5 Trader Joe's Meats To Buy And 4 To Avoid

It's no surprise that Trader Joe's remains one of the most popular grocery stores in the United States. It was recently determined to be the third-most-popular grocery store (trailing only Aldi and 7-Eleven), as calculated by the percentage of all adults who have a positive opinion of the store. When you sort by generation, Trader Joe's, not shockingly, is the preferred grocery store for Millennials. As a relatively new convert to the brand, we have to say its reputation is so far well-earned. We like the helpfulness of the store employees, the variety of products available, and the prices — not to mention that you never have to worry about missing a sale (since they don't have any). That said, while we've been pleased so far, there are still many items we've yet to try.

To that point, we scoped out our local Trader Joe's (in Manhattan) and headed straight for the meat counter to discover the best and worst meats to buy here. Although Trader Joe's does not have the best meat selection of all grocery stores in the U.S. (in fact, it's pretty low on that list), we went into the experience with an open mind. We grabbed an assortment of meats, including staples like boneless, skinless chicken breast and ground beef, a few pre-seasoned items, and a ready-made item. Here are five Trader Joe's meats to buy and four to avoid.

Buy: sweet Italian sausage made with pork

We typically like to get our sausage from a local Italian butcher. Still, we were pleasantly surprised with Trader Joe's sweet Italian sausage made with pork, available for $6.49 for 1 pound (which came out to five links). According to TJ's, these sausages have no added hormones or antibiotics and come from animals that were "create-free." Our favorite part, however, was that the meat and seasonings were packed in a natural pork casing, which provided an excellent snap when biting in.

We cooked ours in a stainless steel pan per the instructions on the package (which also suggested grilling, but that was not an option for us). The result was a perfectly browned, juicy sausage. We opted to enjoy these with some sauteed peppers and onions on hollowed-out Italian bread and complete with grated parmesan cheese and it was delicious. While we did not try out the hot Italian pork sausage — which has mostly the same seasonings, plus red pepper and a bit more paprika — we will likely pick some up on our next store visit.

Avoid: gyro slices

The fully cooked gyro slices were not explicitly bad, but they were also not noteworthy. Available for $4.69, they're a pretty good deal for the 8-ounce package, which only requires some heating before serving. We also liked that because they were fully cooked; heating the gyro slices in a skillet requires just 20 seconds per side. It's certainly a quick lunch.

However, despite its price and ease of preparation, we recommend avoiding it. For starters, a serving size is 2 ounces—just over two very thin slices. We cooked half of the contents for lunch and made a homemade gyro, complete with pita, lettuce, tomato, red onion, and tzatziki. 

And, while the price isn't too bad when you add the cost of all the other ingredients required for the sandwich, it comes out to about the same price as a gyro sandwich in a restaurant, which would likely be bigger and tastier. So, we recommend this only if you don't have the option to get a gyro near where you live.

Buy: shawarma chicken thighs

Conversely, we were big fans of the shawarma chicken thighs. Living in New York, we've visited our fair share of halal carts, and while this pre-seasoned chicken might not compete with the best of the carts, it served as a very appropriate substitute. We liked that these were thighs instead of chicken breast, because thighs tend to be more flavorful and juicy. We also liked the marinade, which includes onion, garlic, sea salt, cumin, cinnamon, cilantro, paprika, turmeric, and parsley.

We considered using the rotisserie attachment in our air fryer to prepare the chicken thighs — available at $6.99 per pound. Instead, we opted to cook them per the package instructions: on a baking sheet in a 400-degree Fahrenheit oven (for about 20 minutes). We made a chicken and rice platter comprising yellow rice, lettuce, onion, tomato, a homemade white sauce, and a little hot sauce. It certainly hit the spot. Given the time required to prep this dish otherwise, we would defer to Trader Joe's shawarma chicken in the future. While we had it with rice, it was also delicious when bundled up gyro-style or atop a salad.

Avoid: savory herbed chicken thighs

Interestingly, while we loved the shawarma chicken thighs, we were not big fans of the savory herbed chicken thighs. According to Trader Joe's, the marinade for these thighs ($6.99 per pound) included basil, cilantro, and mint, along with garlic, shredded lemon peel, crushed chili peppers, and "a bit of fish sauce for an extra umami kick."

We prepared the savory herbed chicken thighs two ways, both recommended on the packaging: in the oven and on the stovetop. (It also offered grilling instructions, but that was not an option for us.) Neither method turned out better than the other, so it's simply a matter you would prefer: tossing them in the oven for 35 to 40 minutes or cooking them in a pan for 14 to 16 minutes and flipping every few minutes. Our solution: Neither. Nothing stood out to us, so we would suggest trying another Trader Joe's assortment of marinated chicken products instead. One positive, however, is that they come in at only 140 calories per 4-ounce serving, which is pretty good. 

Buy: ground beef

Like most grocery stores, Trader Joe's offers a variety of ground beef — from 80%/20% lean to fat ratio, up to 96%/4% lean to fat. Pre-formed burger patties are also available. But, we selected the 90%/10 % lean-to-fat ratio for a simple reason: It was the only option available when we shopped at the store. No biggie. All-natural beef was minimally processed, raised with no antibiotics or hormones, and had an all-vegetarian diet. While it wasn't the most affordable ground beef ($7.99 per pound), it wasn't the most expensive and proved to be worth the price.

Ground beef is typically something we like to cook soon after purchasing so it doesn't lose that bright red color, but this time, we didn't cook it until a few days after our purchase. We were surprised it maintained its color and chose to make burgers with them — to give the beef a chance to shine. While we donned said burgers with all the accouterments (American cheese, bacon (scroll down), lettuce, tomato, red onion, and a homemade burger sauce), the beef stood out as the dish's star. We were also surprised that it was so flavorful and juicy despite being on the leaner side. The next time we make a dish that calls for ground beef — and there are no shortages of such recipes — we will be visiting the nearest Trader Joe's.

Avoid: all natural chicken breast tenders

Full disclosure: We wanted to try Trader Joe's organic free-range boneless skinless chicken breasts, but they were all out when we visited. Instead, we picked up a package of all-natural chicken breast tenders, sold at $5.99 per pound ($1 less per pound than the full breasts) and we were surprised not to like these.

Perhaps due to their "minimal processing," the tendons were not removed. While these are entirely edible, they're simply not as tender as the rest of the meat around them. They can also be removed relatively simply using only a fork and a paper towel. That said, we had a bit of a tricky time getting this removed (something we've done before) and, in the end, opted to cut off the bit sticking out as the usual fork method wasn't working. We're not ones to complain about a little extra work in the kitchen, but most other brands sell their chicken with this tendon already removed, and that just makes our lives a little easier.

Beyond that, however, we cooked the tenders on a cast-iron griddle, with some seasoned only with salt and pepper and others coated in a barbecue seasoning we picked up at a street market. Neither option stood out to us. As we've already mentioned, thighs are much more flavorful than breasts, but even by those standards, these chicken tenders were sub-par.

Buy: sliced prosciutto

Considering the price tag — a very affordable $3.99 for a 4-ounce package — Trader Joe's sliced prosciutto will be in the rotation for all future charcuterie boards. The ham is cured and aged for 10 to 12 months, resulting in an almost melt-in-your-mouth tender slice of prosciutto. We ate the item right out of the package to let it shine. That said, in the future, we would certainly have this alongside cheeses, nuts, and jams on a charcuterie board, rolled up with some cantaloupe, on top of a pizza with arugula and burrata, or even, as Trader Joe's suggests, with spears of asparagus.

The almost-sweet prosciutto had a good flavor and was not overly salty. If you want a high-high-end prosciutto di Parma, this is not the right pick, but it was as good as any other packaged prosciutto sold in grocery stores, and the price makes it all the more worth it. In fact, due to its price, it can help you build a perfect charcuterie board on a pretty small budget. Yes, please. Tip: If you'd like to pair that charcuterie board with a glass of wine, Sangiovese, pinot grigio, and sauvignon blanc, all pair well with prosciutto.

Avoid: balsamic rosemary beef steak tips

The third and final marinated meat we picked up in our recent shopping haul was the balsamic rosemary beef steak tips. The verdict? They fell somewhere between the shawarma chicken thighs and savory herbed chicken thighs but ultimately fell into the "avoid" section. Sold at $11.99 per pound, these steak tips "cut from the upper two-thirds portion of the bottom sirloin," according to Trader Joe's, are marinated in red wine vinegar, brown sugar, soy sauce, extra virgin olive oil, parsley, porcini mushroom, garlic, crushed red pepper, and a few other seasonings.

We prepared these two ways—under the broiler and stovetop in a skillet, both as recommended by the packaging. Unlike the savory herbed chicken thighs, we definitely noticed a difference between the two cooking methods. We found that on the stovetop, the steak tips got a much better sear and better color than those under the broiler. Both were equally tender, however.

This falls into the "avoid" category because nothing about this product wowed us. These steak tips smelled delicious while cooking, and those from the skillet looked pretty good. The taste, however, left us wanting more. It was fine, don't get us wrong, but we didn't love it. If you know the steak cut you like we would suggest going that route instead of these steak tips.

Buy: uncured dry rubbed sliced bacon

Bacon is bacon is bacon. Some bacon is better than others, but at the end of the day, we're just not going to say no to any bacon. Here is the rundown on Trader Joe's uncured dry rubbed sliced bacon: The pork is all-natural, as are most other meats from TJ's, meaning it was raised without antibiotics and had no artificial ingredients; there are also no nitrates or nitrites and is not preserved. The result: your typical, everyday bacon. It was great.

That said, it wasn't the best bacon we've had. It lacked the flavor that many other dry-rubbed bacon has. We also knocked a few points since it was thin-cut, and we prefer thick-cut bacon. To our knowledge, Trader Joe's doesn't offer this, so we would instead purchase our bacon from another store.

As with nearly every item in this review, we prepared the bacon per the package instructions and opted to cook it in the oven (on a baking sheet with a wire rack). The bacon came out as perfect strips, just on the verge of crispy. We liked that it wasn't overly fatty, as with other bacon we've bought for the same price ($5.99). So, we're a bit torn. This was a hard one as it wouldn't be our first pick in the future. But, at that price, we wouldn't recommend avoiding it, especially if it saves you a trip to a different store. So, it ultimately ended up on the buy list. 


The items on this list were made to represent a fair selection of meat products available at a typical Trader Joe's — including raw meat staples (like the chicken breast tenders and ground beef), marinated items (like the chicken thighs and steak tips), and fully cooked products needing only heating up (such as the gyro strips). That said, we did not include any frozen dishes that have already been well-covered — be they appetizers, seafood entrees, or desserts. We also made sure that all of the products we tried were Trader Joe's-branded to eliminate any items you might be able to find at other grocery stores.

In our evaluations, we considered the item's price, taste (on its own merit and compared to analogous products we've previously had), and ease of preparation. If we were split, we also considered the item's nutritional value, serving size, and versatility. We hope this helps inform your next Trader Joe's shopping experience.