What's Going On with Costco's Rotisserie Chickens?

The wholesale giant is beloved for its tender, flavorful birds, but customers are saying something is off.



Costco slings a lot of rotisserie chickens. In 2022, they sold approximately 117 million, 11 million more than the year prior. The membership store is well known for its juicy birds, and many loyal customers flock there for the express purpose of picking one up along with other super-sized staples and seasonal items.

Store-prepared rotisserie chicken is a popular, cost-saving food convenience for consumers, since it comes cooked and seasoned and requires nothing more than a warm-up at home. The result is an easy weeknight dinner, whether it’s a plate of sliced chicken with mashed potatoes and glazed carrots, shredded chicken baked into a classic like chicken pot pie or chicken tetrazzini, or a delicious no-cook option like Chicken Chow Mein Salad or Ranch Chicken Tacos.

So What Is the Latest Costco Rotisserie Chicken Controversy?

But in recent weeks there’s been a buzz online about the flavor of Costco’s beloved rotisserie chicken. In a Reddit thread that now has more than 200 comments, user u/MillennialModernMan seemed to hit a nerve by asking, “What’s up with the rotisserie chicken lately?” In the post he writes of his recent Costco rotisserie purchase, “... it has a distinct chemical flavor to it, really off putting. Same thing happened last time, about 3 weeks ago.”


In the hundreds of comments that follow, Reddit users commiserate over the strange flavor they’ve noticed, describing the chicken as having a “weird chemical taste,” a “distinct chlorine-like taste,” or that the birds they purchased “tasted like the plastic they’re packaged in.”

Users hypothesized about why the flavor has run afoul, positing that certain regional chicken suppliers might provide a sub-par product, that Costco’s packaging or packaging process might have changed and impacted the taste, or the preservatives and safety protocols used on chicken are resulting in a strange-tasting bird.

Why Does Costco's Rotisserie Chicken Suddenly Taste Chemically?

A rotisserie chicken should taste roasted, briny, and tender, and be “juicy despite being well-done,” says J. Kenji López-Alt, chef and author of the best-selling cookbook The Food Lab. “Typically this means that the chicken would be either brined, marinated, injected, or otherwise treated with salt to help it retain moisture as it roasts and sits under the warming lamps.”

At Costco, where you can buy a rotisserie chicken for $4.99, even with inflation running amok, the chickens are injected with a concentrated saline solution to give them their distinctive taste that customers know and love.

And while some customers have discovered off-tasting chicken, not all have. In an article for on March 6, Washington, D.C.-based writer Joseph Lamour says of his recent Costco rotisserie chicken, “I can only describe what I tasted as … chicken.”

So why are some people getting chicken that tastes weird?

We reached out to Costco for comment but did not hear back, so we can only speculate and consider the other theories floating around the internet.

One theory explored in a glorious investigative piece by Li Goldstein at Bon Appétit considers the use of phosphates in the preservation process of chickens. Goldstein interviewed Harshavardhan Thippareddi, PhD, professor of poultry science at the University of Georgia, who explained that chickens are injected with phosphate to keep them juicy through the rotisserie preparation process, and some consumers may interpret this addition as a soapy or chemical-like flavor. Goldstein likens it to cilantro's similar effect, in which it tastes like soap to some but not others. While Goldstein did verify that phosphate is a listed ingredient in Costco's rotisserie chickens, she wasn't able to confirm without at doubt that it was the culprit. It's just one more possibility in this rotisserie mystery.

How to Make Juicy Chicken at Home If You Want to Skip the Store-Bought Bird

If you’re ready to take a break from investigating and eating grocery rotisserie in favor of something a bit more homemade, these mouthwatering chicken recipes are the ticket. If you have a rotisserie or spit and a grill, this recipe for Rotisserie Chicken gets rave reviews and only takes a little over an hour to make. Don’t have a rotisserie set-up? A Juicy Roasted Chicken can be the glorious centerpiece of your dinner tonight with just an oven, a roasting pan, and a few ingredients.