© Denzil Green
Hock locks are fasteners that come on butchered poultry such as chickens and turkey. They can be made of metal or heat-resistant plastic.
Hock locks are often referred to as a "thing-a-ma-jig" by bewildered consumers who puzzle over whether they are to leave it on or not. (Another term for them is "leg trusses.")
The purpose of a hock lock is to hold the two hind legs (or "hocks") together for processing and packaging. The ends of the legs are trussed together, blocking the entrance into the bird's cavity. It is technically possible, though it can be tricky, to slip the ends of the legs out of the hock lock to gain access to the cavity, and then to slip them back in.
To remove the hock lock completely, you essentially need to cut them, then tug to extract them from the various parts of the meat they are embedded in.
Even if the hock lock is made of plastic, it is technically safe to leave it on and to roast the bird with it in place, because the plastic used is certified heat-safe on food.
The advantage of leaving the hock lock on is that it means your bird is pre-trussed, so that the legs won't fall over (and possibly off) during cooking, resulting in a nicer looking bird for presentation at the table.
However, there are many reasons to remove a hock lock:
- if the bird has any giblets, etc, in a plastic bag inside the bird's cavity, you need to remove that before cooking, and the hock lock prevents you from seeing if they are;
- the hock lock prevents you from stuffing the bird inside;
- trussing the legs of a bird like that means the inside joints of the legs take longer to cook because they're less exposed to heat -- and that means the breast gets cooked longer, too, and can dry out. So removing the hock lock lets the bird cook faster resulting in a less-dry breast;
- you can always retie the legs with string if you wish trussed legs after stuffing the bird inside;
- most people recommend that if you are deep-frying a turkey to not even debate the question -- just remove the hock lock, especially if it's plastic.
Many people remove it because no matter how authoritative the source assuring them that the plastic is heat-safe and won't melt, they still just don't trust roasting a piece of plastic inside their meat.
Hock Locks and Other Accoutrements. United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service Food Safety Information. 2 August 2013. Retrieved October 2013 from http://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/poultry-preparation/hock-locks-and-other-accoutrements/ct_index
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