You've probably seen someone in your family truss the turkey on Thanksgiving before roasting it, even if you don't recognize the word. To truss a bird or roast just means to wrap it up as compactly as possible before placing it in the oven, and it's usually done by tying it with string.
Trussing a bird is a tradition that's been around for a long time, and a lot of home cooks do it religiously even if they don't know why. It's a highly debated topic with fierce supporters on both sides, but few people actually understand what's going on when they truss (or don't truss) their bird.
Trussing a chicken or turkey involves fastening the legs and wings as close to the rest of the body as possible. It helps the bird to maintain its shape while cooking and makes for better presentation when it's done. Trussing can be done a number of ways, but the most popular way is to use kitchen twine to tie the legs and wings in place. Some even get a little carried away with it.
Regardless of your personal preferences, the intended purpose for trussing is to help the bird cook more evenly and stay juicier. When you cook a bird without trussing it, the legs and wings are further away from the body, which allows more air to circulate around them. This can cause the extremities to cook faster than the rest of the bird and dry out.
On the other side, anti-trussers say that it can actually backfire as well. Food scientists David Joachim and Andrew Schlosss say that trussing is just for looks and can prevent the legs from cooking evenly because they're not exposed to as much hot air. This can lead to dry, overcooked breast meat while you wait for the legs to finish cooking.
Kitchen twine or string (or even dental floss) is the quickest and easiest way to truss a bird (surprisingly, you can also use gauze in a pinch). The length you need will vary depending on the size of your bird, but it's better have too much than not enough. You should need a piece about four times the length of the bird.
Start by making a loop with the twine and fastening it around the stub of the neck. Bring it around the sides and tie a knot at the cavity, then pull it tight around the breast. Now, loop the twine around the drumsticks and tie another knot, tightening it until the legs cross.
Watch Grant Crilly of ChefSteps demonstrate the process here.
If you're like me and never actually have any kitchen twine, you can still truss your bird pretty easily without it. The only tool you'll need is a knife that can cut through the skin of the chicken.
Just make a small incision in each of the skin flaps on either side of the cavity, then tuck each leg into the flap on the opposite side. When you're finished, the legs should be crossed over each other and held tight against the body of the bird.
Now, fold the tips of the wings behind the back so the weight of the bird holds them in place. Check out this video by Feast to see how it's done.
What's your opinion on trussing? Overrated, or worth the effort? Let us know what you think in the comments.