quick to praise the convenience of stopping in just one place to restock their shelves. Even if you’re just shopping for brisket, you might be tempted to take advantage of their other offerings once you’re in the store.
That said, there’s no minimum purchase requirement. You’ll be able to take advantage of the low prices whether you buy a single beef brisket or a whole truckload of merchandise.
The KCBS Loophole
Barbecue enthusiasts who don’t work in the food service industry needn’t despair. There’s another way to gain access to Restaurant Depot—only this one isn’t free.
The Kansas City Barbecue Society (KCBS) offers several benefits to its members. Among them is a day pass to Restaurant Depot. Pricing starts at $35 for an individual annual pass, but the organization also offers lifetime memberships for $300 (or $400 for families).
It’s up to you to decide whether this offer is worth it. $35 might seem like a steep admission price. However, if you think you’ll take advantage of the other membership perks (restaurant coupons, discounts on gear, the opportunity to act as a judge at society events), then it’s a prospect worth considering.
Costco is another membership-only warehouse retailer. Like Restaurant Depot, the company began by selling only to businesses, but they changed their tune and began selling to the general public in the early 1980s. That’s also when the company changed the names on their warehouses from Price Club to Costco.
What You’ll Get
At the time of this writing, a basic Gold Star or Business Costco membership costs $60 per year, while the high-level Executive membership carries a $120 annual fee. All memberships include access to all Costco locations worldwide, but Executive members also receive an annual reward on qualified purchases, as well as a few other benefits.
Note that if you apply for a Costco Business membership, you’ll need to provide a valid business license, the same as you would at Restaurant Depot. Don’t skip this step if you intend to resell any Costco products at any time.
Restaurant Depot Brisket vs Costco Brisket: Which Is Better?
This is a hotly contested topic among serious pitmasters. If you have access to both Costco and Restaurant Depot, where should you go to buy your beef brisket? Let’s break it down.
Restaurant Depot’s per-pound prices tend to be slightly lower than Costco’s. If this is the driving factor in your decision, then you might want to head to Restaurant Depot first. This is especially true if you’re planning on buying a number of large whole packer briskets in one trip.
However, you’ll want to take a close look at the labels before you make your decision. Costco might be able to get away with charging more because they’re offering higher-quality beef (see below for more details).
Since most shoppers are looking for the best quality meat they can afford, this is an important category. While there’s no concrete answer, many members agree that Costco’s brisket is superior to Restaurant Depot’s in this regard.
Costco often stocks Prime brisket, which is well-marbled and therefore full of flavor. The brisket found at Restaurant Depot, meanwhile, is rarely graded above the Choice level. It might carry the Angus label, but that only refers to the breed of the steer, not the quality of the beef.
The difference between the Prime and Choice cuts is evident if you’re planning on making the perfect smoked brisket. On the other hand, if you intend to grind the meat to make hamburger, you should be fine with a cut from Restaurant Depot.
Is there a Restaurant Depot near you? If not, then it wouldn’t make much sense to pursue a membership. There are only about 130 locations in the US, so finding one can be a challenge, especially for shoppers who live in rural areas.
Costco, meanwhile, has over 500 locations in the US alone, and nearly 800 worldwide. Since it’s easier to find a Costco—and since anyone can become a member—the company wins out over Restaurant Depot in terms of convenience.
Depending on where you shop, Costco might have a limited selection of meat cuts. Some warehouses stock only brisket flats and not whole packers. It can even be difficult to find relatively common cuts like bone-in pork butt and spare ribs.
When you shop at Restaurant Depot, you can expect to be overwhelmed by all the options available. It’s a particularly good choice for anyone who needs to buy large quantities of meat at once. What’s more, whole packer briskets are just the tip of the iceberg—they even stock all the spices and kitchen equipment you’ll need to get started.
This isn’t to say that Costco doesn’t stock whole packers. The warehouses in Texas, for example, will probably have a broader selection than the ones in Massachusetts. If you’re already a Costco member, you should have a good idea of what they offer.
Also, bear in mind that consumer cuts aren’t necessarily a bad thing. Smoking a brisket flat is much quicker than preparing a whole packer, which is one of the reasons why they’re easier to find in the first place.
Should you buy a Restaurant Depot brisket or take your business to Costco?
In terms of quality and convenience, Costco has a slight edge. Restaurant Depot, meanwhile, offers lower prices and stocks a wider selection of cuts. If you have access to both, our advice would be to check the stock and pricing at each location to find out where you’ll have the most luck.