I heard so much about the ButcherBox Meat Delivery Service and saw so many ads on Facebook that I finally caved in to try the service. I loved the message of the company that they source only sustainable, organic, and/or humanely produced meats. The beef is grass fed and grass finished, for example, while the other products are usually organic with no preservatives or fillers.
When I signed up for the service, I decided to go for the option where ButcherBox chooses what’s delivered rather than the more expensive option of choosing my own products. Partly because I like the idea of getting a surprise in the mail and partly because I wanted to see what one could expect in a typical delivery. I also managed to sign up during a promotion for free bacon with every delivery for the life of the subscription and a one-time free add-on of grass fed beef steak tips.
When the box arrived, I felt my excitement rise as I opened it like a meat-centric Birthday present. I pulled all kinds of frozen meats out of the box and noted that the delivery had two more packages than usual because of the free items. I also noticed that the box came with an insulated liner and some mostly melted dry ice. The interior insulation arrived damp and I couldn’t tell if it was recyclable or biodegradable.
In order to get some information about the sustainability of ButcherBox, I looked to their website. Visiting the website did not clear up the matter as it looked like the FAQs about the box contained somewhat misleading language. One statement said that the box is 100% recyclable and made of 95% recycled materials. “That’s great!” I thought. Then the next line discussed the liner and just said that it keeps the food cold. I found the separate mention of the liner odd, especially with no mention of whether it was recyclable or even biodegradable. Lastly, the meat isn’t necessarily sourced locally. It comes from all over the U.S., Australia, and Canada.
With thoughts of meat, sustainability, and questionable eco-friendliness swimming through my mind, I wasted no time getting to what really matters – Taste! I cooked up all of the products in various ways familiar to me so that I could really judge the quality. In some cases, I even did a side by side taste test between typical grocery store products and ButcherBox.
The first items I tried were the steak tips. With a friend visiting us, I found a great opportunity to experiment. I didn’t quite have enough to go around, so I supplemented with some steak tips I bought at the grocery store. We did a side by side taste test to see if we could not only tell the difference, but figure out which tasted better. Pictured below, the grass fed steak tips from ButcherBox are on the left and the grocery store steak tips are on the right. I seasoned them simply with just some salt and pepper although I would have loved to try marinating them in yogurt (check out the recipe).
I’ve enjoyed grass fed beef in the past and I know that it naturally has a slightly leaner and often much more earthy or mineral flavor. That’s comparing it to the mostly grain fed grocery store products, which tend to taste sweeter and fattier. In this case, the cut of the steak tips from ButcherBox needed quite a bit of improvement.
The small, thin sliced pieces gave off an unappealing zesty mineral flavor while the tough texture shocked me (perhaps the meat came from very old cows?). The amount of liquid in the package also confused me. The ButcherBox steak tips fell far short of the quality of grass feed beef I enjoyed in the past or even the quality of the grocery store meat.
In comparison the meat from the grocery store charred up beautifully and contained nice marbling inside, which made for tender tips. We got off to a really disappointing start with the steak tips. I couldn’t believe how bad they were. They were edible, but barely. Usually, the quality of grass fed beef is its selling point. It should be flavorful and beefy, but still tender. I would never order these steak tips again.
The next item I grilled up were the organic chicken tenders. I seasoned them just a bit with salt, pepper, onion powder, and garlic powder. I didn’t have any strong feelings about the chicken tenders. The chicken leaned on the small side, so they cooked up quickly and sometimes ventured towards dry if I didn’t pay close attention. They also fell apart pretty easily in an unappealing way, but I think this occurred due to the absurd amount of liquid in the packaging. The tenders were practically swimming. I tried patting them dry, but they never quite lost that water logged feeling. Overall, I’ve had better, but they tasted alright.
Boneless Pork Chops
The boneless pork loin chops were the first product from the box that I actually liked. While pork loin chops don’t top my list of favorite cuts of meat by any means, these tasted pretty good. The thicker cuts took to marination well. I used a take on my soy and sriracha pork marinade. The chops came out tender, juicy, and flavorful. Can’t ask for too much more there. Still, a lot of liquid in the package.
After the steak tips fiasco, I wasn’t confident in the sirloin steak from ButcherBox. Luckily, the steaks came out well with a simple salt and pepper seasoning. I grilled them to medium and found myself pleasantly surprised that they came out so well. These steaks seemed less like NY Strips cut from the top sirloin, but rather sirloin steaks cut from the short loin (a little cheaper and a little less tender). I enjoyed the steak, but also couldn’t help thinking about the price point of the box.
Bottom Round Roast
Using the bottom round roast, I made roast beef using my own recipe. Again, I found myself surprised at how well it came out. The beef wasn’t tough at all and had a good overall flavor. It sliced well and I enjoyed it. I thought the size was perfect for a family meal as well.
Ground Beef – Burger
The ground beef heralded another miss for me from the ButcherBox delivery. I formed the 85/15 grass fed ground beef into 1/4 pound burger patties. I grilled them up simply using a tried and true method for great burgers. Nothing could save these burgers though. There is no way that package of ground beef was 85/15. Whether grass fed or not, 15% fat is 15% fat, right? The burgers tasted extremely lean though and they were the driest I’ve ever made at home. I found it quite shocking. I would never use this meat for quality burgers again.
Ground Beef – Kofta
Learning from the mistake with the burgers, I decided to try the ground beef by using my grilled kofta recipe. My hope was that the fillers and spices in the recipe might offset the lean dryness of the supposedly 85/15 ground beef. The recipe did the trick and I produced a decent meal from the ground beef. Basically, ButcherBox ground beef lends itself to recipes that use lean meat or that have some kind of way to adjust the texture of the meat. It’s just not worth the cost when there is grass fed organic beef that tastes much better at most grocery stores.
Last, but not least, I dipped into the package of bacon and did a side by side taste test with store-bought bacon. The picture below shows the two store bought pieces on the left and the three ButcherBox bacon pieces on the right. I noticed the ButcherBox bacon was slightly thicker than the grocery store bacon. It cooked up nicely and tasted pretty good. It wasn’t quite as salty as the grocery store bacon, but it did have a slightly better pork flavor. All in all, the bacon tasted good, but not especially different than typical bacon.
Eating sustainable foods (especially meats) produced organically, naturally, and humanely is a laudable goal – one that I strive for myself where possible. With that said, other than feeling good about sourcing meat products somewhat responsibly (as far as ButcherBox consumers know), I find it hard to justify the price point of Butcher Box.
When comparing the overall quality of the meat, the amount received, and the fact that the environmental impact of the delivery isn’t ideal, the cost of a monthly subscription just doesn’t add up. [Edit: It’s roughly 3 to 4 times the cost of non-grass-fed/non-organic grocery store meat depending on the cut and anywhere from 2 to 3 times as expensive for comparable grass fed/organic meat depending on the cut. Meaning those just looking for the convenience of delivery will pay a premium for it.] If possible, consumers looking to source sustainable quality meat would do better to find a local farmers market or another meat delivery service with either a lower cost or at least a higher quality meat for the same price.