Rotisserie Economics

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Over at Priceonomics, Karin Klein asks, "Are rotisserie chickens a bargain?" Her exhaustive analysis of price alone shows them not to be a bargain compared to raw chicken, at least on a pound-for-pound basis:

Rotisserie chicken might not be a huge discount for the consumer, or a loss leader for the store, but it is a pretty good deal for takeout food. It's certainly the winner if home cooks view their cooking time as money spent. When a cook's time is included as labor costs in the above calculation, whole chickens become more expensive than rotisserie options.
That may be true, but the story about time savings is trickier than that, and often includes more than just time spent in the kitchen, as I once noted regarding frozen, pre-cooked meals:
...I have often gotten friendly advice on how to save time cooking, only to see immediately that it would actually cost me time, money, or both, compared to what I usually do. Here's an example I'd hoped would work, but which didn't: There are some really good things out there, like frozen pulled pork, that can make good meals quickly -- but they make just one meal, and even the minimal preparation (starting with defrosting) alone takes far longer than just microwaving the complete meals I make. (I also have some quick meals in my repertoire that take about the same amount of time to prepare -- and yield leftovers). I'd had the pulled pork and liked it, so I tried it anyway. It was tasty, but I was right about it not saving any time.
For rotisserie chicken, which I also like, the story is similar. making a special trip to the store for it ends up costing me time, unless I was planning to go anyway and the trip is shortly before time for a family meal. (This is rare enough that the option rarely occurs to me.) Even then, saving time in the kitchen would require me either to already have leftovers on hand or buy a second chicken. So, at least the way I do things, a rotisserie chicken might be a convenient way to get in some variety during the week. Only if I cooked every night, or most nights, would I realize a time savings with the purchase of a single bird.

-- CAV


Dinwar said...

My wife and I love these pre-cooked chickens. We have small children, and can only shop once a week for groceries, so it takes a while. We buy the chicken and eat a portion of it (along with peas or leftover sides) for lunch. It's a fast, easy meal that the kids enjoy and which we can prepare even when dealing with toddlers right before naptime.

Then, the next day, we put it in a slow-cooker, along with a liquid (stock, wine, or something--water works too), vegetables, herbs, etc., and make chicken soup. It simmers all day, allowing the nutrients from the bones and connective tissue to seep into the broth. When we get home from work we boil some pasta and we have home-made chicken soup that's flavorful, rich, and very nutrient-dense. Plus, the soup will supply me with lunch at work for a few days, or a second supper for the family. Three meals out of one bird; not a bad ROI!

The one challenge is the bones. It takes a bit of effort to remove the bones from the meat. What we've found works in terms of keeping bones out of the soup is to wrap the chicken in cheese cloth or some other containment system, then pull it out and debone it, then put the meat back in. If it was for adults I wouldn't be as concerned (there are health benefits to eating bones), but with young children we don't risk it.

But I agree that it all goes back to how you use it. If you only get one meal out of it, and have to make a special trip for it, these pre-cooked chickens aren't a good option. If you get multiple meals out of it (plus a bit of prep time) and use it as a planned part of your schedule, they're fantastic.

Gus Van Horn said...


Thanks for describing how you get a soup out of the leftovers without having to worry about the bones. That's something I hadn't heard of and could put to use.