The Alluring Mystery of Fair Turkey Legs: Unveiling the Secrets of Their Unique Taste and Texture

There aren’t many foods that divide people as much as turkey legs; you either love them or hate them. On one extreme of the spectrum, its devoted fans can’t get enough of the portable, heavily salted food that comes in large portions. However, those who despise it are skilled at disparaging it, pointing out its enormous, frequently hideous appearance as well as the incredible quantities of fat, calories, and who knows what else you’re consuming in one sitting. Haters gonna hate, right?.

The image of one has probably been ingrained in your memory for eternity, regardless of whether you have attempted one or were just a bystander. You just cant unsee the thing. The turkey leg has its place in many amusement parks, county fairs, and festivals across the country. Every year on National Turkey Lovers Day, its ardent supporters gather to celebrate the product (well, all turkey products really). On paper, it’s a snack made primarily of protein from the aforementioned animal, or a meal because, let’s be honest, it’s huge. So why does the bird receive so much heat? Come along on this fattening, enjoyable, and fair adventure with us! This is the untold truth of the turkey leg.

Fair turkey legs, those colossal and iconic treats found at festivals and amusement parks, have captivated taste buds and sparked curiosity for years. Their popularity is undeniable, with thousands of fairgoers lining up for a chance to wield these meaty clubs. But what exactly makes them so irresistible? Why do they taste so good, and where does that intriguing pink color come from?

The answer lies in a fascinating combination of culinary tradition, science, and a touch of historical preservation. Let’s delve into the secrets behind the unique taste and texture of fair turkey legs:

Step 1: The Wet-Curing Process – A Journey into Flavor and Texture

The journey begins with a process called wet-curing, where the two-pound turkey legs are submerged in a saltwater solution This step serves two crucial purposes:

  • Seasoning the Meat: The high salt concentration penetrates the meat, infusing it with flavor and enhancing its natural savory notes.
  • Maintaining Moisture: During the subsequent cooking process, the salt helps retain moisture within the meat, ensuring a juicy and succulent texture.

This wet-curing process bears a resemblance to brining, but with a key difference: the salt concentration is higher, and additional salts like sodium nitrite might be included. The extended soaking time, reminiscent of historical preservation techniques, further sets it apart.

The Science Behind the “Hammy” Texture:

The high salt concentration in the wet-curing process triggers a fascinating scientific phenomenon. The salt draws out moisture from the meat while simultaneously dissolving the muscle protein structure. This alteration in the protein structure results in a remarkably smooth and dense texture, reminiscent of ham.

Sodium Nitrite: The Pink Hue and Firmness Factor:

Sodium nitrite, a common ingredient in curing salts, plays a crucial role in both the texture and color of fair turkey legs. It contributes to a firmer texture and is responsible for the distinctive pink hue, similar to other cured meats like bacon and ham.

Step 2: Smoke Infusion – The Aromatic Touch

Following the wet-curing process, the turkey legs embark on a journey into the world of smoke. This step is crucial for achieving their signature aroma and depth of flavor.

The Magic of Smoking:

Smoking serves a dual purpose:

  • Drying the Exterior: The smoke dries the outer layer of the meat, forming a flavorful “bark” infused with the essence of smoke. This bark adds a delightful textural contrast to the juicy interior.
  • Flavorful Transformation: The smoke penetrates the meat, generating distinctive flavor through reactions between smoke compounds and the meat’s fat and protein. This process also contributes to the formation of the “smoke ring,” a visually appealing golden-pink layer just below the surface, further enhancing the ham-like quality.

The Final Touch: Baking to Perfection

The smoked turkey legs, prepped at the processing plant, are then frozen and transported to their final destination. At the fair, they are spread on large trays and baked to achieve a perfectly cooked and hot state, ready to tantalize the taste buds of eager fairgoers.

The Verdict: Deliciously Smoked Poultry, Not Ham

While the taste, texture, and even preparation methods of fair turkey legs might evoke comparisons to ham, rest assured that these colossal treats are indeed poultry. The unique combination of wet-curing, smoking, and baking techniques transforms the turkey legs into a culinary masterpiece, distinct from both ham and traditional roasted turkey.

The Allure of the Gigantic:

Beyond the captivating taste and texture, the sheer size of these turkey legs adds to their allure. The two-pound behemoths provide a visually impressive and satisfyingly substantial eating experience, making them a popular choice for those seeking a memorable and Instagram-worthy culinary adventure.

Fair turkey legs offer a unique and delicious culinary experience, blending historical preservation techniques with modern culinary science. Their popularity is a testament to their irresistible taste, intriguing texture, and the sheer fun of wielding these meaty clubs. So, the next time you find yourself at a fair or festival, don’t hesitate to indulge in this iconic treat and savor the unique flavors and textures that make it so special.

No, it’s not emu, no matter what the internet will have you believe

There are many ways to metaphorically break the internet — whether it is another wedding from Kim K or the latest dance crazy thats an ode to Applebees. The internet was sent into a tizzy when claims surfaced that the turkey leg was actually an emu leg. Ew, What? In an appearance on “Conan,” Zachary Levi claimed his sources at Disney parks — also known as cast members — shared with him that the turkey legs are actually emu. Conan immediately disputed him but Levi carried on with the bold, and downright outrageous claim … and now the man is forever known as a beloved actor and conspiracy theorist.

He wasnt the first (and likely will not be the last) to cry out such horrors. In 2010, Theme Park Insider also claimed it was emu but was quickly quieted by their commentators. Things went so far as an executive chef at Walt Disney World going on record with The Orlando Sentinel in 2012 to once and for all debunk all such rumors.

They say dont believe everything you read . In case you’re still inquiring, celebrity chef Andrew Zimmern claims that emu has a metallic taste and tastes more like beef than turkey.

Interested in celebrating your love of turkey legs with merchandise? You’re in luck

Fanatical carnivores rejoice! The loyal following of the turkey leg has spawned a slew of poultry themed merchandise and it is of no surprise that the Disney corporation was the first to get in on this money grabbing gimmick. It all started in 2010 when they began selling playful merchandise — including hats, pins, and t-shirts — that featured a cartoon-like of the snack along with the slogan “Nice & Juicy.” Want to envelop your car in the heavenly aromas of smoked fat and sodium? They even went as far as selling turkey leg air fresheners. Too far? We think not.

This inspired many other fashionistas to hop on board. All over Etsy and other small business-forward sites you can find the good stuff emblazoned on a shirt — including “I am just here for the turkey legs” and a delightful spin on a workout shirt saying “Its leg day.”

How the turkey legs are made at the State Fair


Are fair turkey legs turkey?

Admittedly, I’m among those who’ve doubted that fair turkey legs are actually turkey. But the ham comparison is no coincidence. According to Sedley, whose parents founded the King Richard’s Faire in 1982 (the event is named after her father), the turkey legs are cured and smoked much in the same way as a city ham.

What meat is turkey leg?

A turkey leg is technically comprised of the bird’s thigh and the drumstick (the part of the leg below the knee joint), though in many recipes the term is used to refer to just the drumstick. Skin-on and bone-in, a full leg typically weighs between one and two and a half pounds.

What are turkey feet made of?

Turkey and chicken feet are little more than skin, bones, tendons, and cartilage.

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