Is Omaha Steaks Worth The Hype?

Subscription boxes have become very trendy, according to Civic Science, despite (or because) of the pandemic, but there's one name that's no internet startup (although it was an early adopter of 1990s dial-up to bring in some orders, according to The New York Times). Omaha Steaks has been in business since 1917 and has been shipping its meats direct to consumers since 1952. In fact, they arguably invented the model, marketing its wares through print ads and the mail.

All of which is to say, if anyone knows how to do this meat-by-mail game properly, it had better be the company that's enjoying its 11th decade of business. Omaha Steaks sent us a sample box of some of its featured offerings: chicken breasts, salmon filets, butcher's cut tenderloin steaks, beef meatballs, jumbo franks, pork loin chops, scalloped potatoes, caramel apple tartlets, applewood bacon, and a thoughtfully included shaker of steak seasoning. Let's break down the Omaha Steaks experience to see if it's worth the admittedly hefty cost.

The history of Omaha Steaks

Omaha Steaks began in 1917 when Latvian immigrants J.J. Simon and his son B.A. decided to put their butcher skills to work for themselves. The Simon family had settled in Nebraska due to its similarity to the landscape back home. Over a century later and a 1966 name change later, the former Table Supply Meat Co. is in its fifth generation of family ownership.

Offering to ship the products proved profitable, and the company has consistently marketed through print and the dawn of the online age. Reference for Business notes the 1940s shifted the company's business model to center on marketing. The company contracted to supply steaks for Union-Pacific Railroad trains, in essence advertising the product to every hungry beef-eater with a long ride in front of them. In fact, it's zealous marketing even got the company in trouble for making telemarketing calls.

Of course, becoming renowned for beef only works if your meat proves itself to be worth the extra cost and consideration of acquiring it. Omaha Steaks is fiercely committed to its reputation for quality, a fact even its critics concede, you'll find among finicky TripAdvisor reviewers. To that extent, you may consider its 1990s shift to corporate business another form of marketing: book some corporate events, wow employees with the quality of their free dinner, and they suddenly are very interested in your newly opened retail stores.

These days you'll even find Omaha making pet snacks: high-grade, of course.

What does Omaha Steaks sell?

It won't surprise you to learn that the brand focus is beef, particularly steaks, but anything one could hope to enjoy at a steakhouse likely makes its way to market here, including high-quality sides. Omaha Steaks offers a wide variety of red meats, including bison and grass-fed beef, while also serving up chicken, turkey, and ground offerings like burgers and sausages/franks/bratwurst. The company doesn't sell primal cuts but will ship large roasts.

The company also sells seafood through its World Port division: its varieties of fish are too numerous to list but feature most of the commonly requested filets and shellfish. You can order almost any filet or roast you seek, including pre-seasoned options for some, but you won't find any far ends of the animal: no head, hoof, or tail here.

As if all that weren't enough, you can also order charcuterie, soups, numerous steakhouse-worthy side dishes and appetizers, desserts, and even wine. Omaha Steaks really does offer one-stop shopping for anyone looking to enjoy a rich meal in both senses of the word.

Where does Omaha Steaks source its meats from?

Omaha Steaks maintains long-standing relationships with ranchers around Nebraska and the Midwest. It uses five metrics to ascertain three grades of quality: Gourmet, Butcher's Cut, and Private Reserve. The beef used is grass-fed for flavor in the muscle, then grain-finished near the end of its life to increase marbling. The steak is then flash-frozen to minimize the size of ice crystal formation and preserve the integrity of the product. The company says this gives it a freshness and tenderness advantage over grocery cuts slowly oxidizing. This may be true, but it's also dependent on your ability to receive the steaks and house them in your freezer.

World Port Seafood is responsibly sourced from around the globe, including oysters from Massachusetts and salmon from Faroe Island, although it is worth reading the Committee on Sustainability Agreement's distinctions between responsible and sustainable sourcing, as this may be a factor in your decision.

How to order Omaha Steaks

Ordering Omaha Steaks is simple. While you can call 1-800-960-8400, it's far easier to fill up your online shopping cart on the website, where nearly every single page shows you mouth-watering meats so you know what you're getting. Shipping is free on any order of $149 and up, but that's not a hard number to hit when you're filling your cart with premium steaks.

While subscription plans are available in monthly, bi-monthly, or quarterly options, you can also order a one-off box, and Omaha Steaks will even let you assemble your own custom combinations.

You can also order gift cards and plans, but fair warning that many people on TripAdvisor who aren't regular Omaha Steaks customers found themselves frustrated by the company's tendency to list meats at one price as part of a larger box or a much more expensive one if ordered alone. Add in the shipping threshold and you may find gift cards an aggravating present to your loved ones during the holidays.

How much do Omaha Steaks cost?

Let's not pretend here: Omaha Steaks' meat is expensive any way you slice it. The real question, then, is value.

Most of the steaks here are in the $30-to-$40 per pound range, with premium butcher's cut and Private Reserve options easily selling for $72 per pound (it's actually $144 if you order those steaks by themselves instead of bundling them into another order.)

Seafood varies wildly but comes at an even higher markup due to the logistical difficulties of preventing it from going bad. As one customer noted on TrustPilot, mussels that go for $2.50 a pound locally could be $100 through Omaha Steaks. Although to be fair, that appears to be the anchoring price to make $50 per pound seem more reasonable, and mollusk shellfish require particular care to preserve their integrity. It seems to be the case that people far from the ocean are willing to pay this much for mussels, and if so, good luck to them.

What's the best value order at Omaha Steaks?

Much of Omaha Steaks' inventory is priced very high for individual orders, then listed as a deal at 50% off, or else to make it worth the effort of shipping to big spenders who can throw $350 at a few steak dinners. Paying full price is inadvisable when deals are so prevalent.

Additionally, Omaha Steaks offers frequent collection sales wherein you can get best sellers and thematic packs for a party. But these remain in the $30 per pound range on steaks with a few sides or desserts. While that's supermarket expensive, it's restaurant-cheap: Consider that you're getting three or four dinners for four people for about $40 per meal. If you live someplace where high-end burgers and steaks can still be had for a sawbuck at the local dining hole, you live in the 1980s.

The other way to maximize your value is to actually make it even more expensive. While many people live within reach of at least one place to buy quality beef, few have access to the sort of ultra-high-end butchers that dot markets willing to pay a premium. Our own experience confirms the butcher's cut was the best of a great lot, so one can only imagine the taste of the Private Reserve. Bite the bullet on Private Reserve and go for the gusto. If you're going to pay this much for A-grade, you might as well add a nominal extra to make it A+.

How delivery works

Omaha Steaks deliveries arrive in a large, polystyrene crate. The crate is, except in a few select facilities, not recyclable. You may wish to repurpose it as a cooler or sous vide chamber to prevent waste, but it's ultimately either going in the garbage or piling up if you subscribe to regular boxes and don't intend to build your own plastic-insulation castle.

Our delivery traveled overnight by FedEx, arriving almost entirely still frozen. The top items were still well below 40 degrees despite having begun to thaw a smidge. Customers coming home from work at end of the day may find that the meat is safe but defrosted. In that case, putting it in your freezer may subject it to normal speeds of ice crystal formulation, and the benefit could be lost. As the Huffington Post tested, expansion of water (which flash-freezing avoids) will bust a cell wall. A small consideration, but persistent at this price point.

How does it taste?

Omaha Steaks wins on remarkable deliciousness. The chicken, though chewy enough to notice, didn't suffer outright toughness or rubberiness; its fresh taste and utter juiciness defied its vacuum packaging. And the salmon needs nothing more than salt and searing to wow; we set out a chimichurri sauce with our fish, then utterly forgot to use it even once, lost in the perfect balance of fattiness and crisped muscle. And the tenderloin was, even by the standards of its name, like a mouthful of buttery velvet. Naysayers that think a tenderloin lacks flavor should give Omaha Steaks a try if they want to change their tune.

Order the meatballs, which defy all expectations. Their belying grey appearance (they're fully cooked then flash frozen) and all-beef protein buck the rules for a great Italian meatball, but the flavor is beyond compare with supermarkets. It's difficult to describe how well the taste develops as you hold a bite in your mouth. Maybe it's the whey rather than milk used, giving them a cultured richness.

The French-sourced scalloped potatoes were delicious but challenging to justify at the size and price unless you hate all but the easiest cooking. Make your own yummy domestic taters.

Finally: Save the steak seasoning for lesser dinners. It's good but adds little to the meat that's already so tasty, and it even distracts. Salting and adding your herb of choice are all that are required to savor this flavor.

Is Omaha Steaks worth it?

If you don't live near a quality butcher and you want an option that exceeds supermarket offerings, then, yes, Omaha Steaks is worth it. It really did impress with every offering. Start with Omaha Steaks' sales to see if you agree it delivers top-notch food and customer service.

If you're ordering the beef Wellington, fire away. You'll save yourself a lot of work and worry, plus cost over restaurant prices. But for the plain old steak itself, all it needs is salt, time, and heat. If you know how to assess a quality cut, or just have a butcher who does, you'll create a similar experience at half the price per meal.

Even for remotely located readers, cheaper meat box subscriptions offer comparable quality. You could eat as well, or almost as well, for half the price per pound, which is ultimately a better value when both choices make you this happy. So while Omaha Steaks is worth its cost in a vacuum, better deals exist.

Omaha Steaks is perhaps best thought of not as a meat purveyor but as restaurant-grade dining for people who don't want to go out. It will be cheaper per meal than the steakhouse if you don't mind risking your own reverse sear, and it's definitely a way to eat well when you get home late from work and can't do much more than turn the dials on the stove and oven.