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Costco took away my favorite cut of steak: A carnivore’s lament

Beef ribeye cap steaks from Costco on the grill.
Mark Puente’s beef ribeye cap steaks from Costco on the grill.
(Mark Puente / Los Angeles Times)

My Sunday started like any other: I planned to sear a beautiful, mythical piece of red meat over lump charcoal.

I drove to the Costco Wholesale on Los Feliz Boulevard and hurried to the meat section to grab several packs of ribeye caps. The cap, also known as the spinalis dorsi, comes when a butcher trims a whole ribeye roast — cutting the meat off the bone — and rolls the resulting marbled piece into a log and ties it with twine. It’s a little pricier than an average steak. But it’s meat gold; it was my go-to cut for when I wanted to wow guests at my Sunday cookouts.

I searched each meat case for the USDA prime-grade steaks and panicked. I spotted a meat cutter. That’s when I heard 16 words no carnivore wants to hear: “We no longer sell that cut. It was a companywide decision made a few weeks ago.”

I was speechless. I grieved.

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Coming up empty ruined my Sunday. My wife, Laura, and I checked out and headed home. She called several other Costco stores and was told the same line: Goodbye ribeye caps.

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Mark Puente's beef ribeye cap steaks from Costco on the grill.
(Mark Puente / Los Angeles Times)

I shared my frustration with friends on social media. Some offered condolences; others suggested I hunt elsewhere for the cut.

That’s the problem. Few mom-and-pop butcher shops carry ribeye caps; if they know how to cut it, you have to order it in advance. I know about rare cuts. Meat hunting, hauling and smoking are some of my passions.

On multiple occasions, I have carted more than 150 pounds of hard-to-find cuts on airplanes. I’ve searched butcher shops and carnicerias from Santa Barbara to San Diego to Ridgecrest. A cooler is always in my trunk.

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If you think there’s nothing new to learn about steaks, think again.

Tri-tip might be the king in Southern California, but the ribeye cap was my ace. Salt and pepper and a sear over high heat was all it took to have them lolling in their chairs.

I belong to multiple Facebook groups devoted to grilling and smoking meat. I told thousands of others what I learned Sunday. Several hadn’t heard the news. Steve Botwinik from Florida said it made him “very sad as it’s a fantastic cut and my personal favorite, and Costco was the only place I could easily find it.”

Confusion erupted. Other respondents said they recently bought caps at Costco in San Diego, Washington and Colorado. Some in Georgia and Maryland said Costco wasn’t carrying the cut.

Scott Bittermann, a Costco meat cutter in Seattle, wrote: “Just got home from work. And today I cut two cases of prime ribeye steaks, which includes cap steaks. I’ve not heard of this decision yet. Maybe in other locations but not in Seattle.”

Costco’s corporate office isn’t helping the confusion; a spokeswoman declined to comment. What happened to customer service, especially when shoppers pay a membership fee to spend money in stores?

For the best grilled pork, choose bone-in pork chops, then follow these tips to cook them perfectly with charred outsides and juicy insides.

I know this weekend I’ll hit several butcher shops and maybe I’ll get lucky and find caps. Maybe I’ll buy a ribeye roast and separate it myself.

But that Sunday my grill sat idle. I ground a tri-tip for meatloaf and cooked it in the oven. That won’t happen this week — with or without Costco.


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