Trussing a Chicken: Do I Really Have To Do That?

There are certain labor-intensive recipe phrases that can make the most diligent cook roll her eyes. "Do I really have to do that?" we wonder. Every week, we will track down the answer to that question. Why? Because as much as we love cooking, we're kind of lazy. Leave your Do I Really Have To Do That? questions in the comments and they shall be answered, saving us all a lot of needless trouble.

Julia Child does it. Michael Ruhlman does it. Alice Waters does it. But do we really have to? As we dug into this, it felt more like we were out to solve the riddle of the sphinx rather than answer a relatively straight-forward cooking question. Jesus, we just want some chicken!

Let's start with the basics. Here's what trussing can do:

1. Trussing makes for a lady-like looking bird (if you're into that).
"Trussing serves purely aesthetic purposes," as blogger Sarah Puleo of Betty Cupcakes told us. "It keeps the chicken legs from being splayed apart and the wings tucked under the bird. Put it this way, Emily Post would truss her chickens."

2. Trussing makes it easier to turn the bird during roasting. Some roast chicken recipes instruct to turn the bird several times during cooking to brown the skin evenly (Julia Child and Mark Bittman, we're looking at you). With legs and wings akimbo, this can be awkward. Trussing the bird keeps it compact and easier to flip.

Now here's where we get into murky territory. The third reason for trussing the bird is neither cosmetic nor about ease, but it's also hotly contested.

3. Trussing (some claim) helps the bird cook more evenly. Trussers rattle this off as the main reason to keep kitchen twine on hand, but we couldn't find a satisfying explanation why. Investigative cook Alton Brown doesn't dig into the science of this claim. Even America's Test Kitchen, one of our favorite go-to sources for the definitive last word, seems torn on the topic. Their weeknight chicken recipe tells us to truss, while their slow-roasted chicken deems trussing "unnecessary."

Let's look at arguments in the case not to truss: two of the Internet's most beloved roast chicken recipes, Food52's genius roast chicken and Zuni Cafe's roast chicken. What's their thinking? 

"I'm not a trusser" says Kristen Miglore, Food52's senior editor and author of their Genius Recipes feature. "For one thing, I'm lazy." (Kindred!) "But more importantly, trussing keeps the legs and thighs––which already take the longest to cook––tucked up against the body, so they cook even more slowly, leaving the rest of the poor chicken to dry out." Sounds like the opposite of even cooking to us. "Better to leave the legs akimbo, even if they look a little funny," Kirsten advises.

Judy Rogers writes in the Zuni Cafe Cookbook that she doesn't bother with trussing because she wants "as much skin as possible to blister and color." In a letter to The Slow Cook, Judy elaborated by explaining that leaving her birds untrussed avoids the "slippery uncooked skin" between the leg and thigh that can result when they're tightly pressed together via trussing. Not trussing the bird lets those legs splay, leaving the skin exposed to nicely crisp. She does twist and tuck the wings under the breast so they don't scorch, but hasn't suffered an unevenly cooked bird because of not trussing. Instead, she points out the elephant in the room.

"When talking evenness you can’t NOT talk about resting: the bird (or almost any roast) will be more evenly cooked if it rests (and finishes cooking) for appropriate time after it comes out of the oven before you cut it. How long is a function of how big the bird is—our scant 3 pound birds rest about 10 minutes in a warm spot."

Final verdict: No, you don't really have to do that. Truss your chicken if you like the look. But if you prefer to keep your roast chicken as simple as possible, there's no need. Just remember to let it rest once it comes out of the oven.

Tweet your lazy cook questions to us @YahooShine #doireallyhavetodothat or leave them in the comments.

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