Costco Food Court Secrets To Test On Your Next Trip

Costco has a lot going for it, especially when you're a child going along on weekend shopping trips like this writer did for years. The walk-in freezer was always fun (and still is). Free samples are a major duh. But hands down, the best part of the excursion was always the hot dog and soda at the end. And somehow, magically, that hot dog and soda combo is still only $1.50. (When asked what would happen to the famously cheap menu item once he was gone, soon-to-retire Costco CFO Richard Galanti told Bloomberg, "It's probably safe for a while." Praise be to Galanti.)


Now, if online forums are to be believed, some of the items at Costco's beloved food court have gone downhill. Indeed, Chowhound is less than impressed about the recent fate of the once-beloved Costco food court chicken bakes. Still, other menu items have stood the test of time, both in terms of taste and wallet-friendliness. Even better, there are quite a few secrets you can exploit to make your next food court trip more fun and profitable.

Head in with a ranking

After a long, hungry shopping trip spent anticipating a delicious, greasy meal, the last thing you want is to hate what you're handed at the food counter. This is only a problem for the adventurous, of course. Anyone who gets exactly the same thing every time is safe, albeit at a price: You might never get to experience the Jochizza (see below).


But guess what? You don't have to go it alone when it comes to deciding what to order. Someone already did the work for you, ranking every Costco food court item from best to worst or at least the most common food court items that you'll find on menus across the country. A few spoilers, you say? Definitely choose the roast beef sandwich over the chicken salad (the latter of which doesn't even come with the croutons promised in the photo). Choose the strawberry sundae over the regular one. As for the mocha freeze, just say "nah."

Go at the busiest times

If this advice seems a little counterintuitive, no one can blame you for thinking that. Most food blog advice is full of hacks for when to arrive and when you get the fastest service, but there are better ways to maximize your Costco food court experience. Rather, you want to head there at peak bustle because that means the food is moving fast and will be at its hottest and freshest.


Lunch and dinnertime are both good bets for getting hot, fresh food court grub. Fridays are when people do a big shop for the weekend or a trip, while Saturdays and Sundays are always busy. Holidays are also bound to be a zoo, but on the upside, the churros will be hot. If you feel a little anxious about the thought of battling all those crowds, there's good news on the horizon for Costco members: The store is about to crack down on non-members snagging its famous hot dog bargain and $1.99 pizza slices.

Crisp up your pizza

With a staggering 1½ pounds of cheese on every pie, Costco's pizzas are appallingly delicious (or deliciously appalling). Although they're certainly not a health food, they are a good motivator to get tired children (or adults) through the day. But sometimes Costco pizza is soggy, and that can be a real bummer after a long, busy shopping trip, which somehow never seems to come with enough free samples.


Luckily, you don't have to suffer a mushy pizza crust with cold cheese. Take back your power with this Costco pizza ordering hack: Ask for your slice to be "well done," which will tell food court staff to toast it in the oven again rather than serving it directly from the warmer. This trick may be a little harder to put into action when the food court is super busy and staff may not always be thrilled, but persevere. Remember, a Costco membership isn't free and does come with a satisfaction guarantee, so you're well within your rights.

Order a pizza for pickup

Tired of waiting around? Just want to get home and feed your crew after an exhausting afternoon? The good news is, you can order a pizza for pickup by calling ahead and skipping the 10-minute wait. Costco itself bills this as a member option with a high coziness factor, saying, "Next time you're satisfying your Costco Food Court craving, call ahead to place your order and pick up pizza for a quiet night at home."


If you're at the store and want to take a pizza home, you can do that as well. Simply whip your phone out while you're waiting in the checkout line, and that should be about right. Sometimes, it can be longer, so if you want to get it at the right time, you can call the food court and find out how long the wait will be at a certain point. You probably want to give it more than an hour at lunch and dinnertime, to be sure.

Customize how your take-home pizza gets sliced

More pizza tips, you say? Why yes! As it turns out, you have more control than you'd think over how your pizza gets sliced. While the standard Costco food court pizza is cut into six pieces to sell by the slice, the ones you order for pickup get cut into 12. However, you can ask staff to cut your pie into various numbers (six, 12, or 18), matching your math to the event for which your pizza is intended. For a children's party, you probably want to go with 18, whereas thanking your friends for helping you move calls for giant slices, so opt for only six.


Note that Costco pizza reheats extremely well. Just make sure to use it up in a safe window. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, you can leave hot restaurant food at room temperature for up to 2 hours without worrying. After that, you should refrigerate it, at which point it will last up to 4 days in a refrigerator below 40 F.

Order food at the checkout register

Hungry and in a hurry? Contrary to popular belief, you can immediately pay for your groceries and then go to the kiosk next to the food court to order. Rather, you can skip the long food court line by telling your checker what you want while you're paying for the rest of your groceries. They'll put it on your tab and then give you a number.


Just note that, according to Costco employees posting in online forums, you're still added to the queue in chronological order, so you will get a number like anyone else. It just shaves off an extra step and additional line. If you ever see someone walk up to the counter, in front of an entire line and pick up a pizza, it doesn't mean that person is cutting. Rather, it means they paid for something while checking out or called their pizza in ahead of time.

Ask for nutritional information

Are you training for a marathon? Are you on a new health plan ordered by your doctor? Do you just kind of want to know what you're getting into? Instead of skipping the Costco food court, which is a rare and delicious opportunity (at least for those who only eat there when they shop), do a little digging.


Honestly, it doesn't even really involve that much digging. Many people don't know that you can simply ask for the nutritional info of a menu item when you order it, and an employee will give it to you in a little printout. It will include calories, fat content, and other health statistics related to your item of choice.

You can also find nutritional information for Costco food court dishes online by using various calorie-counting apps and websites. Although these aren't the official Costco numbers (which don't seem to be readily accessible via the internet), they're pretty close. However, if you're on a strict diet, you'll want to get the specs from the counter.

Look for location-specific menu items

You might assume, naturally enough, that the Costco food court menu is immutable. And some things are, such as its beloved hot dog or cheese pizza. However, other menu items change depending on where in the world you are, gastronomically speaking.


In the United States, you will find a lot of your traditional Americana. Think ice cream sundaes, sandwiches, pizza slices, a rotisserie chicken salad, sodas, and a chocolate chip cookie that is garnering rave reviews. Sadly, though, the cookie did replace the classic churro (cue "Taps"), although you might still be able to find that in some locations, as they do vary even within the United States.

Outside it, things get crazy (at least from a US perspective). In Canada, you can order poutine: French fries and cheese curds slathered with a mess of gravy. The Korea Costco food court menu includes items such as bulgogi (beef barbecue) pizza, ricotta fruit salad, and chashu (braised pork belly) with fried rice.


Make a quirky float

Much is made of the food court hack that you can make a root beer float at Costco. However, not all Costco locations have root beer, leaving some fans out in the cold. The good news is there are other choices. Strawberry Crush and Raspberry Brisk Iced Tea are two options for turning your soft serve into a cold, delicious summer treat. (Yes, iced tea floats really are good.) Pro tip: Scoop your soft serve into the drink cup before filling it with soda because vice versa is a good way to cause an overflow.


You can also put ice cream into one of Costco's coffee drinks, and the ho-hum mocha freeze definitely gets a facelift with a hefty dose of vanilla soft serve. For other dessert ideas, consider sandwiching soft serve between cookies or stuffing churros into it wherever you can still find them. 

Make a chicken salad wrap with just two ingredients

Looking for something slightly healthier? Grab a rotisserie chicken Caesar salad from the food court, then come to the table armed with a pack of tortillas on hand. Costco's big, floury choices are ideal for folding into wraps, so all you have to do is dump the salad into them and then fold it up. Voilà: instant Caesar wrap. Of course, you can also do this at home with items you purchase at the register and then carry off with you, but there's no shame in concocting your goodies right there at the table.


By the way, you are allowed to eat in the food court if you're a Costco member, even if you don't buy anything from the counter. The food court now requires a Costco card to purchase food, but they don't police the sitting area to ensure you eat a hot bar item. If you want to shred your rotisserie chicken into tortillas along with a salad of your choice (or just plain lettuce), nothing stops you.

Try the famous (or infamous) Jochizza

Chowhound writer and fearless soul Chloe O'Donnell reports that the Jochizza, a newer Costco hack that should probably be illegal, is ... well, it's there if you want to try it. Now, cancel culture has done its best to do away with the Jochizza. But some things, like Snuggies, Grumpy Cat, or Hope from Pandora's Box, simply won't go back where they came from, and the Jochizza is one of them.


So, if you want to say you've tried it or just think it's fun to risk a trip to the emergency room, here's what you do. Take a chicken bake. Slit it in half so that it looks kind of like a hot dog bun. Insert a Costco hot dog. Now, surgically remove the blanket of cheese from a piece of Costco pizza (pepperonis optional) and drape it over the whole thing. Consume. (And make sure to do something else with your extra bread products, like take them home and turn them into toaster oven pizzas with your own cheese and sauce. We are not wasters.)

Get creative with combinations

If the Jochizza, Caesar wrap, and iced tea floats weren't enough, never fear. There's plenty else you can concoct at the Costco food court, and likely some abominations no one has ever heard of. Motivated online influencers and foodies are constantly coming up with new ways to combine counter items into new creations.


No iced tea or strawberry soda to go with your ice cream? Pepsi floats are actually surprisingly delicious (so yummy you can sometimes find them on the Dairy Queen menu), and mixing sodas is totally allowed. For instance, crumbling the chocolate chunk cookie onto the top of the vanilla sundae is a good idea. With chocolate syrup complementing the chunks, where do you go wrong? Also, if the pizza/hot dog/chicken bake combo is a little too much for you, you can skip the chicken bake and simply wrap the pizza around the hot dog.

Some writers recommend surfing the free samples before you come to the food court area because some of them may work well as pizza toppings. Veggies, cheese samples, and meat can all work for this. It probably means you care more about novelty than hot food, but hey, anything for a thrill.


Fill a bag with ice to keep stuff frozen

Did you know you can roll up to the Costco soda machine and just fill a bag with free food court ice? While there's no specifically stated carte blanche from Costco Corporate, plenty of online chatter testifies to your ability to simply top off an insulated bag and go. While some people worry about the ethics of this move, others online swear they heard the tip straight from a Costco employee's mouth.


You shouldn't take advantage of this by filling a cooler, of course. Not only is it a little difficult to imagine how you'd fit one under the ice dispenser, but you might hold up the lines. (On second thought, this would make a really great Outraged TikTok Video, which can get a lot of traction these days.) Seriously, though, if you won't be home right away and want to keep that salmon fresh, this is a great hack.

It's also the environmentally friendly move. Instead of buying a whole bag of ice when you don't need one and then throwing away the plastic, which isn't reusable, bring your own insulated bag. Place your frozen groceries in the bag to prevent thawing, then wash and reuse the bag once those items are in the freezer.