If you’ve ever purchased a whole turkey from the supermarket, you’ve probably noticed the plastic contraption that’s often used to hold the legs together. Do you have to remove this device before preparing the bird, or can you cook a turkey with the plastic leg holder? We’re here to answer this question in full detail.
Can You Cook a Turkey With The Plastic Leg Holder Still Attached?
Yes, it’s fine to leave this piece in place as long as you’re not deep-frying the turkey. It’s made of heat-resistant nylon, so it’s safe at temperatures up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Should you decide to deep-fry the bird, you should remove both the leg holder and the plastic pop-up indicator.
What Exactly Is That Plastic Thing?
That piece of plastic is called a “hock lock.” It’s designed to keep the turkey’s legs (also known as hocks) from flopping around while the bird is processed and packaged. These are sometimes made of metal, but more often than not, companies use heat-resistant nylon to make the hock locks.
No matter what the hock lock is made of, the producers need to provide documentation that proves the material is safe to use with food. Be aware, though, that while hock locks can be safely heated to a certain temperature, some of the other materials that come with the turkey should not be put in the oven (see What About The Giblet Wrapper?, below).
Can You Cook a Turkey With The Plastic Leg Holder Attached?
Yes, it’s safe to leave the hock lock in place while the bird roasts. The nylon is heat resistant to 500 degrees Fahrenheit, and turkeys are traditionally roasted at a lower temperature.
That said, if you plan on deep-frying the turkey, you should remove the hock lock. Although the material will remain intact in the oven, it could melt if it’s exposed to the hot oil.
What if you’re grilling or grill-roasting the turkey? This is a judgement call. Some pitmasters are more comfortable removing the plastic, preferring instead to tie the legs together with string. Others have left it in place and reported that they had no issues at all.
Should you decide to remove the hock lock, it’s an easy job. Use a pair of kitchen shears or sturdy scissors to slide the plastic off the turkey legs. Remember to wash any utensils that have come into contact with raw poultry before putting them away.
It’s even simpler to remove the hock lock after the turkey is finished cooking. At this point, the piece should slide right off. If it gets stuck, you can always resort to the kitchen shears.
Can You Leave The Pop-Up Temperature Indicator In Place?
Some turkeys are also equipped with a plastic temperature indicator that will pop up when the meat reaches a safe temperature. They’re usually accurate within a degree or two, and can be safely left in while the bird cooks. However, we would suggest verifying the true temperature with an instant-read thermometer as well.
It’s also important to remove the pop-up indicator if you’re deep-frying the turkey. You won’t be able to see it when the bird is in the deep fryer, so it’s pointless anyway. Moreover, like the hock lock, it could melt in the hot oil and ruin the turkey.
Leaving The Hock Lock In Place: Pros & Cons
As we mentioned, the hock lock will help keep the legs of the turkey in place while you’re preparing it. It can also give the bird a nice streamlined appearance. This is one reason why some people choose to truss their turkeys before roasting them.
However, when the hock lock is in place, it can be difficult to ensure even cooking. When the legs are tied together, the heat won’t have a chance to circulate around the inner surface of the joints. That means you could end up overcooking the breast meat while you wait for the legs to achieve a safe temperature.
The hock lock can make it difficult to tell whether the turkey neck and giblets have been removed. A surprising number of people forget to take this step, which can result in panic (see below). You’ll also have a harder time stuffing the turkey when the legs are joined together.
Other Tips For Safe Handling
After cooking the turkey, refrigerate any leftovers within 2 hours. Leaving meat at room temperature for too long can invite hazardous bacteria to the party. Any leftovers should be consumed in 3 to 4 days.
You can freeze leftover turkey meat in a well-sealed container or zip-top bag. Make sure to squeeze as much air as possible out of the packaging, and label all containers with the date and contents before freezing.
What About The Giblet Wrapper?
Let’s say you’ve roasted the turkey with the hock lock in place. When you take the bird out of the oven, you notice that you also forgot to remove the small bag containing the giblets. Is it still safe to eat the turkey?
The answer depends on the material, as well as the condition of the wrapper. If the wrappings are made of paper, it’s fine to eat both the bird and the giblets as long as you’ve cooked the turkey to a safe internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
You’ll need to inspect plastic wrappings more carefully to determine whether the meal is worth salvaging. If the plastic is still intact and doesn’t show any signs of melting, then the bird should be safe to eat if it’s cooked to at least 165 degrees.
On the other hand, if the plastic is melted or altered in any way, you’ll need to discard the turkey. The melting process could have caused dangerous chemicals to seep into the surrounding area, rendering the meat unsafe for consumption.
The same rules apply for the absorbent pads and plastic squares that come with the turkey wrapping. If you’ve accidentally left them stuck to the bird and they’re still intact after roasting, you should be fine. If they appear damaged, then the meat isn’t safe to eat.
The Bottom Line
Leaving the plastic leg holder in place won’t damage the turkey as long as you roast it at a low enough temperature. Whether or not you leave it in place is a matter of personal preference. However, if you remove it, the bird may cook more evenly.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!
Hi there! I’m Darren Wayland, your BBQHost. My love of great barbecue inspired me to curate this site as a resource for all my like-minded fellow pitmasters out there. When I’m not researching and learning all I can about the latest tips and techniques, you can find me at the grill—that is, if you can spot me at all through the clouds of sweet-smelling smoke. And since you asked, yes, that probably is barbecue sauce on my face. Welcome to the party!