Roasted grocery store chickens provide a quick, convenient and reasonably priced way to feed a family during the hectic moments between the end of the school day and after-school activities.
I tried five roasted chickens from grocery stores throughout Clark County and evaluated them on value and flavor. None of the birds had the crisp skin that chefs and home cooks obsessively seek. When hot chickens are placed in containers, the moisture in the container destroys the crispy skin. Rosauers chicken had a crispy skin because the container was vented, but the loss of moisture led to dry meat.
Online recipes claim that the skin can be crisped by putting the chicken in an air fryer for 5-6 minutes. I didn’t test this method, but I think it’s worth exploring. One of the best things about chicken is that it’s covered in thin fatty skin that transforms into the crisp saltiness of a potato chip when hit with high heat and a generous dose of seasoning.
I sampled the chickens within 30 minutes of their purchase and rated the skin, dark meat and white meat on a 1-5 scale — 1 being the worst and 5 being excellent. Chickens from Costco and Chuck’s tied for first place.
Costco’s roasted bird easily won because it was significantly larger and cheaper ($4.99 for 3 pounds) than the other chickens. It also has plump, tender, well-seasoned meat. Chuck’s chicken tied for first. The bird was smaller and pricier, but tasted as good as Costco’s. Also, customers need to buy an annual membership ($60) to go to Costco, but Chuck’s doesn’t require a fee to enter the store.
I reached out to the public relations departments at the stores where I purchased chickens. Kroger (which owns Fred Meyer) returned my email and asked what I was interested in finding out, but didn’t provide answers to my questions about sourcing and preparation of these birds. Costco, Chuck’s and Rosauers didn’t respond to my inquiry.
New Seasons replied that the store sells Mary’s Free Range Chickens from Pitman Family Farms, which provides details about its animal-welfare practices on its website.
A couple of stores (Fred Meyer and Chuck’s) had packaging that named the companies that produced the chickens but didn’t provide any real information about animal welfare or environmental sustainability. Poultry processing in the United States is overwhelmingly controlled by a handful of companies that have faced criticism on these issues. If any of them was doing something special that distinguished them in these areas, I think they would use that information to help sell their products.
Two shareholders sued Costco, accusing the company of violating animal-welfare laws in its quest for cheap birds. Nonetheless, my first choice for a roasted chicken will still be Costco given the limited information available to consumers about practices in the poultry industry. It’s difficult to make a truly informed decision. Costco’s roasted chickens are large, delicious, inexpensive and something I can grab while buying other groceries and home goods.
It took decades to develop the conventional market for chickens in the United States. It will take at least as long to create a local food system that provides the value and convenience of a roasted grocery store chicken. I look forward to the day that my neighborhood grocery store offers roasted chickens from Clark County farms that I can visit to see that they treat their animals, their workers and their land with care. I’d even be willing to pay more. Until then, I’ll rely on a $4.99 roasted chicken to get a quick and inexpensive dinner on the table.