Costco is a magical place where the humble "gallon" might as well be called "fun size," a fantasia of frozen-food samples, discounted eyewear, and shopping carts big enough to house a family of eight. It can also be extremely overwhelming. Look, bulk buying means commitment. It's easy to excuse purchasing one bottle of unfamiliar pasta sauce, but when there are six in a pack, you want to make sure you're getting something you love.
Costco's in-house brand, Kirkland, offers up an alternative to pretty much every major brand, often at a much lower price. Sometimes, what's hiding beneath that store-brand label is pure gold. Other times, it's an inferior knockoff. To figure out which store-brand items are worth precious pantry real estate, we hit up a quartet of super-fans -- none of whom are officially affiliated with Costco -- for shopping lists. Surprisingly, canned poultry made the cut.
Kirkland Signature steak strips
"As huge beef jerky fans we were quite excited when Costco started making this product. A lot of jerky tends to be dry and hard to break. The steak strips are always moist and soft and have a great flavor to them as well." Matt, founder, Costco Insider
Kirkland Signature canned chicken breast
"Thanks to the always lovable Costco food samples, we were turned on to Kirkland Signature canned chicken breast. Normally I would have never thought about buying canned chicken but once we sampled it we knew we couldn't live without it. It goes well in so many dishes and definitely speeds up the cooking process. We use it for chicken tacos, quesadillas, pasta dishes, and more." Matt, founder, Costco Insider
Kirkland Signature stuffed bell peppers
"One of our favorite easy to make meals is the Kirkland Signature stuffed bell peppers with ground beef and rice. They are found in the deli and require no more than throwing them in the oven. Plenty of flavor and you get your vegetables, meat, and grains all in one!" Matt, founder, Costco Insider
Kirkland Signature vitamins and supplements
"Kirkland Signature vitamins are the best-priced vitamins you can find. Many of Kirkland Signature vitamins and supplements are USP verified. Kirkland Signature has Ocusight Adult 50+ ($0.09/dose). They are generic version of Ocuvite Adult 50+ by Bausch + Lomb ($0.19/dose)." John, founder, I Love Costco
Kirkland Signature dry-roasted macadamia nuts
"We eat a lot of macadamia nuts in my house. I’ve tried buying macadamia nuts at several retailers -- some high-end, some more mainstream. Usually Macadamia nuts are either only available in the bulk aisle or in small packages, which are very expensive. The ones in the bulk aisle are almost always small, broken, and either under-roasted or slightly stale. I love that the macadamia nuts we buy at Costco are really nicely sized, always fresh, and well roasted." Jodie Ostrovsky, owner, What's the Scoop? (Portland, Oregon)
Kirkland Signature maple syrup
"You would be wasting your time if you shop around for maple syrup. Kirkland Signature Maple Syrup is high quality, organic, and has the best price you can find anywhere. Consumer Reports did a head-to-head comparison on maple syrups. Kirkland Signature syrup shined on both quality and value." John, founder, I Love Costco
Kirkland Signature protein bars
"Our favorite Kirkland Signature product right now is the Kirkland Signature protein bars in chocolate chip cookie dough flavor. They're a newer item that is very similar to Quest bars. Costco has done some improvements from their initial release, and they have really nailed it. At half the price of a Quest bar, they're our must-buy item." Matt, founder, Costco Insider
Kirkland Signature energy shot
"Kirkland Signature energy shot is similar (if not identical) to 5-Hour Energy. One bottle of Kirkland Signatures energy shot is about $0.73. If you buy them on sale, you pay about $0.56 for each bottle. In comparison, the best price you can find on 5-Hour Energy is about $1.50 when you buy 24 pack." John, founder, I Love Costco
Kirkland Signature spiced rum
"There are so many great Kirkland Signature alcohol products, it makes it hard to choose one. We'll have to say our favorite is the Kirkland Signature spiced rum. It's pretty similar to Captain Morgan, but at a lower cost, and in a blind taste test, we choose the Kirkland brand over Captain Morgan." Matt, founder, Costco Insider
Kirkland Signature wines
"I’d say the Kirkland Signature wines consistently deliver great value. They are always excellent expressions of the varietal and region priced less than you’ll find for similar bottles. For the everyday wine drinker, you can easily pick up a Kirkland wine and know that you’re getting a more than fair price on what is likely a delicious wine. We are big fans.” Andrew Cullen, editor, Costco Wine Blog
"I feel like I’m checking all the boxes with this one. Environmentally, it’s a responsible choice with a biodegradable formula, naturally derived ingredients, and formulated for my high-efficiency machine. Plus, it comes in a very large size, so I’m essentially buying in bulk and using less packaging. Performance-wise, it’s a good detergent that gets our clothes clean. I’ve tried lots of laundry detergents over many years and this one ranks as one of the best. And, finally, the bottle is designed well. It’s clear so you can easily see when you need to buy more. It sits on the counter with the spout hanging off the edge so you can easily and neatly dispense the soap into the removable cap which can then be thrown in with your laundry so you never get soap running down the sides of the bottle." Jodie Ostrovsky, owner, What's the Scoop? (Portland, Oregon)
Kirkland Signature shampoo & conditioner
"Kirkland Signature shampoo and conditioner are sulfate-free, 100% vegan, and paraben-free. They are professional salon formula and color safe. It's the best price in its class. They are somewhat concentrated, so they last long. Amazon is currently selling Kirkland Signature shampoo and conditioner at double the price. People who don't have easy access to Costco keep buying them and leaving good reviews. John, founder, I Love Costco
Kirkland Daily facial towelettes
"These are my most recent find and maybe my favorite. I originally purchased the bulk package of the Neutrogena wipes, but when I was running low, I decided to give the Kirkland brand a try. The first plus was they cost less for more wipes. The Kirkland packs are better designed too, with a hard plastic tab which does a good job of sealing the package between uses. Both brands come with travel packs of wipes, but the ones in the Kirkland package contain 15 wipes instead of the 10 you get with Neutrogena. Most importantly, I was pleasantly surprised to find the Kirkland wipes actually work better and were little gentler than the Neutrogena wipes." Jodie Ostrosky, owner, What's the Scoop? (Portland, Oregon)
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Senior editor Andy Kryza once spent two hours in a Costco without buying a single thing. He regrets... everything, actually. Follow him to samples @apkryza.