The Truth About Butcher Twine and Thanksgiving Turkey
A butcher weighs in on trussing.
To truss or not to truss? That is the question, at least when you're staring at a mound of raw meat, be it a rib roast or a turkey. When Thanksgiving rolls around, many homecooks use butcher twine to tie the turkey legs together, closing the cavity that is often jammed with stuffing.
But how much does the string really accomplish?
I got in touch with Heather Marold Thomason, head butcher and owner of Primal Supply Meats in Philadelphia, and asked whether we should bother with butcher twine this Thanksgiving. Her answer: nope.
"The practical reason we truss things is to make it compact and consistent in size, so it cooks more evenly," said Thomason. "I'm personally not a fan of trussing birds. I think it's old-school, to be honest—people have been moving away it." The butcher says that the time to truss is really when you have large, uneven sized pieces of meat that you'd like to cook uniformly.
"If you’re going to do a whole tenderloin or filet for Christmas, that meat is very soft and tender, so on its own before it's tied it's not going to be very compact," she said. "When we tie it, we fold the thinner end to the thicker end so it has a more uniform thickness and is more compact and dense. That way when you roast that, it will be cooked to a consistent temperature throughout."
Thomason says your butcher will happily truss your meat for you, so there's no need to do it at home. But if you do, the most important thing to remember is to use all-cotton butcher twine; string made of other materials could prove problematic.
"There are other materials out there that are imposter butcher twine—but it will melt, so don’t use it," she says.
If you're committed to trussing your turkey—plenty of people are!—you can also do it without using any string at all. Food & Wine's Justin Chapple does it using the turkey skin as "string," believe it or not: you can watch him do it here. (Chapple can also show you how to truss with dental floss.)
When it comes to cooking your turkey evenly, the most important thing you can do is let the bird come to room temperature before putting it in the oven, Thomason said.
"We always recommend pulling things out of the refrigerator and bringing them to room temperature a few hours before cooking, whether it's a turkey or giant standing rib roast," she said. "If you don't, the chances of the outside getting too brown or too dry before the entire inside is cooked through is higher."