Food Court Showdown: Costco vs. Sam's Club (2023)

Food Court Showdown: Costco vs. Sam's Club (1)

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Lacey Muszynski

Food Court Showdown: Costco vs. Sam's Club (3)

Cafe Face Off

If there's one food Costco is known for — besides $5 rotisserie chickens — it's its hot dog combo. The cafe at the front of the store has been selling the combo for $1.50 since 1985, it will stay at that price "forever,"according to Chief Financial Officer Richard Galanti. But other food court items are fair game: Costco raised the priceof two staples in July, including the famous chicken bake. Costco's biggest competition, Sam's Club, has a cafe with a menu and prices that almost mirrors Costco's. With Galanti's recent announcement as a factor, which one is the better deal, and which one has better food? I went to both — and ate a lot — to find out.

Prices and availability are subject to change. Food court experience may vary by location.

Related: Things You Should Never Buy at Costco, Sam's, or BJ's

Food Court Showdown: Costco vs. Sam's Club (4)

Sam's Club: Ordering

Rating:3 out of 10

In order to get any of that cafe goodness, you need to order first. At Sam's Club, that just means ordering at a counter. There are only a couple registers at most locations, so lines can be long. Nothing about the process is particularly efficient or unusual despite the company having a fantastic scan-and-go in store purchasing app for regular merchandise. If Sam's Club expanded that to include the cafe, it would be a primo ordering experience.

Related: Don't Miss These Perks of Costco and Sam's Club Membership

Food Court Showdown: Costco vs. Sam's Club (5)

Costco: Ordering

Rating:8 out of 10

The typical ordering counter has been replaced by self-serve ordering kiosks at many locations due to the pandemic. This cuts down on the number of employees that are needed and unnecessary contact between people, and because there are four stations there's never a line. Your receipt will have your number on it, which will then be called by the employee who gathered your items at the counter. It's efficient and simple, but if you have any kind of special request or question, it can become cumbersome.

Sam's Club: Hot Dog Combo

Price: $1.50

Rating:4 out of 10

At Sam's Club, the only way to buy a hot dog is to order the hot dog combo that comes with a fountain drink. If you don't want a drink, it's the same price. But for only a buck and a half, no one's really complaining. The hot dog is all beef, and it's hefty. It had a sickly, off-putting color, but the meat was juicy once you took a bite. The dry bun inexplicably stuck like glue to the too-mushy dog. Will it fill you up? Yes. Will you want another one? No.

Food Court Showdown: Costco vs. Sam's Club (7)

Costco: Hot Dog Combo

Price: $1.50

Rating:7 out of 10

The frank at Costco also comes with a fountain beverage whether you want one or not. It's a quarter-pound of beef, and the brick red wiener overhangs the bun a little on both sides. It's juicy and flavorful, and reminiscent of the best hot dog served at a baseball game. Steaming helps keep the bun from drying out and the slits cut into the bun before baking give the illusion that someone somewhere cares about this cheap hot dog, which Costco says will remain at $1.50 "forever."

Food Court Showdown: Costco vs. Sam's Club (8)

Sam's Club: Condiments

Rating:6 out of 10

Like so many things during the pandemic, the condiments at my Sam's Club were makeshift. I assume it has something to do with availability or manpower, but I didn't ask why there were no commercial condiment dispensers. Instead, there was a nice, handwritten sign with a smiley face on it, plus a few bottles of Heinz ketchup, mustard, and relish. Whatever — it worked just fine. Bonus point for the red pepper flake packets for pizza.

Food Court Showdown: Costco vs. Sam's Club (9)

Costco: Condiments

Rating:5 out of 10

You'd think that the commercial condiment dispensers at Costco would be better than the piecemeal situation at Sam's Club, but the little pool that's dripped under each condiment is pretty gross. There's also more mustard than ketchup, which feels silly given that Costco axed the more sophisticated Polish dog. Also missed dearly by many is the fresh chopped onion dispenser. Still, for topping hot dogs, the condiment situation here is fine.

Food Court Showdown: Costco vs. Sam's Club (10)

Sam's Club: Pizza

Price: $2.50

Rating:5 out of 10

There is one thing this slice doesn't lack and that's toppings. There's a lot of melty cheese and a ton of all the meats, which are predictably greasy but also full of flavor, especially the Italian sausage and bacon. What this slice does lack is structure. The crust feels deflated like a popped balloon, and it may as well be nonexistent for all the stability it provides. Despite being messy and difficult to eat, it hits all those dried herb pizza notes. Even bad pizza can only be so bad, yah know?

Food Court Showdown: Costco vs. Sam's Club (11)

Costco: Pizza

Price: $1.99

Rating:9 out of 10

After having Sam's Club's pizza, this slice feels like a revelation. The crust is puffy and chewy, and while it sags when you pick it up, it doesn't collapse. It's baked long enough to get some nice charring around the crust and on the cheese for some contrast in flavor and texture. Though it's just pepperoni — there's only cheese or pepperoni to choose from now, much to the dismay of combo slice fans — there's a lot of grease, which may be a turn off for some, but not me. This is the pizza Little Caesars dreams of being.

Food Court Showdown: Costco vs. Sam's Club (12)

Sam's Club: Churro

Price: $1

Rating:7 out of 10

Like everything else at these warehouse stores, the churros are big — practically the length of your forearm. They are baked instead of fried since there are no deep fryers at Sam's Club cafes, which isn't great for their texture, but is probably better for your diet. I got these churros fresh out of the oven, and while the cinnamon sugar application was spotty, they nailed the crunchy exterior and custard-like, doughy center that's the hallmark of a good churro perfectly.

Food Court Showdown: Costco vs. Sam's Club (13)

Costco: Twisted Churro

Price: $1.49

Rating:4 out of 10

The churro at Costco was a looker with its twisted cinnamon and vanilla dough, but it suffered from being stored in the holding warmer for too long. It was stale and dried out, though there was an abundance of cinnamon sugar. I missed the contrast between the soft inside and crisp outside. This is one of those things you have to eat fresh, though it's worth the gamble to order it.

Food Court Showdown: Costco vs. Sam's Club (14)

Sam's Club: Berry Sundae

Price: $1.58

Rating:10 out of 10

The berry sundae is the sleeper hit of the Sam's Club menu. It's made with vanilla frozen yogurt, though you can ask for chocolate or swirl, plus a berry sauce of raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries. You could put those summery, syrupy berries on a shoe and it'd taste great. It's full of whole berries and there's plenty of it to flavor the yogurt, which is thick and creamy. The curved lid in order to fill the entire thing is a nice touch, especially given how cheap this treat is.

Food Court Showdown: Costco vs. Sam's Club (15)

Costco: Berry Sundae

Price: $2.49

Rating:7 out of 10

There's only one berry to be found in Costco's berry sundae and that's strawberry. Those other three berries in Sam's Club's sundae are missed when you compare them side-by-side. But the strawberry sauce has chunks of fruit and a bright flavor, making this one delicious — just not as delicious. The soft serve was too soft, the cup wasn't as full, and the price was higher, but it's still a solid dessert even if it's missing that wow factor.

Food Court Showdown: Costco vs. Sam's Club (16)

Sam's Club: Soda

Price:89 cents for 30 ounces

Rating:10 out of 10

Just look at all those fountain options — there's even a Sam's Club-only Mountain Dew flavor in regular and diet. There are at least 16 different soft drink choices and three different kinds of brewed iced tea for a veritable beverage buffet. People who avoid sugar or caffeine will love the selection. Plus, Icees are available at the same price, though those don't come with free refills.

Food Court Showdown: Costco vs. Sam's Club (17)

Costco: Soda

Price:69 cents for 20 ounces

Rating:2 out of 10

Costco just raised the price of its refillable sodas by 10 cents, which isn't a welcome change considering the beverage selection at Costco is pathetic. There are five options: Pepsi, Diet Pepsi, Sierra Mist, Mountain Dew, and Tropicana Lemonade. That means only one diet option, and two without caffeine. Although there are more drink options listed on the sign on the fountain dispenser, I've never seen them available in a Costco. The store gets one extra point for offering smoothies and a cold brew mocha freeze, but they're $3.

Food Court Showdown: Costco vs. Sam's Club (18)

Sam's Club: Pretzel

Price: $1

Rating:3 out of 10

The menus at both stores' cafes are pared down thanks to the pandemic, so they don't match like they used to. In order to compare the other main items, I decided on a wildcard round. At Sam's, the other hot item is soft pretzels. You have the option of butter and salt or butter and cinnamon sugar, and since I was also getting a churro, went the salt route. The sheen of oily butter looked lovely, but it was hard to make up for the fact that the pretzel was dried out and even crunchy on one edge. It also lacked that well-done pretzel flavor. If you must have a pretzel, I suggest trying the pizza pretzel where they put cheese and pepperoni on it and send it through the oven.

Food Court Showdown: Costco vs. Sam's Club (19)

Costco: Chicken Bake

Price: $3.99

Rating:5 out of 10

The wild-card item at Costco is the much loved chicken bake. The company just raised its price 33%, so you'll be paying $4 instead of $3. Think of it like a giant Hot Pocket filled with chicken, bacon, cheese, and Caesar dressing. Between the bacon and the dressing, I expected a punch of flavor, but the filling was pretty bland, though creamy and comforting. The real star was the outside with its copious amounts of shredded cheese baked into crunchy, caramelized goodness. If you're already a fan of the chicken bake, you probably won't mind paying the extra buck, but if it doesn't sound like your jam, just skip it for that price.

Food Court Showdown: Costco vs. Sam's Club (20)

Overall Winner: Costco

Costco took home the win in all the main warehouse store food groups: hot dogs, pizza, and savory baked item. That's enough to secure an overall win against Sam's Club's cafe, despite recent price increases on the chicken bake and drinks, inferior desserts, and a dismal beverage situation. If you're looking for a quality, inexpensive lunch or snack, always choose Costco's food court over Sam's Club — unless what you really want is a berry sundae.

Related: I Joined Costco. Here's What I Wasn't Expecting


Which is better Sams Club or Costco? ›

Does Costco or Sam's Club Have Better Prices? Overall, the prices at Costco tend to be cheaper. However, Sam's Club has a greater selection of name-brand products and a cheaper membership fee.

What brand of hot dog does Sam's Club use? ›

Nathan's Famous Quarter-Pound Beef Franks (12 ct., 3 lbs.) - Sam's Club.

Is Costco or Sams better for groceries? ›

Costco has lower prices for produce and dairy, but Sam's Club comes out ahead with some pantry and plant-based items. Both retailers have similar benefits for members at different price points.

What is Costco bringing back to food court? ›

Relish. After months of not being available in stores, the condiment has finally made its way back to Costco's food courts. Housed in a stainless steel station alongside ketchup and mustard sections, the relish has been largely unavailable due to pandemic safety but is now out and ready for public use.

Can I use my Costco card at Sam's Club? ›

Caldorwards4 Costco members can now use their Costco cards to shop at Sam's Club.

Is meat cheaper at Costco or Sam's Club? ›

Sam's Club is generally less expensive on meat compared to Costco. For example, Choice Angus ribeye steaks are currently 41% cheaper at Sam's Club. Although if we're looking at the average cost of products across the whole store, Costco offers cheaper prices, while you'll get a better selection at Sam's Club.

What brand of hot dog does Costco use? ›

First thing first: Costco uses Kirkland Signature Beef Wieners. Kirkland is their signature brand. When Costco started serving hot dogs in their food courts they used Hebrew National dogs and continued using them until 2008 when they made the switch to Kirkland (you can buy the exact same dogs in bulk in their stores).

Are Sam's Club hot dogs all beef? ›

If you prefer beef hot dogs, try the kosher beef franks at Sam's Club. They are made from 100% kosher beef, with no sugar and no by-products. There are also gluten-free hot dogs and skinless varieties of beef franks available.

Are Costco hot dogs beef or pork? ›

100% Pure-Beef Hot Dogs

Apart from being a 100% pure beef hot dog, Costco's hot dogs don't have by-products, corn syrup, phosphates, fillers, or artificial colors or flavors.

Does Sam's Club have pizza like Costco? ›

An all time Member Favorite, Sam's Club Café Pizza! We start each morning by making our pizzas on fresh dough. We then add our signature pizza sauce and fresh mozzarella cheese and top it off with lots of your favorite toppings!

Does Costco treat their employees well? ›

Show up, do your job, and your pay goes up on its own,” says one employee. When it comes to insurance and other benefits, another employee describes the company as “second to none.” In general, employee reviews praise Costco's family-based philosophy, great treatment of its employees and concern for their well-being.

Is meat cheaper at Costco? ›

Are Costco Meat Prices Competitive? Costco tends to run on the more expensive side. This is especially true when compared to supermarket specials and coupons that often undercut Costco pricing significantly. But when comparing the Costco price to your local butcher shop, Costco will usually win.

Why does Costco not allow onions for hot dogs? ›

The Polish dog with sauerkraut and onions was Monty McCormick's go-to order. John Bartlett, general manager at the Costco in Seattle's Sodo neighborhood, confirmed that starting during the COVID-19 pandemic, his store eliminated the onions and sauerkraut to “streamline” the condiment offerings.

Do you need a Costco card to buy pizza 2022? ›

Your membership card will be required to purchase food court items."

Why is there no combo pizza at Costco? ›

A difficult decision was made to simplify our business and unfortunately, the Combo Pizza was removed from our menu line up. We are sorry for this inconvenience, however, these are not always easy decisions that we make. It sounds like, however, spicy mustard and onions for the hot dogs may return at some point.

Can my wife use my Sams card? ›

Membership cards are non-transferable and are inclusive to card and household cardholders 18 years old and older. For security purposes, ONLY YOU, the member on record, may use your Membership card. Household and Business add-on members also are barred from lending their cards to others.

Why does Sams check your card at the door? ›

Yes and no. Both Costco and Sam's Club have said they're not trying to catch shoplifters. They have loss-prevention people who roam the store to monitor for that. But what the receipt check does is help them make sure the check-out process was as accurate as possible.

How do I get a Costco membership for free? ›

Costco doesn't offer free memberships, but there are several ways you can still save. If you have a friend with a Costco membership, ask them to buy you a Costco Shop Card. It'll be mailed to you with a zero balance, but you can add money to it.

Is Costco meat higher quality? ›

You shouldn't have to question what you are eating. The general consensus is that Costco meat is better quality than the grocery store, but not as good quality as the butcher.

What grade of meat does Sam's Club sell? ›

After a successful pilot program in 200 of its store locations during 2018, Sam's Club told Grocery Dive in an email that it now offers USDA prime beef at all retail locations, including a variety of popular cuts like tenderloin, ribeye, striploin, sirloin and whole briskets.

Are steaks from Sams good? ›

Sam's Club ribeye steaks come with a Prime rating, the highest grade possible earned by only 4-7% of beef. This ensures you receive the highest-quality cut with superior tenderness, juiciness and taste. Our ribeye is hand-selected and cut in Club from grain-fed cattle for quality and optimal marbling.

Why did Costco stop selling hot dogs? ›

In order to simplify our menu and make room for healthier options, we have decided to offer only the all-beef Hot Dog. Sales show this is what the majority of members prefer. Though we understand many members loved the Polish Dog, we hope you enjoy our new offerings.

Can you get a Costco hot dog without a membership? ›

Only if you work for Costco. Membership fees is how Costco earns the bulk of its profits.

What is the number one selling hot dog? ›

Top 50 Scanned: Hot Dog beta
#1Classic Wieners Oscar Mayer110 Calories
#2Franks, Bun Size Beef Ball Park Brand170 Calories
#3Smoked White Turkey Franks Ball Park45 Calories
#4Bun Size Franks Ball Park130 Calories
46 more rows

What hot dogs does Sam's Club use in their food court? ›

Member's Mark Beef Franks (3 lbs.)

What kind of hot dog buns does Sam's Club use? ›

Sara Lee Restaurant Style White Hot Dog Buns (24 oz., 16 ct.) - Sam's Club.

Who Makes quarter pound hotdogs? ›

These things are an entire meal in a bun. Nathan's never disappoints when it comes to hot dogs, and these quarter pounders stay true to the brand. My wife and I are easily full after eating just one (we like to garnish our's pretty heavy), and my kids usually only need half of one.

Why did Costco get rid of the onions? ›

Joseph says the most likely reason for the onions' disappearance may be food contamination risks: Prior to the pandemic, though Costco stored their onions at room temperature, she says, "the onions probably such had a high turnover that they replenished it quickly." If the pandemic or supply-chain issues have slowed ...

Why did Costco stop selling Hebrew National hot dogs? ›

They switched from Hebrew National in 2009

In a move that angered a legion of Hebrew National fans, Costco stopped offering the kosher dogs and made the switch to sell Kirkland brand hot dogs in their food courts in 2009 — but it wasn't entirely their decision.

Does Costco steam their hot dogs? ›

Costco Hot Dogs Are Boiled

Kirkland Signature Beef Hot Dogs are placed in a pot of near-boiling water (about 180°F) for about 15 minutes until they reach an internal temperature of 165°F.

How much is a Costco membership vs Sam's Club? ›

Costco charges $60 for its regular annual membership and $120 for an Executive membership. Sam's Club regular memberships cost $45, and Sam's Club Plus memberships cost $100. Sam's Club sometimes offers special savings or gift cards to members of the military and students who sign up.

Can you shop at Sam's Club without being a member? ›

Sam's Club Guest Membership or Invitation to Shop allows a trial experience of our membership perks. Learn more about the Benefits of Sam's Club Membership. Guest membership charges a 10% service fee / surcharge per order. A Guest Membership is active for 24-hours.

How much is a Sam's Club membership 2022? ›

Starting October 17, 2022, membership fees will increase from $45 to $50 for Club members and from $100 to $110 for Plus members.

Are Sam's Club memberships worth it? ›

A Sam's Club Plus membership gives you free shipping on eligible online orders, 2% Sam's Cash up to $500, early shopping hours, and free select prescriptions and other discounts. A Sam's Club Plus membership can be worth it if you shop at Sam's Club frequently and spend a lot of money there.

Can I use my mom's Sam's Club card? ›

For security purposes, ONLY YOU, the member on record, may use your Membership card. Household and Business add-on members also are barred from lending their cards to others.

Can you get a 1 day pass at Sam's Club? ›

The Sam's Club One Day trial pass will get you in the door, however, if you want to buy anything, you will be charged a 10% service fee on your purchases (which may negate the savings of purchasing from Sam's Club in the first place).

How do I get a complimentary Sam's Club card? ›

Add a "Complimentary cardholder" during registration or later via your online account Additional Cardholders page. This complimentary card is free of charge and grants an additional membership and benefits to a household family member who is 18 years of age or older.

Does Sam's club have a senior membership? ›

Sam's Club doesn't offer senior discounts on purchases or memberships, but it does offer other incentives, such as early shopping hours and discounts for members of the military.

Do Walmart employees get a free Sam's club membership? ›

All Walmart Associates can purchase a membership in Sam's Club through payroll deductions. The cost of membership is $45 per year. The membership includes one complimentary household membership card. The complimentary household card is available to anyone over the age of 18 who lives in the Associate's home.

How do I renew my Sam's club membership for free? ›

Memberships without add-ons can renew by calling 1-888-433-7267.

Why did Sam's club charge me $100? ›

Sam's Club is raising annual membership fees, as inflation drives store trips and membership is at an all-time high. Starting Oct. 17, fees will increase from $45 to $50 for club members and from $100 to $110 for members of its higher-tier level, “Plus.”

How much does a Costco membership cost 2022? ›

As of October 2022, the annual cost of a Costco's executive membership was 120 U.S. dollars. Meanwhile, a business membership cost 60 U.S. dollars.

Can you use Sam's club membership card at Walmart? ›

The Sam's Club Credit Card is designed to be used as a store card for purchases at Sam's Club and Walmart.

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