Talking turkey at the theme parks: The legs, the legend

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'Bizarre Foods' host digs on turkey legs

Andrew Zimmern, host of “Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern” on Travel Channel, joins Chef Goofy in the Magic Kingdom to indulge in the theme park’s turkey legs. (Gene Duncan, Walt Disney Co.)

From a safe distance at Disney's Animal Kingdom, I watched a momma and her three cubs snack on something fowl. They tore into the meat, chewing down to the bone, maneuvering around cartilage to get at every morsel.

Nearby, the poppa removed the skin from his portion of the feast and popped it into a trash can.

This fair-haired British family of five was consuming, for the first time, the ubiquitous theme-park snack: the turkey leg.

"I used to feed them to my dog," says Paul Scott, father of the carnivorous clan.

This fact does not seduce me, a confirmed non-leg man, although Scott's three young daughters appeared to find them finger-licking good. The overgrown snack is too messy, too Cro-Magnon, too mysterious for my taste.

But, looking around almost any Central Florida theme park, I declare myself in the minority.

Turkey-leg stands are scattered everywhere. Folks go hog-wild for them on the edge of Jurassic Park at Islands of Adventure, at a SeaWorld Orlando lakeside stand, at a cabin at Epcot's American Adventure. I saw a woman shred a leg at Holy Land Experience.

Disney says it sells 1.5 million pounds of turkey legs a year, and that translates into pop-culture appeal: Disney guests buy T-shirts emblazoned with a turkey-leg design — and Rice Krispies treats molded in the shape of the turkey legs.

What am I missing? What's their draw? The taste? The smell? The carefree, "I'm-on-vacation" attitude they represent?

The addictive qualities of emu meat? (More on that later.)

"It's like an ice-cream cone, but it's meat; it's better," says Amanda Griffin, visiting Animal Kingdom from Cape Cod, Mass. Her brother, Justin Griffin, likes the on-the-go convenience ("It's good marketing") and the taste.

"It's not dry. It's dark meat. It goes good with beer," he says.

The hands-on, extreme throwback feel appeals to Jennifer Warren of Easton, Pa.

"When are you ever given the option to be caveman-like?" she says.

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," he says. "And I just love salty, smoky, meaty. … It's an American classic."

But it's not emu, Zimmern says, despite persistent rumors that park guests are eating another kind of flightless bird other than turkey. He speaks from emu experience, having eaten emu meat in Australia.

"I can put everyone's mind at rest. It can't be emu. It's too big," he says. "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."

An emu leg would be about eight times the size of a turkey leg, says Tim Williams, director of media productions at Gatorland, a longstanding South Orange Blossom Trail attraction with a handful of emu on its property.

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