Does This Machine *Really* Make the Best Chicken?

April  6, 2017

The Roto-Broil 400 has a cult following for producing the juiciest, spit-roasted birds. Jeffrey Steingarten has written numerous times in praise of this countertop rotisserie, as has the Times; online forums are lively and loud.

Our reason to be suspicious? It was made in the 1950s. For today’s episode of our podcast, we put one to the test. Does it work better than the chicken-cooking methods we already know and love? Does it work at all?

Download the episode here—or stream below. And hit "subscribe" to get each new episode downloaded to your phone automatically.

Meet the Roto-Broil 400

Its first glorious test run, in my home kitchen.
This hanging door was (and remains) a bit of a mystery to me, but it didn't slow me down.
Sitting pretty in its original, 1950s box. "DE LUXE" (!)

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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Kenzi Wilbur

Written by: Kenzi Wilbur

I have a thing for most foods topped with a fried egg, a strange disdain for overly soupy tomato sauce, and I can never make it home without ripping off the end of a newly-bought baguette. I like spoons very much.


Connie M. January 12, 2018
I have 4 of these. 2 of which have never been used. Spit parts in original packaging. I grew up with one and use one regularly. Make great rotisserie chickens and pork roast. I just gave my 5th one to my brother. They are getting hard to find now.
Jason R. September 19, 2017
Hey i have got to say the roto boil atomatic fryer is fantastic for caning . Frying .boiling . Its fantastic and easy to work on my great grama used one of theas fryers years ago hoster chicken diners people would come all over manitulin also so torrests lots of them back in the 60s some were arond there any way she use one for years used it for many things anyway that fryer had sat for years the cord was shot but i lately rewiered it with some hi temp wiering and a extettion cord that was rated at 1600 or 1646 watts i cant remember 16 gauge polarized 3 prong cord from giant tiger it was a heater block extention cord i choose very carefully i spent mouth looking for a cord last place i looked was giant tiger blue heater block extension cord i was very surprised how good of quality
Not bad it is it was 9 bucks i put it back together and it works beautifully i fell in love with it i encorag you to look at your cords and see if ther descent also see if thete heating up at all if so consider replacing it chose a cord wisely and look at the temp rating i consider geting one of thease rotisery 400s
Nancy June 30, 2017
We had one of these in my childhood home. Made great chicken, and provided a show for us kids. Great flavor when winter prevented our using the outdoor grill.
SophieL April 9, 2017
I have a Ronco Showtime rotisserie and have made delicious chicken, pork chops, port ribs, beef ribs, lamb riblets, as well as bratwurst and other sausages. It's easy to clean the parts in the dishwasher.
Coincidentally, last week on NPR, the Marketplace segment was talking about infomercials and Ronco was specifically mentioned; on the Marketplace website, you can click on one of the early Ronco infomercials with Ron Popeil himself - so kitschy now, but what a salesman.
Yarbus April 7, 2017
I second Bonnie C.'s recommendation Ronco makes one for under a hundred bucks. Works like a champ!
Diane G. April 7, 2017
Ha! My lovely husband got me one for Christmas many years ago. I've never made a chicken in it.. mainly toast, nachos, pizza. It has a place of honor on the counter. If you lift the top lid you can warm plates or tortillas. Pretty nifty all and all!
BonnieC. April 7, 2017
How the heck do you make "toast, nachos, pizza" in a ROTISSERIE oven? Are you sure you're talking about the same appliance? Yours sounds more like some type of toaster oven.
Diane G. April 8, 2017
Well, it is also a toaster.8-) Look at the bottom of the glass door. Barbecues, Roasts, Broils, Toasts, Grills, Fries (that one cracks me up) Boils. We've had ours for about 20 years.
BonnieC. April 8, 2017
What model do you have? Because ours is a rotisserie & a rotisserie only (except for the very top where one can heat up sides, but that's only because the exterior of the unit gets so hot), & ours too is over 20 years old.
BonnieC. April 8, 2017
And why look at the bottom of the glass door? You can't cook anything on that? Honestly, would love to know how you do all this stuff on a 20-year old Ronco - assuming you have one of the models we're talking about here. Heck - even the new models don't do all that.
Brittany F. April 8, 2017
Bonnie, she means the bottom of the glass door says "Barbecues, Roasts, Broils, Toasts, Grills, Fries, Boils". See photo above.
BonnieC. April 8, 2017
Ahhhh - okay!! My bad!! I thought she was talking about a RONCO rotisserie, not the golden oldie. Sorry!! Again - my bad!!
Diane G. April 8, 2017
Sorry, yes I have the Roto-Broil 400....
Bruce J. April 7, 2017
My mom got one of those for a wedding present, she gave it to me several years ago. I've used it a few times to spit-roast greek-style lamb roast, which came out quite nicely. Never tried chicken (tbh Costco has spoiled me with their $4.99 roast chickens...I'd have a hard time sourcing a raw chicken to roast for that price!)
Tim April 7, 2017
I have to say, I just listened to your podcast and I had to have one. Luckily I found one on eBay for approximately a 100 bucks. I'm sure I overpaid but it looks cool and will look great in the kitchen. Thanks for the info
Kenzi W. April 8, 2017
You bought one! I'm so excited.
meathead April 7, 2017
I love rotisserie chicken (especially on the grill so I can put taters and veggies in a pan below to catch drippings), but the fact is that breasts, thighs, wings, drums all cook at a different rate primarily due to thickness. Also, brown is beautiful, and the cavity remains pale and lifeless. I am a strong advocate of breaking down birds, hogs, and other whole animals so (1) each piece can be cooke faster (2) to optimum temp (3) and brown on all sides.
Camille D. April 7, 2017
back in 1973 I bought a Roto Broil in very nice condition at the church thrift store my apartments 1920's oven on tall legs didn't work well leaked gas so I kept the gas turned off at the wall for fear of being gassed... the R.B. works for years I think 1986 ...I then found a Farberware it was just okay just lost to much heat due to not having a cover I went with out another electric rotisserie until I saw the Ronco at a garage sale of a neighbor she gave it to me because it was dirty greasy I scrubbed to a beautiful shine because I dont mind cleaning things and used that for several years found a brand new ronco in the unopened box still have it and bought two more the biggest model 5000 and the mid range size I love them all and yes I have used all three at the same time with turkey a ham and a filet minion for a big party not happy that he sent his company customer service phone in to India they don't speak English well and I don't speak their language at all ~ Camille ~
CFrance April 7, 2017
I love them all and yes I have used all three at the same time with turkey a ham and a filet minion for a big party not happy that he sent his company
customer service phone in to India they don't speak English well and I don't speak their language at all ~ Camille ~
Camille D. April 7, 2017
What ?
Jane G. April 13, 2017
Camille what is a filet minion I hope you are not cooking cartoon characters and instead a filet Mingnon - a piece of beef.
Camille D. April 13, 2017
uh huh sure what ever floats your tiny leaky Boat ....
BonnieC. April 7, 2017
This is nothing more than a glorified Ronco "Showtime" rotisserie. I'm not ashamed to say that I LOVE my Ronco. Just have the decades-old inexpensive original very basic model, & it makes wicked-good chicken, Cornish hens, & absolutely fabulous duck (with no smoking or spattering.
If you don't want to go to all the trouble or expense of finding & buying one of these older white elephants, go for a Ronco rotisserie. Obviously the newer models might be different now than the golden oldie I own, but probably not by much.
Victoria C. April 7, 2017
I use an old Ronco too. I won't get rid of it because when I want to cook a whole chicken, it makes the best one imaginable.
jennifer April 7, 2017
Is there any difference, really, between the Roto-Broil and a Ronco? If Roto-Broils are hard to come by, I wonder if a Ronco wouldn't be a suitable alternative. I'm actually more interested in the low pressure chicken fryer that plevee mentioned - that sounds intriguing. I guess, though, that they're probably considered 'too dangerous' for home kitchens. At any rate, I listened to the Toast episode and loved it. I'll subscribe on iTunes!
Kenzi W. April 7, 2017
Thanks, Jennifer!
jennifer April 7, 2017
So, after doing a quick bit of internet research, I ran across this article, which explains why low pressure chicken fryers might not be available any more - it's a fun read. And, BTW, there are some of these on E-Bay, though I'm a little afraid to try one. Wish Instant Pot would get to work on one.......
Jordan N. April 7, 2017
Do transcripts become available for the podcasts? I would like to know how it went. Thanks!
Mo April 7, 2017
The question was "Is it the best chicken?" This was never answered. I expected you to cook several birds and compare. No evidence presented. Also no comment on the cleanup which I understand can be tedious....
Kenzi W. April 7, 2017
Hi Mo—"best" is subjective, of course, but I say in the conclusion that it was, in fact, better than the roasting method I know and love. I'm a convert, and expect to use the machine for years to come. In my experience, the clean-up was no more tedious than what you'd clean up after an oven-roasted chicken.
Mick April 7, 2017
Additionally, it's an unnecessarily long podcast, not particularly informative, about an obscure kitchen appliance which is hard to clean and for the most part, unavailable for purchase. Who has the time for this frippery?
lisa F. April 7, 2017
Mick...Really? WAS THAT NECESSARY? If your bored when listening, stop listening. Many of us were delighted by the pod cast!
Andrea April 7, 2017
Yeah, Mick is obviously not a happy camper. Can always stop listening at will.
Mick April 7, 2017
Be delighted, as you are also compelled to attack with personal insults when others disagree with your opinion. Your assessment of this article is more valid than mine to the extent that you strike out. Who is the truly unhappy camper?
plevee April 7, 2017
What I really miss is the old low pressure chicken fryer made ,I think, by Wearever. It made the best fried chicken I ever tasted. The gaskets havent been available for decades, sadly.
lisa F. April 6, 2017
I want one! At the end of the podcast you tell us we can purchase one on e-bay but if you were us you'd Sprinz? I listened 3 times and couldn't understand what you said. Please clarify! Thank you for always being so informative and entertaining! :)
Kenzi W. April 6, 2017
Sprint! When I was looking, there weren't a ton of working options and a few went pretty quickly. Steingarten also used to look at flea markets, but it seems they're pretty hard to come by there. (If you're in the NY area, you're welcome to borrow mine to try it out.) And thanks for the kind words!
lisa F. April 6, 2017
Thank you for the generous offer, I am in the Philly area. I will be on a quest! Thank you for responding so quickly to my query!