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

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"If you're going to walk around with an emu leg in a theme park and chew on it, you'd have to get a cart with wheels to push that thing around. They're huge," he says. Gatorland doesn't sell turkey legs — or, for that matter, emu legs.

Although they may not be emu-esque, the turkey legs have gotten bigger. Since Disney started selling them in the early 1990s, the amount of meat has increased more than 50 percent, says Robert Adams, executive chef at Magic Kingdom.

"We started out with around a 22-ounce turkey leg. Today, we currently average about 34 ounces," Adams says. "That's why we started calling them 'jumbo' on the signage."

Bigger portions can translate into higher calorie counts. Nutritional-information requests at several turkey-leg stands and guest-relations desks yielded no answers. Online calorie-counters list smaller legs but not the jumbo-size. WebMD.com, in an article about food at fairs, festivals and amusement parks, reported that a "giant turkey leg" has 1,136 calories and 54 grams of fat.

The increased size can be attributed to a worldwide increase in turkey demand, Adams says. For the most part, consumers want white breast meat, so growers are raising bigger turkeys, he says.

Bottom line: We can't have bigger turkey breasts without bigger turkey legs.

(For the record, Adams officially confirms the snacks are not made of emu. "We hear that all the time," he says. "They're real turkeys. It's what they are.")

Adams sees turkey legs as part of a couple of culinary trends, including the street-food phenomenon.

"It seems to be even more popular with the economy the way it is. People are eating smaller sizes — snack-type versus entrée," he says.

There's also a comfort-food factor. People are at home with the flavor, Adams says.

"They're cured similar to ham, with sugar and salt," he says. "Mainstream America is very familiar with that."

And now, part of American culture, says Travel Channel's Zimmern.

"It's very culture-specific. It's Americana. It's state fair-carnival-theme park," he says. "It just fits."

dbevil@tribune.com or 407-420-5477
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