Should You Buy Rotisserie Chicken?

by Anne Bennett on January 4, 2014


In January you are likely to experience long lines in two places — gyms and Weight Watcher meetings. This is to be expected, as we are all eager, once again, to resolve to eat better and move more in the new year.

New members are flocking to Weight Watchers and they have lots of questions about what to eat and what to avoid. Yesterday I was asked the following question: “Are rotisserie chickens bad for you? I’ve heard that they’re loaded with fat and preservatives and that you shouldn’t eat them, but they’re so convenient. Should I stop buying them?”

What? Abandon those big, fat juicy Costco chickens that cost only $4.99? Costco sells 60 million roasted chickens a year, and despite posting disappointing financial returns last October, the company refuses to increase the price. Their chickens are so popular, they even have their own Facebook page! You gotta love Costco.

Back to the chickens. Do they have a lot of added fat and preservatives? A lot of people think that they do, simply because Costco chickens taste better than birds prepared by rival retailers.

The answer, surprisingly, is no. They contain no added fat, preservatives, MSG, gluten, artificial flavors or colors. However — and this is a big however — they are brined before reaching Costco stores in a saline solution to ensure their juiciness after cooking.  The brine gives them superior flavor, but it adds about 460 mg. sodium per 3-ounce serving.

In other words, Costco chickens are salty birds. How salty? When I eat a Coscto chicken I know that I won’t be able to get my wedding ring on the next morning. You know the feeling.

Now this isn’t an anti-sodium rant. We all need sodium in order to live. According to the CDC , we need between 180 and 500 mg. per day to keep our bodies working properly. (That’s one measly 3-oz. serving of Costco chicken!)

The average American consumes far too much sodium — about 3,400 mg. per day. Medical guidelines suggest that we get no more than 2,300 mg. of sodium per day. You should get even less if you’re over 51 years of age, you’re African-American, you have high-blood pressure or you have kidney disease or diabetes — no more than 1,500 mg. per day.

Most of the sodium consumed by Americans is from processed or restaurant foods. Only a small amount comes from adding salt to the food we cook at home.

Bottom line: if you’re healthy (and young), go ahead and enjoy a Costco chicken every now and then. But your best bet is to roast your own chicken at home. It isn’t difficult. Here’s a famous and easy recipe from French Laundry chef Thomas Keller. Be sure to truss the bird because tying its legs together will help prevent the breast meat from overcooking.

If you can, buy an organic or free-range chicken and add a generous sprinkling of kosher salt before roasting. Don’t worry, you’ll end up with less sodium per serving than the Costco bird. And you will have succeeded at cooking one of the most basic, essential dishes of the home cook. What a great way to start 2014!


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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Jody G. January 5, 2014 at 10:21 am

Great advice, Anne, on Costco chicken and sodium. I had no idea.
And I loved the link to the recipe. I really liked how he injected the recipe with so much personality! Makes me want to read more of his stuff!

Brenda Clevenger January 5, 2014 at 11:22 am

Who knew, thanks for the investigative reporting Anne. I LOVE Costco and not cooking, but I also like fitting into my skinny jeans and rings so I’ll give cooking my own chicken a try. I’ve succeeded with Turkey, why not tackle the “other” bird.

Anne Bennett January 6, 2014 at 8:29 am

Judy, Your former Weight Watcher leader may have been persuasive, but she was not a cook. Chicken skin protects the meat from drying out. Much of the fat that is released by the skin ends up in the bottom of the roasting pan. The meat doesn’t “absorb” the fat. Cook with skin on and remove it before eating. That way you’ll get minimal fat and maximum texture and flavor. Life is short — eat good chicken.

Anne Bennett January 6, 2014 at 8:35 am

And here’s an excerpt from a CNN article on food myths. The myth? You should always remove chicken skin before eating.

“Truth: You can enjoy a skin-on chicken breast without blowing your sat-fat budget.
Half the pleasure of eating roast chicken comes from the gloriously crisp, brown skin that seems to melt in your mouth. Yet the skinless, boneless chicken breast — one of the more boring protein sources on Earth — became the health-conscious cook’s gold standard somewhere along the way. Fortunately, the long-standing command to strip poultry of its skin before eating doesn’t hold up under a nutritional microscope. A 12-ounce bone-in, skin-on chicken breast half contains just 2.5 grams of saturated fat and 50 calories more than its similarly portioned skinless counterpart.
Good news: You can splurge with skin-on chicken from time to time.
A chicken breast will always be lean — skinned or not. What’s more, 55 percent of the fat in the chicken skin is monounsaturated — the heart-healthy kind you want more of, says Amy Myrdal Miller, program director for Strategic Initiatives at The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone.”

Richard November 9, 2014 at 10:21 am

We have bought the rot chickens, the problem is they are not cooked all the way, bloody legs second joint, red and not fit to eat. I got sick eating that red meat. I say keep them on longer so as to get the meat done or slit the second joint. We are not the only ones we have talked about this.We buy so as to get home and no cooking. Now when we get one we take the second joint and legs off and toss them, and eat only the breast. what a waste if you like dark meat. Wisconsin or Hawaii same. this defeats the purpose of a great deal and hardy meal.

henry November 28, 2016 at 10:15 pm

Good information as stated knowledge is power, I bought a chicken at Walmart it tasted like a salt bath and not cooked all the way thru, same kind at Market Basket, but fully cooked , no salt taste, I was curious about fat content, as I do not consume the skin but ate more than 3 OZ,( not aware of the fat ) very conscious about weight, I do not want to look like the Michelin man , your article is very interesting, I switched to Ocean caught Red Salmon using the scale on the can for portion size. Thanks for the information

Luke Devarapalli August 21, 2017 at 7:44 pm

Btw, they put msg on rotisserie chicken, that’s why the skin tastes good!

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