In 1985, a fledgling shop with Boston in its name skewered and roasted its birds in rotating rows, so they basted each other with seasoned drippings until firm flesh morphed into Sunday dinner succulence.
Since then, Americans have made takeout rotisserie chicken as much of a weeknight staple as a box of macaroni in the cupboard.
Statistics don't tell the whole story, but they're a good place to start. Grocery stores jumped on the trend back then and continue to reap rewards.
Six hundred million rotisserie chickens were purchased in U.S. supermarkets, club stores and similar retail outlets in 2010, the most recent year for which figures are available, according to the National Chicken Council. An additional 200 million were sold through food-service outlets.
A market study by NPD Group, a consumer research firm, found that consumers 50 and older eat more rotisserie chicken than other age groups, and the higher the household income, the more it is eaten.
A classic roast chicken is certainly one of the easier entrees to master. Salt and pepper, a little fat rubbed into the skin and a lemon in the cavity can do the trick. If you're a self-sufficient omnivore, an iteration or two ought to be in your repertoire.
But even cooks who take pride in their own recipes have come to rely on a trussed, store-bought option that often costs less than the price of raw poultry.
"Of course mine is best. When you don't have time to prepare it yourself, though, rotisserie chicken makes a decent meal," said Audrey Graziano. The 34-year-old Alexandria, Va., wife and mother of two has been buying supermarket-prepared chickens for about a decade. Leftovers go into chicken noodle soup, she said, and her mother-in-law may claim bones for stock.
Getting two or three family meals out of an inexpensive 2 1/2-pound bird offsets the big advantage a home-cooked chicken has over its commercial cousins. That would be the crisped, golden brown skin a source of guilty pleasure that most of the time provides the majority of flavor.
Retail containers that allow for successful rotisserie chicken transport have gotten greener and more technically advanced, but they do a number on the chicken's exterior, which gets clingy or splits in the time it takes to transfer a batch from store oven to heated store shelf.
So what have we learned in a generation of rotisserie chicken consumption?
It's tough to find a bird that can survive the journey of heated display shelf and leftover use unless it has been treated with some kind of water or salt solution.
There are more flavors to choose from: barbecue, lemon-pepper, Italian and roasted garlic among them.
Paying several dollars extra does not guarantee quality.
If yield is important, use your own scale to weigh the chicken. In comparing rotisserie chickens from 14 Washington, D.C.-area supermarkets, Washington Post staffers found more than one discrepancy between printed and actual weights.
Close readers of ingredient labels might find that yeast extract, oleoresin, sodium tripolyphosphate and the bewildering "natural flavorings" have been deployed. Most of those go toward flavoring and browning the chicken, said Pittsburgh food scientist and author Robert L. Wolke.
And even though the list of additives on the label of Costco birds appears to be longer than most, consumers love the product.
"It's pretty hard to pass up a big, meaty $4.99 rotisserie chicken," said Dean Desabrais, Northeast region deli and meat manager for the company.
Ongoing improvements and efficiencies sent 50 million rotisserie chickens through Costco checkout lines last year nationwide, he said. The program began in 1995, and a bird in the hand today costs less than it did in 2004, when the company increased the standard raw weight to a minimum of 3 pounds (from 2.75 pounds) and dropped the price from $5.49.
The next year, it upgraded to a Grade A chicken. In 2007, it eliminated casein, a binder, to make the chicken allergen-free.
Costco uses a single producer, Pilgrim's Pride, which marinates via injection, trusses and packs 10 birds to a case. The chickens look like pale, plump ghosts as they get threaded onto long rods that fit in ultra-modern, digital-display Inferno 4000 rotisserie ovens. A film of moving water on the oven floor transports dripping grease to a holding tank, to be collected for recycling.
It takes 90 minutes to cook a full load of 32 or so; after an hour, it starts to "smell like Costco chicken," said Tom Borkowski, a deli manager. Temperature is closely monitored.
Unsold birds get pulled after two hours to be chilled, then incorporated into Costco's rotisserie chicken soup, chicken Alfredo, chicken wraps and chicken Caesar salads.
Savvy shoppers know to look for the tiny time-stamp sticker on the bottom part of each propylene box.
The charms of juicy, warm rotisserie chicken fade with a night's refrigeration, of course. The sodium solution infused in the flesh of a raw bird can create pockets of uneven saltiness in a cooked one. White meat can get mealy or stringy.
For best results, let the meat come to room temperature so you can assess texture and seasoning. Bland white meat that's dry might be right for a fruity curried chicken salad, or shredded into a creamy tortilla soup.
A highly spiced bird can hold its own with stir-fried vegetables.
The remnants of a barbecue rub may be pronounced enough to reserve that chicken for pressed sandwiches.