Tuesday, April 9, 2013

To Truss A Bird Without Twine

The practice of trussing a bird (any variety) is to ensure an even cooking temperature throughout the legs, thighs and breasts. If a bird is not trussed before it is roasted, hot air will circulate inside of the cavity as well as the exterior which will cook the breast portion of the bird more quickly than the leg and thigh portions. By the time the legs and thighs have come up to a safe temperature the breast meat has been overcooked. The main function of trussing is to gather the legs, thighs and arms of the fowl, holding them snugly in place against the body of the bird. The drumsticks obstruct the opening of the cavity allowing even cooking on the surface while limiting heat from overcooking the breast portion from the inside out.

I learned this no twine trussing method from a dishwasher with whom I worked. I was impressed and kind of surprised that I had not figured this out nor seen it after 13 years of professional cooking. I told myself that to my benefit I was a product of my rigid, formal culinary training and therefore never sought another method. But still...duh.
A plump, well formed chicken trussed and roasted without twine

Let me first address the importance of doing all things correctly. There really is no substitute for the traditional method of trussing a chicken with butchers twine: Yes there is a reason for all the formality. However the method I will show you here is the best runner up I have ever witnessed. Sometimes you may not have twine handy, sometimes there just isn't time and it is always fun to learn and try a new technique.

Alternately, if classical trussing with twine and this new method we will examine below are still too complicated or are just a hassle you'd rather avoid, I suggest as many do, to stuff the cavity of your bird with lemon, onion and/or other aromatics (carrot, celery, garlic, fresh herbs) to provide some protection for the interior of the breasts.

Once, in a pinch, I actually used the method below for a Thanksgiving turkey. The first Thanksgiving my wife and I hosted for both sides of our families in our home. The dinner came out delicious but I would have avoided so much stress if I had planned ahead and made sure to have some butchers twine.

After you have rinsed, cleaned and hopefully brined your chicken all that is left to do before you roast it is become familiar with your bird and convince yourself that you are in control.

First I like to get the wings into position. Grabbing both wings in your hands while pinching the wing joint between your thumb and index finger maneuver the wing tips up and behind the back of the bird. Imagine your bird getting ready to kick back and relax- hands behind head (well that sounded more like an arrest).
 Firmly push the wing tips towards the spine, stretching the muscles to allow some give and memory.
 This is how it will look .
And this is how the wings are traditionally trussed, minus the twine. The twine in a traditional truss will hold the sides of the wing (parallel to the body of bird shown below) closer to the body and breast of the chicken 
which really only helps the overall cooking temp of the wing, not the breast so much.

 A traditional truss will make the final presentation of the wings more tight to the body (looks tight and plump as a whole bird). However, strictly speaking of cooking temp, the breast has never been harmed or overcooked with the no twine method and the wings actually come out with a crispier skin and moist interior as heat is allowed to circulate around the majority of the surface of the wing.


Now on the the rest of our brash new technique. Take a breath. Own the bird.

Note: I am left handed and so the images you will be viewing show my preferences in handling the bird as well as my knife. This method we are reviewing is interchangable to either side, thus the instructions can simply be applied to the other (left) side of the bird.

The cavity should be clean and all excess fat should be removed. Notice the excess skin that is loose between the tip of the breast and the joint of the thigh. We want to gently pull on this skin stretching and loosening it as to allow a little elasticity.
Near the center yet more towards the body (to be safe), make a small incision, the radius of a dime or just big enough to fit the tip of your finger into.

Note: The incision, or hole, will undergo some tugging and stretching as we continue the process. This is why I suggest making the incision closer to the body rather than the edge of the skin. With stretching and possible tearing, a hole further from the edge is less likely to tear open through to the edge rendering it useless. Also, as we stuff one of the drumstick joints into and through the hole it will stretch out on it's own making a snug fit.

With on hand holding the drumstick located on the opposite side of the body as the incision, firmly yet gently guide the end of the drumstick into the hole and gently push until a half inch or so is through. I say 'gently' for you do not want to rush this step pushing so roughly that you stretch the skin too much or even tear the hole open to the edge of the skin.

Note: You have a couple of back up plans here. If you do stretch the hole so wide that it will not hold the drumstick snugly in place or the hole tears open you can attempt to start over and cut a new hole in the skin closer to the body of the bird and try again. This is difficult for you will have to use more pressure to reach the drumstick to the hole and more tension will be put on the skin causing the skin to tear open in later steps which require more pressure and tension.

Alternately, as I mentioned before, this method is interchangable: meaning that if you fail to achieve the desired results on one side of the bird, you can start over the process approaching the bird on the other side. Again the only reason why the pictures I have given here show me starting on the right side of my chicken is because I am left handed and it feels natural for me to start on this side. In the few times I have used this technique I have had to start over and start again on the other side. So you have more than one second chance.
Once you are successful in slipping the tip of the drumstick through the hole in the skin, gently pull the skin stretching it slightly and then hold it in place for a few seconds to give it some memory.
Next step is to cross the birds legs and get ready for a tuck. While holding the first drumstick (which we have just placed into the hole in the skin) securely to avoid any extra stress on the skin and incision, gently coax the free drumstick up and over the secured drumstick crossing the legs of the bird. Our goal is to tuck this drumstick under the leg of the secured drumstick allowing it to hold it all in place.

This is the fianl step. We are almost there. Your main concern with this step is to keep an eye on the stress you will put on the skin holding our first drumstick. A little stretching and tearing will occur to allow this tuck and that is fine. Once again, all you really want to avoid is to tear the incision wide open freeing the first drumstick.

Once you have pushed the second drumstick under the first one, push the knee joint toward you forcing the bone end to poke under the leg of the first drumstick (as shown below). Now hold firmly for a few seconds to allow some stretching and memory to occur in the skin and muscles.
Once you accomplish this step the chicken is trussed and can be handled gently while preparing for roasting. The truss is pretty durable but not as strong as twine. If you play, throw or dance your bird at this time you could risk undoing your hard work. Play with your food before this procedure or after cooking.
Ready for seasoning, basting, rubbing and roasting.

Please let me know how it worked out for you and what you think.


  1. Christopher StantonNovember 21, 2013 at 5:53 PM

    I prefer this method as it makes serving the cooked bird much easier. No need to remove any trussing needles or twine.

    Incidentally, Jacques Pepin demonstrated this method on one of his early cooking shows.

  2. Brilliant thanks I will share this method with my culinary classmates