We get Letters v.10 – Rotisserie Chicken

I received and e-mail from across the pond which I wanted to touch upon today –

Hi Kate,

Love your blog. Quick intro — I’m an American living in London, the land of endless pork sausages, marmite, scotch eggs. UGH. What I wouldn’t give for a tomato that actually tastes like a tomato or a piece of fruit that doesn’t mold before it ripens.

At any rate, I was wondering if you know if what the deal is with Rotisserie Chicken… Is it really just a fresh chicken that has been in a Rotisserie with no added preservatives?

I get a little scared by the bag that says “you must consume on day of purchase,” as that makes me think there may be something more to it than chicken. I also love making chicken stock from the carcass, as it is already and the roasted flavour comes through quite nicely.

I’ve actually asked the Rotisserie guys behind the counter and they don’t seem to understand my question and can’t explain why it should be consumed the same day. My fingers are crossed that it really is fresh chicken. I’m also curious what they slather on the skin to make it all golden brown – hoping it’s not crisco.

If you ever needs feet on the ground in London, please let me know.


Hmmm. Langley, there’s an inherent problem in answering your question, because there’s no universal standard in which one person, company or even supermarket can go about preparing rotisserie chicken. So I have to speak in very general terms. Keep this in mind. What I touch upon here may or may not apply to your specific situation.

Ah, rotisserie chicken – friend of the bachelors and convenience cooks everywhere. Much like Langley goes about making stock from the carcass, people everywhere have discovered that one can stretch their budget by turning this 5 dollar bird into leftovers over several days.

Rotisserie is a style of roasting where meat is skewered and revolves over a flame or spit. The rotation slowly cooks the meat in its own juices and allows easy access for continuous basting. It is barbecue in the most technical sense of term. The continuous basting allows for the meat to remain juicy, and the slow cooking helps draw out the flavor of the meat. But according to the San Francisco Chronicle, almost no two takeout chickens are cooked the same way. Most spend an hour or two on a rotisserie, but some are oven-roasted, others grilled. Seasonings vary, from just salt and pepper to overenthusiastic sprinklings of herbs.

It seems as if it’s a win/win situation. The consumers get a moist roasted chicken at a low cost, and the stores can sell whole chickens that had lost some of it’s appeal back in the 70′s and 80′s when people started buying parts of the chickens instead of the whole.

So why the lifespan of “one day” on your bag Langley? Quality control. More specifically, health concerns. As on any perishable meat, bacteria can multiply rapidly at temperatures between 40° F and 140° F. Even after killing bacteria by cooking chicken at or above 160° F, they have this tendancy to come back and set upon meat that’s hanging out under the heat lamps that can’t quite reach the 140° F benchmark. Then there’s amount of time the chicken sits beneath the lamp. Costco stores pull chickens after two hours if they’re not sold; Safeway officials say 4 hours. All it takes is one heat lamp to not work properly enough.

(Side note: Any chicken not sold is recycled into other deli foods like salads, or given away, which more than makes me think twice about purchasing chicken salad products at their deli.)

Of course you could always nuke your chicken in your microwave when you got your chicken back home. And if you’re using the chicken in stock, you’d destroy the bacteria once you brought your stock above 160 degrees.

To answer your question Langley, the date is on their for your health. We all know of the various bacteria which enjoys chicken. Supermarkets do as well. They’re looking out for your physical health and their financial by having that date on your bag.

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