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Advice | How to use rotisserie chicken as a shortcut to easy weeknight dinners

School is back in session, and for many families the nightly dinner rush has gotten even more, well, rushed. Meal prep on the weekends is great if you can squeeze in the time between all your other obligations and activities. Still, it’s not always going to happen, even with the best of intentions. There’s takeout and ready-made meals, but if you’re mindful of price and nutrition, they’re not an everyday solution.

So what about something in-between? That’s where the ubiquitous rotisserie chicken comes in. You’ll find them at almost any grocery store, warm and full of potential for feeding your entire family at a fairly reasonable price.

Shoppers agree. The National Chicken Council estimates that 1 billion rotisserie chickens are sold in the United States each year. (Last year, a Philadelphia man ate 40 in 40 days by himself!)

To inspire you and help you get dinner on the table faster, my colleagues and I have developed a few new recipes using rotisserie chicken. You’ll find those here, as well as a few back-pocket tips for making the most of these supermarket staples.

What’s the best rotisserie chicken? We tried 11 grocery-store birds.

Buy the chickens at their freshest

“Supermarkets cook fresh rotisserie chickens every two to four hours from 8 or 9 a.m. until about 4 to 6 p.m.,” Perry Santanachote wrote for Consumer Reports. The best selection is usually at peak evening hours, Anne-Marie Roerink, founder of the grocery market research firm 210 Analytics, told Santanachote. Some stores offer a guaranteed hot chicken during those hours, and if they’re not available, you may be able to receive a free one on your next visit. If you want to know when the chicken was prepared, look for a time stamp on the package, or inquire at the deli counter.

Rotisserie chickens may already be cheaper than buying a whole, raw bird, though they do tend to be smaller. To get more bang for your buck, pay attention to store circulators or the loyalty app on your phone, where you may need to clip the coupon to get the discounted price. Consider buying an extra chicken and freezing the meat to use in the next month or so. While not everyone loves the texture of defrosted chicken on its own, it’s still a great addition to soups, stews, pot pies and other dishes where it melds with other ingredients. Case in point: My Thai-Style Chicken Curry.

Pay attention to added ingredients

Rotisserie chickens are typically injected with a solution to enhance moisture and flavor. The ingredients may include sugar and sodium, as well as natural flavors, gums and carrageenan, a common food additive made from red seaweed. Read the label to see what may have been added to the chicken you’re buying, or follow up with the store’s deli counter. To best assess the taste and texture of the chicken before you use it in a dish, try it at room temperature, former Washington Post staffer Bonnie Benwick recommended. (If you are breaking down the chicken when you arrive home, that’s an ideal time to sample.)

Know what flavor you’re grabbing

In addition to plain rotisserie chicken, the supermarket might sell other flavors, including lemon-pepper or rosemary-garlic. Be sure to buy the correct one, especially if a recipe has its own particular flavor profile, as in Aaron Hutcherson’s Barbecue Chicken Quesadillas. A regularly seasoned bird will be more multipurpose than some of the other options.

Pull the meat off the bones when you get home

While it’s a little extra work up front, the meat is much easier to work with while it’s warm. Plus, when it comes time to throw together quick meals on a weeknight, you’ll be a step ahead of the game.

Use the bones to make broth. Simmer the carcass with vegetable scraps in a pot on the stovetop, or use the Instant Pot for a faster, more hands-off process. If you’re not going to use the broth right away, go ahead and stash it in bags or deli containers in your freezer (just be sure to leave head space to account for expansion). Don’t have time to make the broth right away? You can freeze the carcass as well and use it straight from the freezer.

Most rotisserie chicken skin is unappealing once you get around to eating it, and many recipes don’t even make use of it. But that doesn’t mean you should throw it away. While you can certainly fry the skins in oil, as in this Chicken Soup With Benefits recipe, I got incredibly crisp results in the air fryer, no extra oil needed. The time may vary depending on the thickness of the skin and how you cut it (I preferred thin strips), but for me, the sweet spot was 7 to 8 minutes at 320 degrees. Use the crispy skin as a garnish on casseroles or pasta, eat out of hand like chips or use to scoop up a nice dip.

How long is rotisserie chicken good for?

The USDA recommends that cooked chicken be used or frozen within four days. For the best flavor, use frozen cooked chicken within four months.

You can always roast your own chicken

Any time you see a recipe that calls for rotisserie chicken, you can, of course, substitute a bird you cook yourself. May I suggest this Basic Roast Chicken? Because some store-bought birds are seasoned more heavily, or injected with the solutions mentioned above, you may need to tweak the salt in your finished dish if you’ve been more restrained when roasting the chicken.

Combine rotisserie chicken with other shortcut ingredients

Be extra efficient by thinking about how else you can streamline your cooking using more store-bought staples. In her Chicken and Black Bean Hand Pies, Ann Maloney combines the chopped meat with jarred salsa, canned beans and ready-made pie crusts for a fun and easy air-fryer meal (they can be baked in the oven as well). My curry recipe makes use of jarred curry paste and frozen vegetables, while Aaron’s quesadillas are great way to feature your favorite store-bought barbecue sauce. More possibilities: Make a quick pizza or calzone with store-bought dough. Create mini pot pies with phyllo or puff pastry. Snag some wrappers and coleslaw mix (cook it first!) for homemade egg rolls, which I’ve been making a lot of recently in the air fryer as well. The list goes on.

Recipes you can use rotisserie chicken with

Of course, we have plenty to suggest. Here’s a sampling of recipes that call for cooked chicken, arranged by category.

Chicken salad/salads with chicken

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