Food for Thought

Turkey Legs at Orlando Theme Parks

You’ve no doubt tried one or watched as a family of four order two and then huddle around each other ripping the meat off the bone. They are the famous giant turkey legs and since tomorrow is Thanksgiving (and you’ll probably be eating turkey) we thought we’d shed some light on the most popular food at Orlando theme parks.

Walt Disney World ® may be the first theme park you think of when you think turkey leg. And you’d be right to think that as the theme park sells roughly 1.5 million pounds of turkey legs a year! They’ve become such a novelty item that according to Robert Adams, executive chef at Magic Kingdom ® since Disney ® started selling these prehistoric treats in the early 1990s, the amount of meat has increased more than 50 percent.

"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."

Besides increasing in size, the popularity of the turkey leg has become somewhat of a pop culture icon, with Disney ® stores selling turkey shaped rice crispy treats T-shirts adorned with a turkey leg. So where exactly did the turkey leg phenomenon come from? According to some old paintings it goes as far back as Henry VIII. The British King, who is sometimes depicted holding or eating a turkey leg may be the reason why turkey legs are everywhere today. Some disagree and say that the bird didn’t make it over to England until after Harry’s death in 1547, while others believe they were first brought over to be eaten by the court in 1524.

According to Bill Teel, an instructor for a class called History of Customs and Manners at Scarborough Renaissance Festival, "They were served at a feast, and they had been supplied by, I believe, the Spanish ambassador. Henry liked them a lot, and they became very popular. There were flocks that were domesticated that were kept by the court."

So how did turkey legs go from being a King’s feast to one of the most popular foods in Orlando theme parks? Teel believes, Robert Strickland, a navigator who had sailed with explorer Sebastian Cabot introduced turkeys to the population in Yorkshire around 1542. This might be where turkey legs got their start as fair/street food.

Back then, the breast of the bird was considered to be the best cut and was often served to visiting nobility and the upper gentry. The legs were left over and served to the people enjoying the fair. And the fair is no doubt where turkey legs got their start, only hitting theme parks in the ‘90’s. True or not, we’re just glad Orlando theme parks introduced thousands to the barbaric food!

To take a bite out of the prehistoric-size turkey legs you can find them throughout Walt Disney World ® as well as in Universal Orlando, SeaWorld Orlando and the Holy Land Experience.