Trussing is a culinary term for tying things up, and a surprising variety of meat dishes benefit from being trussed before cooking. Beginning cooks often encounter this technique when securing the drumsticks on a holiday turkey, but beef, pork and other roasts owe part of their juicy succulence to snug tying with butcher's, or cooking, string. In a pinch, experienced cooks have devised effective substitutes for this humble but valuable cooking tool.
Cooking string is traditionally 100 percent dye-free cotton. Some brands of cooking string advertise that they meet U.S. Department of Agriculture food-safety standards, but the standards are not made public. Clean, natural-color, 100 percent cotton string is suitable for trussing meat, whether it comes from a kitchen store or another store. While bakery string may have a red thread running through it, it is intended for tying containers, not food, so don't use it for tying meat.
Most synthetics, like polyester, unless USDA-certified food- and heat-safe, should be avoided for cooking. Synthetics can melt under high heat and may emit chemicals unsafe for consumption. The one exception to this is dental floss. Made of nylon, it is extremely strong and food-safe. Most cooks use unflavored floss, although the flavorings are harmless. The only caution with floss is its strength. Pulled too snugly, it can cut through meat fibers, letting the juices it is meant to hold in leak out.
Shaped and colored to resemble rubber bands, food-grade silicone cooking bands, sometimes called hot bands, are a simple way to truss poultry and meat. Silicone cooking bands are heat-resistant to at least 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Again, as with dental floss, excessive tightness is an issue. Bands easily stretched at the start of cooking may be hard to pull off hot food, and the reusability of silicone bands becomes moot if you have to cut them off the food.
Your first-aid kit may seem an odd source for cooking tools, but roll gauze meets the dye-free 100 percent cotton cleanliness criteria of butcher's string. Cut wide roll gauze into manageable narrow strips or use narrow gauze as is. Wider ties may mildly inhibit even browning of meat surfaces, but gauze will do an excellent job of securing a roasting chicken's legs or keeping juice inside a rolled roast.
Like gauze, cheesecloth can be cut into strips. Dipped in melted butter or oil, a large piece of cheesecloth can also be used as a full wrap for a roasting bird or stuffed rolled roast. This treatment can be used to keep breast meat juicy during the long roasting period required by a large turkey. A cheesecloth wrap will diminish dark browning, but results will be moist. A tied cheesecloth wrap also holds poultry or meat like a rolled, stuffed pork tenderloin firmly when your recipe calls for 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 kitchen string. Use toothpicks or skewers when rolled meat stuffing is primarily vegetables or cheese. Carbohydrates, like breadcrumbs or rice, absorb liquid and can swell during cooking, exerting pressure on toothpicks. It is helpful to count toothpicks or small skewers as you insert them, to make sure they are all removed before serving.