You can buy everything from an emerald-cut diamond to a truckload of toilet paper at a Costco Wholesale warehouse store. If you're among the bourgeois of American beef consumers, Costco is, by consensus, the place where you can always find a package of great steaks for tonight's backyard barbeque.

While quality and value are the standard marketing modus operandi, don't mistake your local member-driven Costco Wholesale for a discount store — certainly when it comes to a place to buy your beef.

Charlie Winters, vice president of Costco Wholesale's fresh meat operations, got his start in the meat business working in a small, family owned slaughter facility in Aztec, NM. Winters, 56, pioneered Costco's fresh meat department in 1987 at the Southcenter warehouse in Tukwila, WA. What began as a small selection of deli items and fresh meats serving Costco members in that south Puget Sound community is now one of the nation's largest fresh meat retail programs.

Today, Costco sells about 150 million lbs. of ground beef annually; a little more than that in muscle meats. With beef making up 18-19% of Costco's fresh meat sales on a value basis, Winter's group, which includes Jeff Lyons, Chris Ostrander, Doug Holbrook and Teri Free, is one of the largest buyers of beef in the U.S.