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Rotisserie chicken is a chicken dish that is cooked on a rotisserie, using direct heat in which the chicken is placed next to the heat source. Electric- or gas-powered heating elements may be used, which use adjustable infrared heat. These types of rotisseries have proven quite functional for cooking rotisserie-style chicken. Leftover rotisserie chicken may be used in a variety of dishes, such as soup, chicken salad, and sandwiches.
In the United States, ready-to-eat rotisserie chickens were available in supermarkets and some butcher shops during much of the twentieth century. However, they did not become a widely available option for consumers until the early 1990s, when Boston Market helped popularize the selling of packaged rotisserie chickens.
Rotisserie chickens are now highly popular. In 2010, 600 million rotisserie-cooked chickens were purchased by consumers "in U.S. supermarkets, club stores and similar retail outlets." In 2018, over 900 million rotisserie chickens were sold by foodservice outlets and retail stores.
Rotisserie chickens are often lower in price than raw whole chickens. Two explanations are often given to justify this phenomenon. First, some grocery stores may use rotisserie chickens as loss leaders to bring shoppers into the store. The logic behind this theory is that if customers come to a store for its rotisseries chickens, they will buy other products while they are there, too. Second, rotisserie chickens are often made with poultry that is about to reach its "best by" date. By cooking and selling the chickens, the grocery stores are able to recoup some of their expenditures.
In the U.S., chickens used for rotisserie cooking may be injected with brine to retain moisture. Additional ingredients may be used to add flavor and to brown the chicken, such as oleoresin, yeast extract, sodium tripolyphosphate, and natural flavorings.
Costco and rotisserie chickens
Costco is one of the largest producers and vendors of rotisserie chickens in the United States, with one commentator describing it as "the undisputed king of rotisserie chickens." In 2017, Costco sold approximately 87 million rotisserie chickens in the United States. Costco's CFO, Richard Galanti, has repeatedly rebuffed suggestions that Costco might eventually increase the cost of its chickens above $4.99, which has been the price of a Costco rotisserie chicken since 2009.
In 2017, Costco broke ground on a new 414-acre facility in Fremont, Nebraska that would include a hatchery, feed mill, and processing plant. The facility – which is expected to produce around 100 million chickens per year, or roughly 40 percent of Costco's needs – has been reported as costing between $275 million and $400 million. The plant is scheduled to open in September 2019.
In other cultures
Swiss Chalet, a Canadian chain of casual dining restaurants, owns a cable channel that exclusively airs content related to rotisserie chicken, "twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week." It typically airs chickens rotating on a rotisserie. Occasionally, a dancing man appears wearing a costume that "look like a container of Swiss Chalet's dipping sauce."
Napoleon Bonaparte was a frequent consumer of rotisserie chickens.
A Costco rotisserie chicken
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The consumer demand for rotisserie chicken isn’t exactly new. Chains like A&P “always had chickens rotating on rotisseries in large commercial ovens with big glass windows,” writes B. Baker, an Eater reader who grew up in the 1960s and remembers that “customers would come in expressly to pick up a chicken for dinner; there were no Boston Markets, Costcos, or even (in our area) KFCs to purchase a prepared bird.” But according to the Journal, it wasn’t until the ’90s that national chains like Costco and Whole Foods started buying birds specifically to put them on a spit and sell them for less than fresh broilers, turning rotisserie chicken into a lucrative loss leader.
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Even if they're used as loss leaders, at, say, $5 apiece, that's still a decent chunk of change. But the assumption is that many shoppers will also pick up a salad, a side dish, and maybe a bottle of wine.
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