Ah, the famous Costco Rotisserie chicken. According to this WaPo series on supermarket rotisserie chickens, Costco sells over 50 million of them a year. You could make an entire cookbook with all the recipes online on how to stretch this bird into multiple meals… quesadillas, salads, soups, sandwiches, and more.
But can you do better on your own? I’m going to tread carefully here because I know the Costco Rotisserie Chicken is beloved by many. I’ve bought my fair share in the past, but these days we prefer to roast whole chickens ourself. Is it worth the extra effort? Does it save money? Let’s take a closer look.
Costco Seasoned Rotisserie Chicken
- Pre-cooked weight: At least 3 lbs, according to Costco.
- Cost: $4.99
- Unit cost: $1.67/lb.
- Ingredients: Whole chicken, water, seasonings (salt, sodium phosphate, modified food starch, potato dextrin, carrageenan, sugar, dextrose, spice extractives).
- Total cooking time including prep: None.
The added ingredient list besides chicken doesn’t look too bad, with no preservatives or artificial flavors. However, I would note that these chickens are “marinated” by injecting them with a saltwater solution with phosphates. That’s how they stay so juicy and tasty inside (and high in sodium). Other supermarket chains like Wegmans don’t do this to their chickens.
Homemade Roast Chicken
- Pre-cooked weight: 2-6 pounds, your choice
- Cost: Varies by weight
- Unit cost: $1-$2 per lb. ($2-$4 a lb. for organic). These numbers are based on local research and government data. Lower numbers are sale prices.
- Ingredients: Whole chicken, salt, pepper, fresh thyme from the yard (optional).
- Total cooking time including prep: ~1 hour.
The roast chicken recipe that we use is most closely based on this following recipe from chef Thomas Keller (French Laundry, Per Se). It is incredibly simple with no basting, no stuffing, no marinating required. Just chicken, salt, and pepper. Tasting it for the first time was a revelation about how good chicken can taste all by itself. (Mrs. MMB has also gotten quite excellent at making it just right.) Here is a text version of the recipe, and below is a YouTube video version that helps with illustrating trussing:
We do a few slight variations on this recipe. We let the chicken rest a little bit out of the fridge, but probably no longer than 20 minutes. We don’t bother to remove the wishbone. We do truss. We bake at 450 F for 45-60 minutes. We usually roast some sweet potatoes, regular potatoes, and carrots at the same time. We don’t add any butter or mustard afterward. A meat thermometer is useful for checking doneness.
According to the BLS, the national average price of a whole chicken is around $1.50 a pound. At Costco, the price for a Foster’s Farm whole chicken was $1.29 a pound. That’s 23% less than the $1.67/lb. for the rotisserie chicken. Supermarket chickens cost more, but their rotisserie chickens also run closer to $8 a bird. If you go organic, in my experience the price is double non-organic. We buy organic sometimes but usually don’t, although we do buy chickens not treated with saltwater “enhancing” solutions. Cooking yourself does take an extra hour or so, but most of that time is in the oven so you can multitask easily.
I’m not going to proclaim a winner here. Roasting a chicken yourself may be slightly cheaper with less additives, but it will take an extra hour. The Costco chicken is very convenient and still healthier than most fast food alternatives. However, my verdict is that everyone should at least roast their own chicken at least once. As with most cooking there are some small nuances that make the chicken perfect, but in general it is very simple with minimal prep work. Warning: rotisserie chicken may never taste as good again.