Cost of Convenience: Costco Rotisserie Chicken vs. Homemade Whole Roast Chicken

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.

The Verdict

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.

Comments

  1. The Costco chicken is definitely a sacred….cow… hereabouts! But once I started roasting our own I lost my taste for Costco and whatever they do to make it taste buttery. I suppose that’s the saline injection but I find buying our own birds on sale at $1/lb and roasting it is a little cheaper (we start with a 5+ lber) and tastier.

    It’s one of those times that even if it saved money buying from Costco, I prefer to roast it myself. Prep is incredibly easy and then I just let it roast away in the oven, adding veggies at the same time, like you. The only real cost was getting a new roasting pan since I wore out our cheap Target thing roasting 2-3 times a month.

  2. There are also other home options that are not quite the same as roasting, but involve less time. I often take a chicken directly out of the freezer and into the crockpot. Put it on low and come home in the evening to a fully cooked bird. This way we can buy in bulk from a local farmer that is not certified organic, but follows organic practices. We save money, time, and get better quality meat. Plus supporting a local business.

  3. along with the time, you’d want to take account of the discomfort (we try to avoid using our oven in the warmer summer months) and the energy (to run the oven for an hour).

    i like these food-and-money posts. keep ‘em coming!

  4. Tom Miller says:

    “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.” They don’t look too bad? Really??? What is natural about injecting a bird with all of the above crap? They inject for flavor and to increase the weight, so you are technically paying for the salt water brine solution. Modified Food Starch is from GMO corn, which has been shown to “possibly” cause cancer in lab rats. Sodium Phosphates have health issues as well, so I say no thank you to these birds, even though they are quite tasty. Remember they are formulated this way, making you want more and more of them. You are better off paying more to get a locally raised organic or not bird. The birds I get from a local farm taste way better than the commercially raised birds ever did. While the cost may be higher, my long term health benefits will be better, and my healthcare costs lower. My 2 cents. . .

  5. Something I read, and I’m sorry I can’t think of the source, said that proportionately you get more meat for a larger bird. Which sounds right given that rotisserie chickens I see look bony (I don’t buy at costco but the grocery store ones always seem to be around the 3-4 pound mark).
    This means another advantage of roasting your own is that you can buy a much bigger bird and a. get more meat which effectively lowers the price per pound and b. use it for more meals which effectively lowers the prep time if you consider it spread out over several days (of course, you could just roast two chickens at the same time I suppose).

  6. How much is it to “bake at 450 F for 45-60 minutes”. Would be nice to add that to the calculation plus increased AC usage if it’s hot outside. Though in winter your heating bill would be a tiny bit less due to the oven heating up the house. We cook our own chicken often and I like the chicken on the bottle variation which will make it the best chicken you’ve ever had.

  7. Mark Freeman says:

    We use the Ronco rotisserie oven. It make the best roasted chicken.

    I am going to try removing the wishbone as illustrated in the video next time I roast a chicken.

    I’m also going to plug in my kill-o-watt to see the electric usage.

  8. While I am all for saving a “buck, buck, buck,” at $4.99 per bird already cooked at Costco, my time and the energy required to make my own isn’t worth the payoff. Though I guess my “bottom” line gains a couple inches from the increased salt intake.

    One also needs to consider the extra cost associated with having the run the oven through a high-temperature cleaning (energy sucker) cycle after cooking a couple of these on your own.

  9. Running a stove for 1 hour @ 450F costs between $0.10 and $0.25, depending on where you live, the fuel source, and the type of stove. (not including depreciation :) )

    That’s cheaper than I initially guessed!

    From a variety of sources on the interwebs.

  10. Heres a question. Has anyone tried a Ronco Rotisserie?

  11. Deoxy, you may want to thaw that bird in the fridge for two or three days before sticking it in the crock pot. Reason being, the crock pot warms it up very slowly and that means the chicken sits in the “danger zone” for a long time which can let contaminates flourish. The meat shouldn’t sit between ~40 and 140 deg F for more than an hour.

  12. Take a chicken (better if locally raised). Take back bone out. Put some herbs/butter or dry rub. Grill it or in the oven. So much better than any Costco chicken. Not sure why folks say they have no time for cooking. Got time to watch those TV shows.

  13. I thought about this a few months when I went to Costco, however the cost of the raw chicken was higher than the cost of the already cooked rotisserie chicken. So it was a no-brainer. I will check again, but I question the cost listed for the price of the raw chicken.

  14. I actually have tried to roast my own chicken in the oven and it was disastrous! it was very dry. I have rosemary in my yard so I add that in there and the smell is divine.. just the taste…:).

    Not sure about Costco’s roasted chicken (have sam’s club membership instead) but the local supermarket’s roasted chicken has saved many a tired non-cooking nights for me.

  15. Buy the superb costco roast chicken and spend your cooking time preparing some interesting appetizers or side dishes.

    I’ll gladly cook chicken a different way, but if all I want is a roast chicken dinner I don’t see much savings in doing it myself even though I’m a good cook. The rotisserie cooking is a key, and I don’t have one of those.. Maybe a buck and then I have to run the 220v wall oven and then the air conditioner to take the heat back out of the house.

    Take the time to make scratch garlic mashed potatoes or roast beets or a really interesting stuffing, a nice green salad, etc.

  16. “The added ingredient list besides chicken doesn’t look too bad, with no preservatives or artificial flavors.” However, carrageenan is not exactly something to make you feel warm and cozy, as it has been linked with tumor growth and is not allowed to be fed to infants in Europe.

  17. This has been my go to recipe for ten years. I usually make the rub in sufficient quantity for about six birds. Hour and fifteen on the gas grill.

    http://www.weber.com/recipes/p.....an-chicken

    I don’t enjoy store bought any more. Only when we are desperate will we go that way.

    I’ll have to give your way a try though.

  18. John Cooper says:

    This is crazy. For a 3 lb chicken, doing it yourself saves a whopping 3*(1.67-1.29) = $1.14 (minus the cost of electricity + spices) and takes an hour!

    My time is worth far more than that.

  19. Making a chicken at home is certainly going to provide you with the best flavor. However, the price of a rotisserie chicken is very reasonable and the convenience factor is huge. We often buy multiple chickens at a time and cut up at least some of the meat and freeze it and then use the carcasses to make stock.

    http://costcocuisine.blogspot......worth.html

    This is a great strategy for us. We have chicken ready to go in the freezer for making other dishes later and this also provides us with high quality chicken stock.

    If you think the difference between rotisserie chickens and homemade chickens is big, the difference between store bought stock and homemade is absolutely huge.
    It is hard for me to overstate the value of using homemade stock when you use it in a recipe.

    So yes, if you really have a lot of time to make a chicken at home, go for it. But if you don’t buy the bird at the store and leverage its use.

  20. Sam Boulis says:

    Roasting a chicken is not a big deal. Bake it in the oven at 360 deg. I coat the chicken with wish bone Italian dressing,(repeat as needed), bake for at least one hour or until golden brown, that is the most delicious chicken you will ever taste!

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