Learn how to choose the juiciest rotisserie chicken at the grocery store with this shopping guide. You’ll never bring home a dry, underwhelming chicken for dinner again!
Grocery Store Rotisserie Chicken
When I posted my favorite Costco grocery staples on Instagram, so many readers wrote in to say that they never leave the club without a rotisserie chicken in hand. I buy them too, not only at Costco (where they sell upwards of 60 million a year), but at local grocery stores and farm markets.
A well-prepared rotisserie chicken is delicious and can be a real timesaver. It’s an easy dinner on a busy night and can save you prep work for recipes that call for pre-cooked chicken, like pot pies, enchiladas, and casseroles.
While this post is about buying the best rotisserie chicken at the market, nothing beats the crisp, buttery skin and juicy meat when roasting a chicken at home. Try my favorite Roasted Chicken recipe for a perfect bird, every time.
The problem with rotisserie chickens is that depending on where you buy them, it’s easy for them to fall short of the “well-prepared” mark. I’m sure we’ve all met one (or more) that’s been dry, flabby, and infused with the taste of disappointment.
During the chicken discussion on the ‘gram, I joked (but wasn’t really joking) that I take my rotisserie chicken pickin’ seriously. When I mentioned that I have methods for choosing the best and juiciest birds at the market, a flurry of messages followed.
“I NEED TO KNOW your secrets!” “Tell me how to pick a bird that isn’t dry!” “Teach me the ways of chicken pickin’!”
So, by reader request, I thought we’d have a little fun on the blog with this guide. Much of my method probably goes without saying, but you might pick up a tip or two you hadn’t thought of before. Let’s get to picking a chicken!
To Flavor or Not to Flavor
First of all, I almost always buy plain rotisserie chickens. Some places do get their seasoned chickens right (Lemon-Garlic, BBQ, etc.), but I’ve found many to be too salty or assertively-flavored. A simply-seasoned plain chicken is also more versatile for using leftovers.
If sodium content is a factor for your family, you’ll want to read the labels closely, even on plain birds. Many are injected with a brining solution to help keep them juicy. If this is a concern, look for organic, all-natural rotisserie chickens, and scan the nutrition facts and ingredients.
For the Juiciest Rotisserie Chicken: Scope the Timer
This is a no-brainer, but if you can snag a bird directly off of the rotisserie instead of from a heated display case, you and your dinner will be golden. Most places roast the chickens in a visible area, so it’s easy to take a peek at the timer.
I used to try to be cool about this, scoping the countdown from behind my sunglasses to see when the next batch would emerge. In truth, everyone who works at the store knows what I’m doing, and undercover ops aren’t necessary.
After I get a handle on how much time I have, I plan my shopping accordingly. Again, it goes without saying, but to bring the juiciest rotisserie chicken home, you want it to be the last thing in your cart before you check out. It doesn’t need to take a tour of the store with you!
When the chickens are ready, I simply ask nicely if I can have that chicken right there that’s in the process of being boxed. No one has ever said no, even when there have been a supply of chickens sitting in the warming tray.
Once I have my freshest-possible-chicken in hand, I head directly to the checkout and bring the bird home in an insulated bag to keep it warm. (This bag is my favorite for both hot and cold grocery transport. It holds so much!)
Does your grocery store roast their chickens in a closed kitchen? Ask an employee when the next batch will be ready. Rotisserie chickens are usually handled by the deli or prepared foods departments.
Buying a Chicken From the Heated Display Case
When a just-out-of-the-roaster chicken isn’t in the cards, you’ll have to shop from the chickens available under a lamp or in a warmer. Unfortunately, the longer they sit in these heated environments, usually in domed plastic containers, the more prone they are to drying out.
Here’s how to find the juiciest birds in the bunch.
1. Look for a Timestamp
Many stores will stamp the time the chickens finished cooking on the packages, so they know when they have to pull them from the warmer for food safety (2-4 hours, depending on the store). Use this info to your advantage to find the birds from the most recent roasting.
What happens to chickens that are pulled from the warmer after the window? Many stores use the meat in refrigerated prepared foods, like salads, soups, and pasta dishes. Some also sell packages of shredded breast meat for meal prep, and heat-and-eat chicken legs.
2. Compare Weights
When I’m choosing between two chickens, I’ll almost always choose the container that feels heavier. The weightier chicken is typically juicier and hasn’t dried out.
I also tend to hone in on chickens that fill up the entire container. If the legs touch the sides and the breast just about reaches the top of the cover, it’s a strong signal that it’s plump enough to be juicy.
3. Appearance is Everything
The freshest and best rotisserie chickens will look plump and evenly golden. Pay close attention to the texture of the skin. There shouldn’t be a lot of slack, and any wrinkling should be slight.
If the skin looks quite shriveled, the chicken has probably been sitting in the warmer for a while. That’s a one-way ticket to dry meat.
4. Pay attention to the legs
Most of the time, when the chicken leg has split, and I can see the top of the drumstick/thigh joint exposed, it’s a clue that the meat is going to be dry. Just like the breast, the drumstick should look plump and intact, with taut skin.
A caveat on this one: rotisserie chickens are known for being fall-part tender. There have been a few times that I’ve taken a chicken with a little bit of splitting in the leg that passed all of the other marks, and it was fine.
5. Pooled Juice = Dry Meat
Check to see how much juice is hanging out in the bottom of the container. You’ll see a little with almost all rotisserie chickens, but if it’s heavily pooled, that’s a hard pass. Juice in the container simply isn’t in the meat anymore.
Rotisserie Chicken Recipes: Ways to Use Your Bird
You’ve picked the best! Here are a few ideas for recipes you can make with the leftovers.
- Cranberry Chicken Salad
- Chinese Chicken Salad
- Harvest Cobb Salad
- Tetrazzini (written for leftover turkey but works just as well with rotisserie chicken)