Store-brand products aren't usually something to get excited about. They're cheap and … that's about it. But Costco's Kirkland Signature brand of products are a bargain-hunter's dream because they are not only economical, but also often top-of-the-line.
Now, not every Kirkland product hits it out of the park (Charmin still beats Kirkland toilet paper by a mile), but there's a baker's dozen of food products with Costco's store label that often rank at the top of experts' lists — and our list too.
- Organic Extra-Virgin Olive Oil, $16 for 2 liters: A few years ago, a study by the folks at University of California, Davis put a range of imported olive oils to the test and found Costco's store-brand was one of the few to truly earn its extra-virgin label. It met both international and U.S. standards, while many others fell short. Savvy cooks (like Samin Nosrat) have long considered it their go-to olive oil, and you can't beat the price. If you think two liters is too much, you'd be surprised how quickly you can use it up. And if you're looking for a finishing oil, Costco has a new Kirkland Signature P.D.O. series of premium extra-virgin olive oils from single protected origins. There's Val di Mazara from Sicily, Terra di Bari Bitonto from Puglia, and Mylopotamos from the island of Crete.
- Wild Alaskan Sockeye Salmon, $33 for 3 pounds: Sustainably raised salmon has its place, but wild is always better. And wild salmon from Alaska, which is the most sustainable salmon fishery in the U.S., is the gold standard. It's a bargain at about $11 a pound. Plus, the fillets come individually wrapped, making it easy to defrost only as many servings as you need.
- Certified Humane, Certified Organic, Cage-Free, Grade A Large Eggs, $6.50 for 2 dozen: Egg labels are confusing and often meaningless. "Cage-free" rarely means the hens were frolicking in the grass. Still, some labels do have weight. To achieve certified organic and certified humane status, certain conditions must be met, and that's always a good thing. These eggs earn both labels for about the same price as non-certified factory-farmed eggs at the supermarket.
- Organic Peanut Butter, $10 for two 28-ounce jars: Sure, you have to stir it, but there's no sugar and no hydrogenated oils in this rich peanut butter. The jars are bigger than the standard size at the supermarket, which is great for PB&J-lovers.
- Organic Quinoa, $10 for 4 1/2 pounds: High in protein, quinoa is quickly supplanting rice as a side dish star. It's great in pilafs or as the base for a cold grain salad. And there's no better price than this, which averages out to about 40 cents a serving.
- Parmigiano-Reggiano Stravecchio, $12 per pound: Aged for three years, this is legit, certified, Italian-made cheese, and it's literally half the price of what you'll pay for two-year-aged Parmesan at supermarkets like Whole Foods. Just get ready to grate it over everything because it only comes in hulking 1 1/2-pound wedges.
- Organic Amber Maple Syrup, $13 for 33.8 ounces: Real maple syrup is labor intensive to produce, so it doesn't come cheap. But once you have real maple syrup, it's hard to go back to the imitation, caramel-colored stuff. Costco only offers one variety — amber — and we wouldn't have it any other way.
- Bacon, $17 for 4 pounds: Consumer Reports, always in tune with the buying habits of the American people, turned its expert attention on bacon, and ranked Kirkland above every other national brand they tested. Although 4 pounds seems like a whole lotta pork belly, it comes in 1-pound packs and freezes perfectly.
- Booze: If you live in a state that allows the sale of spirits in Costco, consider yourself lucky. Although Costco won't reveal its sources, it will admit that premium and even ultra-premium brands are behind its Kirkland Signature booze. Vodka, tequila, rum, bourbon, whiskey, and gin — they're so good they all have a cult following, even among bartenders.
- Nuts: Costco's nuts are always super-fresh and high-quality. Unless you're a big-time baker, 2- and 3-pound packages of nuts might seem like a daunting purchase, but don't forget that they freeze beautifully. Pecan halves are $16 for two pounds, walnuts are $13 for three pounds, almonds are $13 for three pounds, and pine nuts are a reasonable $24 for 1 1/2 pounds.
- Organic Three-Berry Blend Frozen Berries, $9.50 for 4 pounds: Smoothies, oatmeal, muffins, fruit crisps — there's no shortage of uses for frozen berries. And experts say it's best to opt for organic, because berries are often heavily sprayed with pesticides. At about $2.40 a pound for a versatile mix of organic fruit, this is a great deal.
- Stretch-Tite Plastic Food Wrap, $12 for two 750-foot rolls: It's not food, but it's just as essential. This is the plastic wrap to spoil you for all others. It's thick, it's wide, it clings like a champ. And if that's not enough to convince you, consider this: It's the only one Ina Garten uses. With two giant rolls, it'll be years before you run out, and the slide cutter works so much better than those metal teeth that are on the sides of other boxes.
- Parchment Paper, $14 for two 205-foot rolls: It's only available during the fall baking season, so consider this your marching orders to get to Costco — stat. Those skinny rolls from the supermarket will cost you about $5 for about 70 feet, making Costco's version about half the cost.
Bonus Costco Item
- Vanilla Extract, $27 for 16 ounces: Technically this is a generic Costco product because it doesn't have the Kirkland label, but we're including it as a bonus because it's just too good to pass up. You might have sticker shock at first — $27 for vanilla? — but this is at least four times more vanilla than supermarket bottles, which range from 2 to 4 ounces. That's about $1.69 per ounce, compared to $2.50 per ounce at the supermarket.
Note: The prices listed were for a store in Portland, Oregon. Your store's prices may vary, but the product quality will remain the same!