A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: Turkey Legs
By Dave Shute
By Jim Korkis
One of the iconic food treats at Walt Disney World is the infamous, enormous Turkey Legs that made their debut in Frontierland in the late 1980s.
Originally, they were sold at only one food cart location, but the demand grew so large that they expanded to other Disney parks including Disneyland.
Weighing roughly one and half pounds each, the legs have a taste that vaguely resembles ham thanks to being cured in a similar salt and sugar solution. The legs cost up to twelve dollars each.
Each leg is roughly 730 to 1,136 calories with a minimum of 36 to 54 grams of fat, according to the size of the leg. Orginally, Disney sold legs that were 22 ounces but today the “jumbo” leg is closer to 34 ounces.
The Turkey Legs are not unique to Disney and are sold at carnivals, state fairs and other amusement venues around the United States.
A persisent urban myth was that the legs were so huge that they couldn’t possibily be from an actual turkey and must be from another bird like an emu or an ostrich.
“People are accustomed to Thanksgiving turkeys, which are female birds, or hens which are traditionally much smaller; the males, called toms, are bigger — up to fity pounds apiece — and their legs are the ones that Disney serves,” said Keith M. Williams, a vice president at the National Turkey Federation, an industry trade group. Federal law prohibits the use of steroids to make turkeys and their legs meatier. However, farmers are raising larger turkeys because of demand and so the legs are larger as well.
Turkey legs are a favorite food of Andrew Zimmern, host of Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods:
“With the turkey, I can walk, I can gnaw, I can pull pieces off, I can put it down. And I just love salty, smoky, meaty. … It’s an American classic. It’s Americana.
“I can put everyone’s mind at rest. It can’t be emu. I’ve eaten emu. It’s too big, And the meat would be a little more beefy. Emu has the consistency of turkey leg but the flavor of roasted veal. It’s got mild beefiness to it and a little more metallic.”
In general, an emu leg would be about eight times the size of a turkey leg.
Marc Summers of Food Network’s Unwrapped: Walt Disney World stated,
“Many guests aren’t familiar with smoked poultry, so they pick up on the salty flavor. Disney injects their legs with a salt water cure for moisture, then smoke them. Turkey legs have pink meat because of the six-hour smoking process. It flavors the legs and keeps the inside meat pink and moist.”
The food treat became so popular that in 2010, Disney created a line of merchandise souvenirs including hats, pins, magnets, t-shirts and even air fresheners featuring an image of the item and the slogan “Nice & Juicy!” Disney bakeries even produce Rice Krispie Treat versions with chocolate icing as the skin.
By 2013, it was estimated that in Disney’s North American theme parks over two million of the jumbo turkey legs were sold and consumed each year. Turkey legs are no longer available at Disney’s Animal Kingdom since March 1, 2016.
Disney has stated that the legs are meant to be shared and that the average park visitor walks about seven miles during a visit or enough to burn most of the calories from eating the leg. They state that the popularity of the food item is due to its novelty and its “comfort food” factor.
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Thanks, Jim! And come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!
In the meantime, check out his books, including Secret Stories of Walt Disney World: Things You Never You Never Knew, which reprints much material first written for this site, and The Vault of Walt: Volume 4, and his contributions to The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit, all published by Theme Park Press.