What It Means When You Hear The Bell Chime In A Costco

If you're ever wandering the cavernous aisles at Costco and hear a bell ringing, it doesn't mean that an angel just got its wings. Rather, something even more miraculous — it means that fresh-out-of-the-oven rotisserie chicken has just been restocked. As soon as the kitchen staff completes a batch of the just-cooked, whole birds and fills the hot case full of them, a bell is rung to let people know that they're now available.

Customers in on the secret signal know that when they hear that tell-tale chime, the chicken is hot and ready and that they'd better go grab one quickly. At busier Costco locations, speed really is of the essence in order to score one of those hotly sought-after broilers because they sell out fast ... sometimes within seconds of being placed on the rack. If you're not in line or listening for the bell, you might just find that your bird has flown the coop.

We're not being hyperbolic when we say that people are obsessed with Costco's rotisserie chicken. Costco reported in an annual shareholders meeting that it sold 137 million of them globally in 2023. It's not uncommon to see folks lined up in front of empty poultry racks, sometimes dozens deep, waiting in anticipation for the next flock to drop. There are a number of reasons it's become so many people's favorite fowl, ranging from the product's generous size, its tasty seasonings, and perhaps most of all, its consistently low price.

Listen for the bell to get the freshest chicken

Since 2009, Costco has sold its rotisserie chicken for only $4.99. Aside from a brief price increase in 2008 attributed to the Great Recession, the price has remained the same. For less than $5 for an entire chicken, one can feed an entire family or be made into multiple meals that will last for days. The company sells mature birds that weigh up to six pounds before processing and are about three pounds after cooking. That's nearly a pound heavier than you would get at an average supermarket, making Costco's rotisserie chicken a very good value.

Another reason the chicken bell draws a crowd is that the food is always fresh. The longest time any bird will sit under the heat lamps at Costco is two hours — after that, the store pulls them off the shelves for use in its service deli offerings such as its signature chicken pot pie and chicken noodle soup. Not that you're likely to find one that's lasted on the shelf for that long since they're usually sold as quickly as they can be cooked.

The real value is in the many versatile meals that can be made from one. After you use the plastic bag hack to debone rotisserie chicken, you can eat it as is, serve it with mashed potatoes and a side of veggies, shred it for tacos, or make sandwiches. Chicken salad-stuffed avocados are a tasty twist on an old-school classic.

The downside to low prices

Costco doesn't make much from its perpetually cheap chicken, which is considered a loss leader — a tactic businesses use to bring in customers. Although the product doesn't generate profits, it attracts shoppers who are likely to purchase higher-profit products during their time in the stores. This is why you'll find the rotisserie chicken racks at the back of the store ... you have to pass by all the other tempting products on display in order to reach them.

Another factor that contributes to low-priced chicken is that Costco owns and operates its own industrial factory farm and processing facility. The company controls its own supply chain, producing millions of birds from farm to table so to speak, reducing its costs and reliance on outside distributors. This is not without controversy. A 2021 exposé in the New York Times broke the news of a secret investigation by the animal welfare group Mercy For Animals. In its report, accompanying video footage, petition, and a subsequent lawsuit by two of the company's own shareholders, the chickens' awful living conditions were revealed, and the group claims that Costco does not live up to its own animal welfare policies.

Some also consider the amount of sodium in the chicken to be a bit high. The American Heart Association cites high sodium as a "leading risk factor for cardiovascular disease" while recommending a daily intake of no more than 1500 milligrams. One three-ounce serving of Costco's chicken contains 460 milligrams.