The reason why professional chefs love Costco beef

Costco: The wholesale mecca where you can leave with a new beach chair, a 64-pack of fruit snacks, a big-screen TV, an arms-load of diapers, and… incredibly high-quality beef?

That’s right. Plus, check out 9 other bizarre things you never knew you could get at Costco.

Chefs and butchers alike have come out and said one of their go-to spots to purchase beef is one of America’s favorite retailers. Food & Wine reveals that it’s all about what the cows are fed, if they’re drinking enough water, and how they’re raised. In short, happy cows are tasty cows, and Costco provides just that.

RELATED: Costco secrets you didn't know 

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1. EMPLOYEES ENJOY PLENTY OF BENEFITS

Costco now sets its minimum wage for hourly employees at $14 an hour. That’s in addition to offering benefits like healthcare for all employees, regardless of part-time vs. full-time status.

While I was at Costco, they gave employees complimentary memberships to the store. Each employee also got a free turkey to enjoy with their families on Thanksgiving. And to top things off, Costco paid employees time and a half just for working on Sundays.

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2. COSTCO IS A GREAT DESTINATION FOR HEALTH FOOD

People who haven’t shopped at warehouse clubs might expect the “buy in bulk” mentality to mean the aisles are lined with junk food. While Costco does sell things like cookies and candy bars, there are plenty of healthy options, if that’s what you’re looking for. Greek yogurt, coconut water, protein powder, and lean meats are just some of the things that line the shelves at Costco. And the produce section is filled with delicious apples, bananas, berries, salads and more.

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3. IT’S NOT JUST FOR BIG FAMILIES, EITHER

When I tell friends I still shop at Costco, they don’t understand what my husband and I buy there, since we don’t have kids and live in a small New York apartment. But there are plenty of options for any family size, and it doesn’t mean you have to keep ten spare jars of tomato sauce in your pantry. Things like Kirkland Signature protein bars and olive oil are shelf stable for our small household. Cleaning supplies like kitchen sponges are sold in reasonably sized packages, too. It just depends what you’re looking for—but there’s no one demographic that’s more suited to shop there. These Costco shopping tips will save you a ton.

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4. COSTCO’S PIZZA IS THE REAL DEAL

If you find yourself eating at Costco’s food court, you’ll probably be pleasantly surprised by how great the food is. The pizzas are baked fresh in store with Kirkland Signature ingredients, and they don’t skimp on cheese and other toppings. The hot dog combo—just $1.50 for a hot dog and a soda—is also superb. The food court even offers fresh diced onions, in addition to mustard and ketchup, to top your dog. 

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5. PEOPLE REALLY DO BUY THAT FAMOUS GIANT BEAR

The giant teddy may seem like an Internet novelty, and plenty of people (myself included) have stopped to take photos with the 8-foot-tall friend. But I saw more than one person buy the giant stuffed animal—usually grandparents purchasing it as a gift for their grandkids. (I do wonder how they stuffed it into a car/cab to get home.)

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6. YOU CAN GO TO THE PHARMACY AS A NON-MEMBER

If you live near Costco and want to pick up your prescriptions there, you can do so without buying an annual membership to the club. But don’t think you can pull a fast one on the employee checking membership cards at the entrance—you can’t check out at Costco without a membership in your name. 

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7. COSTCO IS SELLING BLUE APRON MEAL KITS

I didn’t learn this one working at Costco—it’s a new initiative—but if you’re looking to save time on meal prep, this is worth knowing about. A handful of Costco stores on the West Coast are selling the Blue Apron kits, which make weeknight dinner prep way easier. Don’t miss the details! Plus, check out even more insider secrets Costco employees won’t tell you.

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Professional butcher Walter Apfelbaum told Food & Wine, “Costco sells some of the most beautiful prime beef I’ve seen out of the restaurant industry. They have huge buying power.” His beef of choice? USDA Prime.

Costco sells Prime Wagyu (beef from four types of Japanese cows), which is hailed as one of the top kinds of beef, at $1,279 for 13 pounds. That comes out to be around $100 per pound. But get this: that’s cheap. Other retailers sell Prime Wagyu for anywhere from $1,300 to a whopping $3,900 for the same amount of meat. Other cuts of Wagyu range from $399 to $999 on Costco’s website.

RELATED: Costco shopping secrets 

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Shocking Costco food court secrets

The most popular item on the menu? The legendary Costco hot dog.

"There's something about a buck fifty that people really love," said the employee. 

But at 552 calories and 32 g of fat, you may want save this food court staple for special occasions. 

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Another discontinued item that Costco often receives questions about? The chocolate-dipped ice cream bar with almonds. We hate to break it to you, but it's probably never coming back.

"I think it might have been too expensive for the amount we give. That's what happened with gelato anyway," the employee said.

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Everyone knows that the best churro is one that is hot and freshly made. If customers don't think they're getting the best churro their money can buy, don't be afraid to ask for a new one!

The employee said, "I learn to check when we're running low on churros and wait for a new pan to come out," adding, "I recommend checking on them right before you shop and seeing the changes when you come back. My favorite is when they run out of churros and you wait for five minutes or so, then when they pull them off the pan, it is a hundred percent brand new."

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The beloved berry smoothie was recently replaced by a different fruit smoothie -- and there's a perfectly logical (and healthy!) explanation for it. 

"Corporate thought the benefits outweighed the negatives in this situation. The new smoothie has a lot of better benefits in it -- less sugar, less calories, nothing but real fruit and fruit juice, and four servings of fruit in each smoothie." the employee said.

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Have you ever found yourself blotting away all the excess oil on your incredibly cheesy Costco pizza? There's a reason for that. 

The anonymous employee revealed that the amount of oil used in making the pizza is "too much." In fact, upper management monitors employees to make sure they're using enough oil. 

"When you don't use the corporate requested amount because you think it's too much and corporate notices? You use more oil to avoid being in trouble. Some managers overcompensate and use a quarter cup of oil+ when making them."

Yikes! Talk about a heart attack on a plate. 

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And of course we're dying to know what the pizza is made out of!

"It's made with love," the employee jokingly said.

Another Reddit user who claims to be a former employee also chimed in: "I don't know what's in the sauce, it came to us prepared, as did the cheese mix . . . I know it was like 85 percent mozzarella and 15 percent provolone when I worked there."

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There's no denying that Costco's chicken bake has a massive cult following. Surprisingly, the food court hit is pretty simple to make! After flattening out a lot of pizza dough, employees mix in chicken breast strips, mozzarella cheese, bacon and caesar dressing. All these ingredients are rolled up into the dough.

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And if you prefer no bacon in your chicken bake, you'll have to come in earlier in the day when employees are making it. 

"Sometimes the employees are running little bit late and they'll make them during the day, but you'd have to catch them before they mix the cheese and bacon. Which is hard to do," the employee said. "You could always call ahead a day and ask. I'm sure they'd oblige."

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Surprisingly, employees don't get a discount at the food court. However, they do receive a free executive membership ($120 a year), which is also a pretty impressive perk!

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Next time you’re shopping for beef, take this advice from professional chefs and head to Costco. They aren’t just the place to buy your bulk snacks and paper products. But… maybe leave the Wagyu to the chefs and try your hand at cooking up a slightly lower-grade beef instead. It’s less pressure on you—and your wallet. Next, find out the 15 secrets Costco employees won’t tell you.

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