School is back on track, and for many families, the rush of nighttime dinners is even more hasty. Meal prepping on the weekends is great if you can take the time between all your other commitments and activities. However, it won’t always happen, even with the best of intentions. There are prepackaged and prepared meals, but if you’re concerned about price and nutrition, it’s not an everyday solution.

So what about something in between? This is where the ubiquitous roast chicken comes in. You’ll find it at almost any grocery store, warm and full of possibilities to feed your entire family at a fairly reasonable price.

Shoppers agree. The National Chicken Council estimates that one billion roasted chickens are sold in the United States each year. (Last year, a Philadelphia man ate 40 bars in 40 days on his own!)

To inspire you and help you get dinner on the table faster, my colleagues and I have developed some new recipes using roast chicken. You’ll find them here, along with some helpful tips for making the most of these supermarket staples.

What is the best roast chicken? We tried 11 birdseed from a grocery store.

Buy fresh chicken

“Supermarkets cook fresh roast chicken every two to four hours from 8 or 9 a.m. until approximately 4 to 6 p.m.,” Perry Santanachote writes in Consumer Reports. Annemarie Rorink, founder of the grocery market research firm 210 Analytics, told Santanashot that the best selection is usually during the evening peak hours. Some stores offer a guaranteed hot chicken during those hours, and if it’s not available, you may be able to get a free chicken on your next visit. If you want to know when the chicken was prepared, look for the timestamp on the package, or ask at a deli store.

Roast chicken may actually be cheaper than buying a whole raw bird, although it tends to be leaner. To get more money, pay attention to frequent stores 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. Although not everyone likes the melty texture of chicken on its own, it still makes a great addition to soups, stews, pies, and other dishes that blend with other ingredients. Case in point: my Thai style chicken curry.

Pay attention to the added ingredients

Roast chicken is usually injected with a brine to enhance moisture and flavor. Ingredients may include sugar and sodium, as well as natural flavors, gum, and carrageenan, a common food additive made from red seaweed. Read the label to see what has been added to the chicken you buy, or check with the prepared food section of the store. To better assess the taste and texture of chicken before using it in a dish, try it at room temperature, recommends Bonnie Benwick, a former Washington Post staffer. (If you’re breaking up the chicken when you get home, this is the perfect time to sample.)

Know what flavor you’re eating

In addition to regular roast chicken, supermarkets may sell other flavors, including pepper and lemon or garlic and rosemary. Make sure you buy the right recipe, especially if the recipe has its own flavor, as in Aaron Hutcherson’s recipe Grilled chicken quesadilla. A bird seasoned regularly will be more versatile than some of the other options.

Pull the meat off the bone when you get home

Although it takes a little extra work up front, it’s easier to handle the meat when it’s still warm. Plus, when it’s time to make fast food on a weeknight, you’ll be one step ahead of the game.

Use the bones to make broth. Cook the carcass with leftover vegetables in a pot on the stove, or use the Instant Pot for a quicker, easier process. If you’re not going to use the broth right away, keep it stored in deli bags or containers in the freezer (just be sure to leave room for the head to account for expansion). Don’t have time to prepare the broth right away? You can also freeze the carcass and use it straight from the refrigerator.

Most roasted chicken skin becomes unappealing once eaten, and many recipes don’t make use of it. But that doesn’t mean you should throw it away. While you can certainly fry the crust in oil, like in this Chicken Soup With Benefits recipe, I’ve had incredibly crisp results in the air fryer, with no extra oil required. The time may vary depending on the thickness of the skin and how you cut it (I preferred the thinner slices), but for me, the sweet spot was 7-8 minutes at 320 degrees. Use the crunchy crust as a topping on casseroles or pasta, eat it out-of-hand like potato chips, or use it as a good dip.

What is the shelf life of grilled chicken?

The USDA recommends using or freezing cooked chicken within four days. For 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 roast chicken, of course, you can substitute a bird you cook yourself. May I suggest this Basic roast chicken? Since some store-bought birds are seasoned further, or injected with the solutions mentioned above, you may need to adjust the salt in your finished dish if you are more restrictive when grilling chicken.

Mix grilled chicken with other shortening ingredients

Be more efficient by thinking about how you can simplify your cooking with more store-bought staples. In which Chicken and black bean pancakesAnn Maloney combines ground beef with salsa, canned beans, and ready-made pie crust for a fun and easy air-fryer meal (it can be baked in the oven, too). My curry recipe uses curry paste and frozen vegetables, while Aaron’s Quesadillas are a great way to showcase your favorite store-bought barbecue sauce. More possibilities: Make a quick pizza or calzone using store-bought dough. Make mini pies using filo sheets or puff pastry. Grab some wrappers and coleslaw mix (cook it first!) to make homemade egg rolls, which I’ve been making a lot lately in the air fryer too. And the list goes on.

Recipes you can use grilled chicken with

Of course, we have a lot to offer. Below is a sampling of recipes that call for cooked chicken, arranged by category.

Chicken salad/salads with chicken

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