Hock locks are fasteners that come on butchered poultry such as chickens and turkey. They can be made of metal or heat-resistant plastic.
Another term for them is “leg trusses.” The Butterball Company has taken to calling them “Oven-safe leg holders.”
Despite the terms that the meat processing industry uses for them, hock locks often just get referred to as “thing-a-ma-jigs” by bewildered consumers who puzzle over whether they are to leave the plastic device on or not.
The purpose of a hock lock is to hold the two hind legs (or “hocks”) of a bird 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.
The University of Georgia extension service says,
“A hock lock is a device that secures together the legs of a turkey. Many turkeys that you purchase in the grocery store will come with the legs tied together using a hock lock. The hock locks are most often made of heat resistant materials and can be left on during the cooking process. However, leaving the hock lock on during cooking can make it much more difficult to cook the bird evenly. ” Frequently asked questions about the turkey. Dotson, Renee and Judy Harrison. The University of Georgia, Cooperative Extension. 2010. Accessed July 2020 at https://athenaeum.libs.uga.edu/bitstream/handle/10724/34022/FREQUENTLYASKEDQUESTIONSABOUTTHETURKEY.pdf?sequence=1
A company named Volk Enterprises, which makes them and calls theirs “Handi-Clamps®” provides the following advice to potential industry customers:
“The Handi-Clamp® trussing device provides both an attractive and compact manner of securing the hocks of turkeys throughout processing. Designed using food grade material, the Handi-Clamp® securely holds the legs of the turkey close to the body during processing. The Handi-Clamp® can be easily removed by consumers for proper rinsing and stuffing prior to cooking. The Handi-Clamp® can also be used to secure the legs of the turkey during the cooking/roasting process, if desired…. The Handi-Clamp® withstands oven temperatures up to 500°F [260 C], depending upon application.” Handi-Clamp®. Volk Enterprises. Accessed July 2020 at http://www.volkenterprises.com/product-list/handi-clamp/
The noted food writer, Harold McGee, writing for The New York Times, says it is best to remove them from a cooking point of view:
“Q. “Those complicated-looking hard plastic doohickeys that hold the drumsticks of your fresh turkey in place — can they go in the oven, or are they only for shipping purposes? — Bob Chibka, Brewster, Mass.
A. “They’re called “hock locks” and are made of nylon that can take oven heat. But removing them so the legs spread will help them cook faster and the breast not to overcook.”” What’s That Plastic Part Holding the Drumsticks in Place? McGee, Harold. New York Times. 24 November 2011.
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
|Frequently asked questions about the turkey. Dotson, Renee and Judy Harrison. The University of Georgia, Cooperative Extension. 2010. Accessed July 2020 at https://athenaeum.libs.uga.edu/bitstream/handle/10724/34022/FREQUENTLYASKEDQUESTIONSABOUTTHETURKEY.pdf?sequence=1
|Handi-Clamp®. Volk Enterprises. Accessed July 2020 at http://www.volkenterprises.com/product-list/handi-clamp/
|What’s That Plastic Part Holding the Drumsticks in Place? McGee, Harold. New York Times. 24 November 2011.