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Trussing is the act of tying meat, most often poultry, so that it cooks evenly and keeps its shape nicely. There are other definitions of the word truss, but these don’t relate to cooking. For instance, people use trusses for certain injuries to hold them in place. Another definition of truss is a semi-triangular device used in architecture on structures like a truss bridge.
The culinary use of trussing is most likely ancient. Flat meat that was stuffed could be rolled and tied so the stuffing did not fall out and the meat was flavored by it. People may routinely employ trussing for certain things like making chicken cordon bleu.
Often when the word truss is defined, it is meant that a whole bird is being trussed, usually a turkey or a chicken. There are some cooks that feel that the best-cooked bird has been appropriately tied. Others feel this is an unnecessary process.
There are many ways to find information about trussing a bird. Typically the chicken or turkey has its legs tied together and string, generally kitchen twine, is wrapped around the wings so they are kept close to the body. This accomplishes several things. If the carcass is stuffed, keeping the legs tied helps to keep stuffing in. Also, having the wings and legs closer in to the body means they are less likely to burn.
The trouble with trussing is that especially with poultry, leg meat or dark meat must reach a certain temperature before it is safe to eat. By bringing in the legs and wings, the dark meat cooks more slowly and may not reach the appropriate temperature when the white meat is done. This could mean either having to continue cooking the bird until the white meat is dry, or serving it, when the dark meat is still not fully cooked. Trussing may prevent burning, but it also could prevent proper cooking.
Cooks vary on their opinions as to whether trussing large poultry is necessary. It is usually not necessary with chickens, but may be slightly more useful with turkey. Smaller game birds like quail tend not to require it because they cook quickly.
People should remember a basic rule when they use string in cooking. It isn’t edible, and it should be removed prior to serving the food. As simple as this sounds, it’s sometimes easy to forget. String can get left on a trussed turkey, a roast or a chicken quite easily, and since it takes on the color of the meat, it’s sometimes possible to miss seeing it. Alternately, in a person’s anxiety to serve the food quickly, it may just be forgotten. It’s unlikely consuming a bit of string will hurt anyone, but it’s clearly not the most appetizing addition to the dish.