Few dinner items combine the cost-effectiveness, ease, and carnal pleasures of the rotisserie chicken. Knockout versions exist locally at restaurants like Brasa and Holy Land, sure, but realistically you’re grabbing that twirled bird as you approach the grocery store cash register, returning home like a modern hunter-gatherer hero toting a pipin’-hot plastic clamshell.
As Racket’s Spinning Poultry Action Desk discovered, not all grocery store cluckers are equal. Our quest to find the best rotisserie chicken in town saw us popping drummies, slicing thighs, and nibbling wings from Eagan to Seward, all in pursuit of the slimy and/or savory truths mainstream media outlets don’t think you can handle.
Don’t let the lower-ranking entrants ruin your appetite: The expertly seasoned, fall-apart-tender chickens perched at the top of this list didn’t die in vain.
Weight: 2 lbs.
Look at that fucking thing! It’s like if someone drowned E.T.; it’s like if Gollum’s wet head rolled onto your dinner plate; it’s like if the world’s saddest chicken, wrinkled from too much water and heat exposure, slipped and fell on its back in the shower. Hy-Vee’s chicken, which left the oven 4.5 hours before we picked it up, arrived swimming in an inch of clear liquid. The shriveled skin looked and felt like damp paper, with pleasant yet uneven spices—brown sugar, Fat Boy all-purpose rub—giving way to sopping-wet dark meat that packed more aftertaste than actual taste. The mostly dry breast provided the opposite polarity. In both cases, the deeper you dug the meat got pinker and veinier; the wings, easily the largest we encountered, were effectively all wiggly purple lines. Adding indignity to inedibility, this was the lone chicken left to wallow in its own juices upside-down. The packaging touts that its contents include “quality Tyson chicken,” food from an evil multinational corporation with little regard for its workers and its chickens.
Weight: 1.81 lbs.
Target set this poor fella out at 9 a.m. We picked it up at 6 p.m.! Heatlamped to high hell and back, the thing never stood a chance. Any brown sugar, onion, molasses, and paprika once spread over this visually pleasing chicken had since sweated off, resulting in yet another carcass wading in its plastic tray. Flavor-wise, there wasn’t much of anything—seasoning or chicken. It’s almost remarkable how zero taste came from the mushy thighs and dry breasts, though the parts summing this featureless whole wouldn’t be objectionable if used for soups or chilis (fingers-crossed). The product is eligible for Target’s generous 365-day return policy, meaning one could concoct a nasty science experiment and/or smelly artistic statement.
7. Lakewinds Food Co-op
Weight: .75 lbs. (half-bird)
A bummer of a bird, it pains us to say. This Richfield co-op was out of its classic rotisserie chicken when we arrived, so we broke the rules and grabbed half a Cajun chicken. And no ordinary chicken was this. Our fine feathered fellow came with an impressive pedigree, raised on Kadejan Farms like all the best free-range chickens in thoughtful markets. This is the kind of chicken you could look at yourself in the mirror with pride while you devour it. The presentation is unfussily attractive—it looks like a chicken that’s ready to be eaten. But it’s too delicately seasoned, as though you’re supposed to pause after a mouthful and say, “Ah, do I detect a hint of thyme?” And as much as we hate to disparage a fellow Minnesotan, the meat itself was as dry as… you know, what? The meat didn’t have enough character to deserve a full metaphor. This dry chicken was as dry as dry chicken.
Weight: 1.81 lbs.
Like a Walmart itself, this rotisserie chicken isn’t much to look at, and we don’t even want to think of the hard life this unfortunate bird probably led. Let’s be real: This is food prepared by people who don’t much care what they’re cooking for people who don’t much care what they’re eating. But it costs less than five bucks, the skin is a respectably crispy brown, and the meat is moist and flavorful throughout. Think about that flavor too much and you might wonder if the taste is a little too uniform, like it’s practically chicken-flavored in some insidious fashion. Still, for a rotisserie chicken that gets bad-mouthed online a bunch, largely because its quality is unpredictable (people complain that it’s over- and under-cooked, that it’s over- and under-seasoned), we were surprised how satisfying it was.
Weight: Not listed, but reportedly “at least 3 lbs.”
Pokémon isn’t the only franchise with legendary birds. Costco’s famed $4.99 rotisserie chicken is the stuff of myth—a loss-leader so popular that it costs the company between $30 and $40 million a year. The big-box store sold more than a million in 2020 (and if you’re thinking, “Boy, I sure hope that low, low price point doesn’t come at the expense of animal welfare,” we’ve got some bad news.) You won’t find a cheaper bird anywhere, provided you already have a Costco membership. But could you find a tastier one? Almost certainly. This bird was tender, juicy, and altogether kind of flavorless. Despite reports that the Kirkland Signature brand of bird gets a saline injection, bumping its sodium content to 460 milligrams, ours wasn’t salty at all. No sinfully savory skin, just bite after bite of factory-farmed beast. We ended up tossing ours in a chef’s salad with bacon to get the saltiness we so desperately craved.
Weight: 1.75 lbs.
The Lund’s classic rotisserie chicken is one picturesque bird, the sort that makes lesser rotisserie chickens insecurely discuss him with their therapists, that Norman Rockwell might have painted if he’d lived in the age of prepared foods, that you might imagine the only other survivor of a shipwreck transforming into if you were trapped and starving on a rowboat at sea. The skin is just on the brown side, which adds to the visual appeal (though if your tastes run crispier, you’ll be a little disappointed). And the beauty is not just skin deep. Once you puncture that golden skin you’ll get forkful after forkful of flawless white breast, all perfectly juicy and fully flavorful. The only drawback: It’s a touch unseasoned. So while it tastes like good chicken, it tastes like nothing but chicken. Maybe a little too classic.
3. Seward Community Co-op
Weight: 2 lbs.
At $13.99, Seward Co-op’s rotisserie chicken was far and away the priciest one we tried. It’s also the only one that was seasoned with rosemary, sage, thyme, and cracked black pepper. An unfair advantage? Perhaps… but an advantage nonetheless. While most chickens on this list would be perfectly serviceable as the pre-cooked bird base for a recipe—buffalo chicken dip, say, or tortilla soup—this one, from Kadejan Farms in Glenwood, Minnesota, is prepared so well it handily stands on its own. Simply slice it up, slap it on a plate, and dig in. The seasoned skin will have you going back for bite after bite, and you might find yourself sneaking to the fridge a few hours after dinner to pull a few more morsels off the bone. Our take? If you want a truly easy, truly tasty pre-made dinner for two, get Seward’s half-bird, priced a little lower at $7.99, and have a baked potato on the side. Tough to beat on a weeknight.
Weight: 1.87 lbs.
This right here is just a solid, solid prepared bird. Absolute B-pluses and A’s across the board. Affordable? Yes. Flavorful? Check. Does it come with a cute little cardboard handle for easy carrying? You bet your ass it does. And the drumsticks: peak drumstick. Like, maybe “velvety” isn’t a word you want to associate with your rotisserie chicken, but these drummies were soft, smooth, melt-in-the-mouth chicken bits. This badboy right here is what we expected from a rotisserie chicken as highly rated as Costco’s—turns out, for two bucks more, you can get it at your neighborhood grocery store. The only membership required? Becoming a card-carrying member of the Cub cluck club, baby.
1. Kowalski’s Market
Weight: 2.25 lbs.
“The Best Bird in Town,” indeed. Kowalski’s cockiness is indeed earned with this fall-off-the-bone masterpiece made from Gerber’s Amish Farms chickens. The oven-kissed skin is coated with the high-end grocer’s proprietary rub, and those notes seep deep into the juicy tenderness below. Exploding with flavor and expertly cooked, the chicken we greedily scarfed was placed out at 5 p.m.—less than an hour before we arrived. At 2-plus pounds, Kowalski’s bird is the plumpest on this list (unless you count Costco’s unconfirmed heft), yielding towering piles of premium protein that taste almost as good cold the morning after. If one must find fault, the wings are always a bit scrawny and overcooked. No matter, though, as this deserving chicken king is off-the-charts by every other metric.