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I Tried 6 Trader Joe's Marinated Meats & There's Only One I'm Grilling This Summer

The store offers an array of pre-marinated chicken, beef, and pork.

Trader Joe's is a veritable treasure trove of fine cheeses, frozen foods, and crave-worthy snacks. Yet, when grilling season comes around, shoppers may be tempted to fill their carts with a different type of specialty item: pre-marinated meats.

You'll find various cuts of beef, chicken, and pork, all steeped in disparate seasonings, on display in the meat aisle. Usually a half-dozen varieties or more, the diverse selection spans an array of culinary influences, from Mexican to Italian to Korean. Each one promises to save you both time and money. No advanced planning or prep work required—and no lengthy shopping list of ingredients to ring up at the register. All you need is one convenient, self-contained package. Just slap on a hot grill, and within minutes, dinner is ready.

A grilling-obsessed friend had recommended some of these ready-made TJ's meats in the past, but I had not tried them for myself until a recent spate of warm weather finally compelled me to fire up the barbie for the first time in 2024. I rounded up a considerable assortment of the prepared proteins from my local Trader Joe's, and then wrangled a fun-loving group of discerning tasters to help me determine which ones, if any, are worth your money this summer.

Here's how each pre-marinated meat fared on the fire, ranked in descending order from my least favorite to the absolute best-tasting option for your upcoming outdoor cooking pursuits.

Pollo Asado Autentico

Pollo asada from Trader Joe's
Photo: Chris Shott/Eat This, Not That!
Nutrition: (Per Serving):
Calories: 130
Fat: 2.5 g (Saturated Fat: 0.5 g)
Sodium: 630 mg
Carbs: 3 g (Fiber: 0 g, Sugar: 1 g)
Protein: 21 g

The first of three chicken options in this survey, the part-Mexican, part-Cuban-inspired pollo asado comes marinated in lemon and lime juices combined with spices including paprika and cayenne pepper. I paid $9.42 for just over a pound of the product.

The look: Bathed in a reddish, syrupy liquid. The pack contained three thinly sliced cutlets that cooked up quite quickly, coming off the hot grill with streaks of dark char.

The taste: Zesty and relatively moist. The citrusy flavor was immediate and unmistakable, if not exactly enjoyable. My friends were all genuinely unimpressed, likening the meat quality to what you might encounter with fast food or bagged salads. One remarked, "When I first tried it, I thought of Subway." No bueno.

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Pesto Chicken Breast

Pesto Chicken Breast from Trader Joe's
Photo: Chris Shott/Eat This, Not That!
Nutrition: (Per 4-oz. Serving):
Calories: 170
Fat: 9 g (Saturated Fat: 2 g)
Sodium: 410 mg
Carbs: 1 g (Fiber: 0 g, Sugar: 0 g)
Protein: 21 g

Described as a Genovese-style pesto on Trader Joe's website, this chicken preparation includes boneless, skinless pieces of all white meat, dressed in a mixture of basil, parmesan, parsley, garlic, pine nuts, red pepper, and extra virgin olive oil. It's regularly priced at $8.99 per pound. I paid $14.20 for a plump package of the prepped poultry.

The look: Lean and green. The pack contained seven separate pieces of breast meat in various sizes. Initially, the chicken comes heavily coated in its grassy-colored dressing—the item contains up to 21% pesto sauce, according to the package—but much of that stuff slides off the meat during cooking, leaving behind only faint traces of basil and parsley on the finished product.

The taste: Tangy and herby. On first bite, the chicken seemed juicy and flavorful, but subsequent samples felt rubbery and unpleasant. My fellow tasters experienced similarly mixed results. One sampler liked the dish, noting the pesto "wasn't too garlicky." Another suggested it might work better as a salad topping than a standalone entrée. Yet another hated the very idea behind it: "I just don't think pesto belongs on chicken."

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Bool Kogi

Korean-inspired, sesame marinated boneless beef ribs, aka Bool Kogi, from Trader Joe's
Photo: Chris Shott/Eat This, Not That!
Nutrition: (Per 4-oz. Serving):
Calories: 330
Fat: 23 g (Saturated Fat: 9 g, Trans Fat: 1 g)
Sodium: 1,350 mg
Carbs: 9 g (Fiber: 0 g, Sugar: 4 g)
Protein: 22 g

A perhaps playful if unconventional spelling of bulgogi, the popular Korean barbecue dish, Trader Joe's Bool Kogi is described on the packaging as "Korean inspired sesame marinated boneless beef ribs." The listed ingredients include soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, salt, and garlic. I paid a cool $20 for this one—making it the most expensive item in this survey.

The look: Soaked in deep brown gravy. The pack contained nine ultra-thin strips of beef in various lengths, which cooked up even quicker than the pollo asado.

The taste: Rich and a bit sweet. The flavor proved consistent throughout, but the texture less so. Some bites felt pleasingly tender. Others were too tough. Some were downright gristly. My tasters described the meat as either old, low-grade, or possibly both.

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Carne Asada Autentica

Carne asada steaks from Trader Joe's
Photo: Chris Shott/Eat This, Not That!
Nutrition: (Per 4-oz. Serving):
Calories: 140
Fat: 5 g (Saturated Fat: 1.5 g)
Sodium: 860 mg
Carbs: 3 g (Fiber: 0 g, Sugar: <1 g)
Protein: 20 g

Trader Joe's advertises this item as "[o]ne of our all-time favorites for grilling season." The package contains thinly sliced sirloin, seasoned with "an authentic recipe," according to the retailer. The listed ingredients include several spices, such as paprika, cayenne, and cumin, as well as various powdered liquids like orange and lime juices. It's regularly priced at $11.99 per pound. I paid $14.99 for a chunky bundle of the beef.

The look: Immersed in a reddish-brown solution. The steak came in two flat pieces, the shape of which oddly reminded me of geographic continents: South America and Australia, specifically. It carved up nicely after cooking, revealing a more appealing juicy red center compared to the unavoidably well-done brown of the razor-thin ribs.

The taste: Layered. The flavors came in waves. The first bite was pure beefy bliss, followed by a massive dose of salt, then a spicy heat that lingered on. All of my tasters preferred the texture and seemingly higher quality of the sirloin to the much-maligned Korean-style ribs, but the aftertaste proved too much.

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Peppercorn-Garlic Boneless Pork Tenderloin

Peppercorn-garlic boneless pork tenderloin from Trader Joe's
Photo: Chris Shott/Eat This, Not That!
Nutrition: (Per 4-oz. Serving):
Calories: 140
Fat: 4 g (Saturated Fat: 1.5 g)
Sodium: 300 mg
Carbs: 1 g (Fiber: 0 g, Sugar: 0 g)
Protein: 24 g

The lone pork product in this survey, TJ's tenderloin also comes with the shortest list of ingredients, which inexplicably doesn't include any mention of peppercorn but otherwise contains sea salt, burnt sugar, and dehydrated doses of garlic, onion, and bell pepper. I paid $6.30 for just under a pound, making this unquestionably the most affordable and arguably the best bargain of the bunch.

The look: Long, plump, and fleshy, sprinkled with flecks of red, black, and beige. The single meaty column stretched about nine inches from top to bottom and about an inch and a half thick. Of all these meats, the pork required the longest cooking time (about 20 minutes in total) but seemed worth the wait, turning out perfectly browned outside and showing a faint pink blush in the center.

The taste: Powerfully peppery. The seasoning that surrounded the outside had an almost tannic-like, tingly effect on the tongue, offering an interesting contrast to the juicy, salty meat in the middle. Everyone liked the spice, even if the pepper dominated over all other flavors. Overall, one taster described the pork as "decidedly more elevated" than the pesto and pollo asado, in particular. Even so, there was one other meat that stood out above all the rest.

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Shawarma Chicken Thighs

Shawarma chicken thighs from Trader Joe's
Photo: Chris Shott/Eat This, Not That!
Nutrition: (Per 4-oz. Serving):
Calories: 160
Fat: 7 g (Saturated Fat: 1.5 g)
Sodium: 440 mg
Carbs: 3 g (Fiber: 0 g, Sugar: 0 g)
Protein: 21 g

Though traditionally cooked on a spit, TJ's take on Middle Eastern-style chicken shawarma seems especially well-suited to the grill. It comes seasoned with a bevy of spices, including cinnamon, coriander, cumin, paprika, and turmeric. I paid $10.76 for just over a pound of the appetizing protein.

The look: Awash in reddish orange. The pack contained seven chicken thighs of various sizes, which took on alluring brown streaks from their brief time on the grill (just 7 to 10 minutes, per instructions).

The taste: Succulent and satisfying. Though one taster disliked the level of spice, everyone else enjoyed the milder, more intricate layers of flavor of the shawarma as opposed to many of the other more straightforward marinades. One taster described it as having an almost "homemade" quality compared to the more commercial feel of the other meats. Its soft texture proved equally pleasing. It's probably an unfair comparison, but chicken thighs generally cook up juicier and more tender than breast meat, and this shawarma preparation is no different.

If you're looking for an easy, affordable option to grill up this summer, you'd be hard-pressed to find another prepared meat as tasty as Trader Joe's shawarma.

Chris Shott
Chris Shott is the Deputy Editor covering restaurants and groceries for Eat This, Not That! Read more about Chris