The Great Rotisserie Chicken Taste-Off
For versatility, flavor and sheer convenience, it's hard to beat the grocery-store rotisserie chicken.
Supermarkets around the state fire up the rotisserie ovens early in the morning and keep a steady stream of birds flocking to the heat-lamped racks through the day, waiting for hungry shoppers to walk by, get a whiff of the savory aroma and grab one (or more) to take home for dinner.
Many families have their go-to bird, but in many cases that's a function of which supermarket they shop most often. But if price and location is no object, which supermarket chicken flies above the rest?
We decided to put them to the test.
We recently bought two rotisserie chickens from each of the Manchester-Nashua area's big three supermarket chains. (No, we didn't include wholesale clubs or local markets — maybe we'll do it again!) We invited the newsroom crew here at the Union Leader — gastronomes all — to do a blind taste test and rate each store's bird.
We chose the freshest birds we could find when we went shopping between 3:30 and 4:30 p.m. on a Wednesday afternoon. After we posed the chickens for a photo shoot, we let the hungry tasters have at them around 5:30.
To ensure impartiality, we removed all the chickens from their packaging and labeled them as birds A, B and C before the tasters were allowed in.
We chose one bird from each store as the "model" for our photo shoot and carved up the second. The tasters viewed each model chicken and sampled from an adjacent tray containing the model bird's cut-up compatriot.
The only rules were that in order to eat, each taster had to vote. Comments and observations were optional, but as it turned out, they were plentiful.
Check out the test results below:
The best bird: Shaw's
First: 10 Second: 2 Third: 3
Packaging time: 1:30 p.m. (4 hours prior to tasting)
Overview: Shaw's chickens, packed in domed plastic containers, easily made the best presentation. Nicely browned all over, the birds were plump and juicy and looked like they had just come out of the oven.
The Shaw's birds were the most expensive, but our tasters thought they were flavorful and moist -; even though they had been on the store rack longest of the three.
Some of the comments:
"Great flavor all the way through."
"Juicy; hearty chicken flavor."
"Looks plump & crispy. Juicy. Not as much spice/flavor as the outside promised."
"Seasoning could be tasted all the way through."
"This one had the tastiest spices on the skin."
No. 2: Market Basket
First: 4 Second: 10 Third: 1
Packaging time: 4:20 p.m. (70 minutes prior to tasting)
Overview: Had Market Basket's birds been packaged in a container like Shaw's, rather than being tightly swaddled in plastic wrap, they might have presented as well as the first-place winners. As it was, they were just about as plump and browned; they were just too tightly trussed.
We rated Market Basket's birds close enough to Shaw's in flavor and appearance to make them the winner if you consider the price difference.
Some of the comments:
"Good -; just misses being best."
"Salty -; bird tasted as if it had been brined."
"Second visually. Good taste; moist and flavorful. Best of the three."
"Well seasoned, tender and juicy -; but not as much as Bird A (Shaw's)."
"Best even color, except burned wingtips."
"Close between this one and Bird B (Hannaford), but this one had the best flavor of the three."
No. 3: Hannaford
First: 0 Second: 5 Third: 10
Price: $4.99 (on sale, regular $5.49)
Packaging time: 3:30 p.m. (2 hours prior to tasting)
Overview: Hannaford's birds were also packaged in domed plastic containers, but the packaging didn't help their presentation. These were the smallest chickens, thin and pale by comparison to their competitors.
Hannaford has several flavors of rotisserie chicken; for the record, we chose the "Plain," assuming that to be the standard and thus most comparable. In retrospect, "Seasoned" may have been the better comparison.
Some of the comments:
"Least appealing visually. Small. Moist, but as bland as it looked."
"A bit dry ... Not brown enough."
"Least visually appealing, but not bad."
"Good rotisserie flavor."
"Pale color; dark meat moist; good flavor."
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