Cooks use butcher's string for trussing, a culinary term for tying things up. Securing drumsticks on a holiday turkey or tightly binding a stuffed rolled beef or pork roast helps the meat cook more evenly and keeps it juicy and succulent. In a pinch, experienced cooks have devised some effective substitutes for the humble but valuable butcher's string.
Dye-Free Cotton Strings
Cooking string is traditionally made with dye-free 100-percent cotton. Any clean, natural-color, 100-percent cotton string is suitable for trussing meat, whether it comes from a kitchen store or another store. Bakery string, which may have a red thread running through it, doesn't work; it's intended for tying containers only, not meat.
Most synthetics, like polyester, should be avoided for cooking unless they're USDA-certified food- and heat-safe. Synthetics can melt under high heat and may leach chemicals that are unsafe for consumption. The one exception is dental floss. Made of nylon, it's food-safe and extremely strong. In fact, its strength can be a flaw in some cases—pulled too snugly, floss can cut through meat fibers, letting the juices leak out.
Food-grade silicone cooking bands, sometimes called hot bands, are a simple way to truss poultry and meat. They're heat-resistant to at least 500 degrees Fahrenheit and are reusable. Shaped and colored like rubber bands, they can be easily stretched to tightly hold the meat together. However, the bands may be difficult to pull off of hot food, and having to cut them off would render them useless.
Your first-aid kit may seem like an odd place to find cooking tools, but gauze rolls are made from dye-free 100-percent cotton, just like butcher's string. Use narrow gauze or cut wide gauze into manageable narrow strips. Wider ties may inhibit even browning of the surface of the meat, but gauze is great for securing a roasting chicken's legs or keeping juice inside a rolled roast.
Cheesecloth can also be cut into strips. Or, dip a large piece in melted butter or oil and use it as a full wrap for a roasting bird or stuffed rolled roast. This treatment keeps breast meat juicy during the long roasting time required for a large turkey. The results will be moist, but without dark browning. A tied cheesecloth wrap also holds poultry or meat, like a rolled, stuffed pork tenderloin, firmly when poaching or braising in liquid.
Toothpicks and Skewers
For thin cuts of meat, like flank steak, or small pieces, like veal cutlets, wood toothpicks or skewers make a good substitute for butcher's string. They work best when rolled meat is stuffed primarily with vegetables or cheese; carbohydrates, like breadcrumbs or rice, absorb liquid and can swell during cooking, exerting too much pressure on toothpicks. It's helpful to count toothpicks or skewers as you insert them, to make sure they're all removed before serving.