Chicken Quesadillas are just one of the many fast meals you can make with store-bought rotisserie chicken. Photo for The Washington Post by Scott Suchman

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.

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.

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.

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Look for sales

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 store’s 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; 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.

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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.

Save the carcass

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.

Don’t forget the skin

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.

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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. 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 a 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. The list goes on.

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Chicken Thai Curry. Photo for The Washington Post by Scott Suchman

Thai-Style Chicken Curry

This saucy curry comes together in a snap with a store-bought rotisserie chicken, frozen vegetables, canned coconut milk and jarred curry paste. We wouldn’t call this an authentic Thai curry, but it delivers hearty comfort and bold flavors in a weeknight- and pantry-friendly package.

We give a range for the amount of curry paste depending on how strong you want the flavor.

4 to 5 servings (makes about 5 1/2 cups)

Total time: 35 mins

Where to buy: Jarred curry paste, such as Thai Kitchen brand, can be found at grocery stores. A wider variety of brands can be found at Asian markets or online.

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Storage: Refrigerate leftovers for up to 4 days.

Substitutions: No meat? Substitute cubed firm or extra-firm tofu for the chicken.

INGREDIENTS

1 tablespoon neutral oil, such as vegetable, canola, refined coconut or grapeseed

3 to 4 tablespoons Thai curry paste (red, green or yellow)

1 (14-ounce) can unsweetened full-fat coconut milk

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1 teaspoon fish sauce (optional)

1/2 teaspoon fine salt

crushed red pepper flakes, to taste (optional)

1 (1-pound) bag mixed frozen vegetables, such as stir-fry or Asian-style blends

4 cups (about 1 pound) cooked chicken, torn into bite-size pieces (from 1 2-pound chicken)

Chopped fresh herbs, such as Thai or Italian basil or cilantro, for garnish (optional)

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rice or rice noodles, for serving

DIRECTIONS

In a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil until it shimmers. Add the curry paste and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the coconut milk until the curry paste is evenly distributed. Add the fish sauce, if using, and add salt and crushed red pepper flakes to taste, if using.

Add the frozen vegetables. Bring the liquid to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. As you’re stirring, break up any frozen vegetables that are stuck together.

Add the chicken and reduce the heat to medium. Cook for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat, sprinkle with the fresh herbs, if using, and serve warm, with rice or rice noodles.

Nutrition | Per serving (scant 1 cup), based on 6: 337 calories, 14g carbohydrates, 83mg cholesterol, 22g fat, 5g fiber, 24g protein, 14g saturated fat, 805mg sodium, 0g sugar

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From Washington Post staff writer Becky Krystal.

Barbecue Chicken Quesadillas

These quesadillas are easy, cheesy and full of flavor. Pickled jalapeños add a pleasant kick of heat, but you can omit them if you are spice-averse.

4 to 6 servings (makes 6 quesadillas)

Total time: 45 mins

Storage: Refrigerate leftovers for up to 4 days.

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INGREDIENTS

1 tablespoon canola oil or other neutral oil, plus more as needed

1 medium onion (7 ounces), thinly sliced

1 red bell pepper (7 ounces), thinly sliced

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon fine salt

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1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 cup (5 ounces) chopped cooked chicken, white and/or dark meat

1/4 cup barbecue sauce

1/4 cup diced pickled jalapeño slices (optional)

6 (8-inch) whole-wheat or flour tortillas

8 ounces sharp cheddar or colby jack cheese, shredded (about 2 cups)

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sour cream and/or guacamole, for serving

DIRECTIONS

In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil until it shimmers. Add the onion, bell pepper, cumin, salt and black pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables soften and are charred in spots, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a bowl, add the chicken, barbecue sauce and jalapeños, if using, and stir to combine.

Reduce the heat to medium. For each quesadilla, add 1 tortilla to the same skillet you cooked the vegetables in and sprinkle about 1/3 cup cheese evenly over top. Spread about 1/3 cup of the chicken mixture over half of the tortilla and cook until the cheese is melted and the tortilla starts to crisp on the bottom, about 4 minutes. Fold the tortilla in half over the filling and transfer it to a plate or platter. Repeat with the remaining tortillas, cheese and filling. (If the skillet ever gets dry, brush with a thin layer of oil.) Cut each quesadilla in half, if desired, and serve with sour cream and/or guacamole for dipping.

Nutrition | Per serving (1 quesadilla), based on 6: 399 calories, 33g carbohydrates, 60mg cholesterol, 20g fat, 3g fiber, 21g protein, 9g saturated fat, 745mg sodium, 7g sugar

From Washington Post staff writer Aaron Hutcherson.

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Chicken and Black Bean Hand Pies. Photo for The Washington Post by Scott Suchman

Chicken and Black Bean Hand Pies

If buying prepared pie crust, look for the unroll-and-bake refrigerated or frozen ones to make your job easier. Don’t feel like messing with pie crust? Heat up this filling and tuck it into charred or steamed tortillas, or add it to corn chips to make nachos.

10 servings

Active time: 30 mins; Total time: 1 hour

Make ahead: The uncooked hand pies can be placed on a parchment paper-lined,rimmed baking sheet, frozen until solid, transferred to an airtight container, and stored in the freezer for up to 3 months. To air-fry from frozen, add 5 to 7 minutes to the cooking time.

Storage: Refrigerate for up to 1 week. Recrisp in a 350-degrees oven or air fryer for about 5 minutes or until warmed through.

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Substitutions: Want to skip the chicken? Add another cup of beans; No beans? Use 1/2 cup rice or favorite grain.

INGREDIENTS

1/2 cup cooked black beans, drained and rinsed if canned (see Substitutions)

1/2 cup salsa, preferably chunky, plus more for serving

1 generous tablespoon chili powder, plus more for optional garnish

3/4 teaspoon garlic powder

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3/4 teaspoon onion powder

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1/8 teaspoon ground cumin

1/8 teaspoon fine salt, plus more to taste

1 generous cup (5 ounces) finely chopped cooked chicken, white and/or dark meat

1/2 cup (1 1/2 ounces) coarsely shredded sharp cheddar cheese

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2 tablespoons chopped pickled jalapeño pepper (optional)

all-purpose flour, for the counter

1 package refrigerated pie crusts or 2 homemade pie crusts recipe

1 large egg, beaten

flaky sea salt, for sprinkling (optional)

crema or sour cream, for serving

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DIRECTIONS

In a medium bowl, mix together the beans and salsa, the chili, garlic and onion powders, and the oregano, cumin and salt until well-combined. Using a fork or the back of a spoon, mash the ingredients together until the mixture is chunky, but with some beans left whole.

Add the chicken, cheese and jalapeno, if using, and stir to combine. Taste, and season with more salt if needed, keeping in mind whether you’re planning to add flaky salt to the pies before air frying.

Lightly dust your work surface and rolling pin with flour. Roll out each pie crust to about a 12-inch-wide circle, rotating and flipping and dusting with more flour as needed to prevent it from sticking. Using a 5-inch biscuit cutter (or a 5-inch-wide plate or bowl and a paring knife), cut out at 10 circles. (You may need to gather and reroll the scraps. Frozen crusts can be dry, so sprinkle the scraps with a little water if necessary.)

Set the air fryer to 350 degrees and preheat for at least 5 minutes.

To make the pies, add 2 heaping tablespoons of the chicken mixture to the center of each circle, brush half of the border with the egg, then fold the pastry over the top, seal in a half moon and crimp the edges with a fork or your fingers.

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Transfer to a large, rimmed baking sheet. (If freezing the hand pies for later, line the baking sheet with parchment paper; see Make ahead.)

Brush the tops of the hand pies with the egg, sprinkle with flaky salt and chili powder, if using, and cut two small vents in the top of each pie.

Working in batches, place the pies in the air fryer basket, leaving about 1 inch of space between the pies, and cook for about 12 minutes, or until golden brown. Transfer to a platter, carefully wipe out the basket if there are any spills, and repeat with the remaining hand pies. Serve warm or at room temperature, with more salsa, crema or sour cream, if desired.

Notes: This recipe was tested in a Cosori 5.8-quart air fryer. Depending on the appliance you use, you may need to adjust the cooking time and/or temperature to achieve the desired results.

If you prefer to bake these in a conventional oven, position a rack in the middle of the oven, preheat it to 375 degrees and bake them for an additional 5 minutes, or until golden brown. They won’t be quite as crisp on the outside.

Nutrition | Per serving (1 hand pie): 331 calories, 29g carbohydrates, 35mg cholesterol, 19g fat, 2g fiber, 11g protein, 14g saturated fat, 239mg sodium, 1g sugar

From Washington Post recipes editor Ann Maloney.

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