By Perry Santanachote
Published March 9, 2021 | Updated August 28, 2021
Photo: Getty Images
You know when you score a hot rotisserie chicken fresh off the spit at the grocery store and spend the entire drive home wiping drool off your chin as the aroma whets your appetite into a frenzy?
Well, youre not alone. The National Chicken Council estimates that more than 950 million rotisserie chickens will fly off those warming shelves and onto consumers plates this year. Thats almost three chickens per person!
Whats not to love? Theyre tasty and convenient, and can cost less than a fancy coffee shop latte. Rotisserie chicken is often very competitively priced and a lot cheaper than eating out, says Anne-Marie Roerink, founder of the grocery market research firm 210 Analytics. She says this grocery store mainstay is most popular with younger shoppers but a big seller among all ages, incomes, and regions.
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Because its a high-protein, low-saturated-fat meat, you might assume a rotisserie chicken is better for you than takeout, too. But is that the case? To find out, CRs nutrition experts evaluated the nutritional information and ingredients for 16 rotisserie chickens from seven supermarkets websites (Kroger, Publix, Safeway, Stop & Shop, Walmart, Wegmans, and Whole Foods), three club stores (BJs Wholesale Club, Costco, and Sams Club), and one fast-casual chain restaurant (Boston Market). While youll find flavors such as lemon butter, herb, Latin, and barbecue in stores, we looked at each stores simplest chickens, which were often labeled plain or original.
The findings? You cant assume that all rotisserie chicken is just a plain cooked chicken, says CR nutritionist Amy Keating, RD.
Find out everything you ever wanted to know about Costco chicken.
Whats Underneath That Crisp Brown Skin?
The simplest way to roast a chicken at home is to season it with a little salt and pepper and stick it in the oven. Rotisserie birds often get a different treatment. Essentially, all rotisserie chickens are enhanced with a solution [injected into the bird] to keep the birds moist and tasty, says Tom Super, senior vice president of communications for the National Chicken Council.
Problem is, the injection solution can include sugar, processed ingredients such as natural flavors, gums, and carrageenanand especially problematic amounts of sodium. Natural flavors arent necessarily as natural as you might think, and you should generally try to avoid processed ingredients as much as possible, Keating says. And if youre thinking chicken isnt good without salt, just know that some rotisserie chickens have far more than youd ever add yourself.
Among the worst sodium offenders is Sams Club (Members Mark Seasoned Rotisserie Chicken), which has 550 mg of sodium per 3-ounce servingthats about nine times more sodium than a chicken roasted without salt and about a quarter of the maximum amount of sodium adults should have in a day (2,300 mg). Costco (Kirkland) chickens arent much better, clocking in at 460 mg of sodium.
Rotisserie chickens from BJs Wholesale Club (Perdue rotisserie chicken), Boston Market, Publix (Deli Original), Safeway (Signature Cafe Traditional), Stop & Shop (Natures Promise and honey), Walmart (traditional), and Wegmans (nonorganic plain) have less sodium, ranging from 170 to 368 mg.
Kroger (Simple Truth) rotisserie chickens and organic chickens from Wegmans have much lower levels of sodium, at 40 mg and 95 mg, respectively, proving that not all injected birds are bad news. And Krogers ingredients are only chicken, water, and sea salt.
Whole Foods chickens are not injected with a solution, but sodium can still be a concern. While the organic plain chicken has a healthy 70 mg of sodium in 3 ounces, the nonorganic plain chicken has 120 mg, and the nonorganic classic chicken has 450 mg. But if you skip the skin, you can avoid a lot of that because the seasonings are sprinkled on top, whereas with injected chickens, the sodium is distributed throughout the meat.
When shopping, the best bet is to check the nutrition facts label and ingredients list, or ask the deli manager for the information if its not on the packaging. According to the Food and Drug Administrations food labeling rules, hot rotisserie chickens dont need to have this information on the package, but stores with 20 or more locations must have the information available to consumers.
Shopping and Food Safety FAQs
Aside from nutrition, there are other concerns consumers have about buying rotisserie chickens. Here are some tips and answers to common questions about how to pick the best bird and what to do with it once you get it home.
When Is the Best Time of Day to Buy a Rotisserie Chicken?
Deli chefs will take any unsold chickens from the warming case and use them to make chicken noodle soup and rotisserie chicken salad.
Do Stores Use Chickens That Are Close to Their Sell-By Date to Make Rotisserie Chickens?
What Do Labels Like Natural, Organic, and Raised Without Antibiotics Mean?
The two labels that do differentiate are raised without antibiotics and organic.
A no-antibiotics claim means that the chicken was never given antibiotics; however its only a sure bet when the claim is accompanied by the USDA Processed Verified shield or USDA Organic seal on the package. These drugs are often given to food animals to prevent disease, but such use contributes to the public health problem of antibiotic resistance, which is when the drugs become less effective at killing the bacteria that cause illness.
In addition to being raised without antibiotics, organic chickens ate organic-certified feed and were raised in living conditions that accommodated their health and natural behaviorsmeaning, they werent continually confined in small cages, and they got access to the outdoors, shade, shelter, fresh air, clean water, and direct sunlight.
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How Long Can You Keep Rotisserie Chicken?
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A multidimensional background in lifestyle journalism, recipe development, and anthropology impels me to bring a human element to the coverage of home kitchen appliances. When I'm not researching dishwashers and blenders or poring over market reports, I'm likely immersed in a juicy crossword puzzle or trying (and failing) to love exercise. Find me on Facebook.