Organizers say Ohio Ren Fest turkey legs reign over others in size

In modern times, there’s only one place it becomes very acceptable to carry around giant legs of meat for a midday snack.

The Ohio Renaissance Festival— it’s a noisy, otherworldly place that reappears every late-summer near Waynesville. Jousting matches, fairies, kings and queens circa 1572, during Queen Elizabeth I’s reign, become the norm for two months.

Although history tells us Queen Elizabeth and her Englishmen were most likely not eating turkey in the 16th century, American ren fests hold the colossal turkey leg tradition to a royal status since the very first fests in the 1960s. Turkey legs can be found at every renaissance festival from California to Maryland, but Ohio might have some of the biggest.

“There is something about walking around, being able to carry a two-pound piece of meat that appeals to people and really puts you back in a medieval Renaissance time period,” said Cheyrl Bucholtz, Ohio Renaissance Festival marketing director.

Chris Cavender, Ohio Renaissance Festival’s food and beverage director, said he skips over the one-pound legs most ren fest organizers will source for their event. Instead, he won’t settle for less than two-pound turkey legs.

“For me, I think it’s better to sell a bigger turkey leg to be impressive more than anything else,” Cavender said.

Ohio Ren Fest’s legs can be so large, it’s not unusual for Bucholtz to hear rumors that the legs are in fact not turkey, but actually are Emu legs.

“To be in a 16th century English village, you’ve got to have foods that you can eat with your hands,” Bucholtz said. “They didn’t go to restaurants or sit down at the dining room table like our culture has grown to do. So you are always on the go, always doing whatever you could do whenever you could do it. Eating things on sticks and things you could hold in your hands were the order of the day.”

Bucholtz has been a part of the Ohio Ren Fest for 20 years and said the turkey leg tradition is not only iconic, it’s local.

All of about 35,000 turkey legs— that’s 70,000 pounds— are sourced each festival season from Bowman & Landes Turkeys in New Carlisle. Turkeys anywhere from 10 to 40 pounds are grown at the New Carlisle farm. Of course, the biggest are saved for Cavender when fest season rolls around. Raising turkeys to produce legs all weighing two pounds, is more about the process of selection, rather than a different breeding method, Cavender said.

“We are taking the legs and you’re probably taking the Thanksgiving turkey,” Bucholtz said referring to the Bowman & Landes turkeys.

Before the turkeys arrive to the Waynesville Festival Grounds, they have already been smoked until cooked all the way through. Giant ovens at the Ren Fest then roast the legs about another hour before they are served to customers at 165 degrees.

Whether Ohio officially does offer the largest turkey legs out there or not, it’s safe to say the Ohio Ren Fest turkey legs have a following. However, not everyone is keen to the tradition. This season was the first year in Bucholtz’s 20 years of directing, that People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals or “PETA” placed a billboard about a mile from the entrance to the grounds, encouraging turkey leg lovers to choose a different item.

“Honestly, we’ve just remained quiet and we’re doing our thing,” Bucholtz said. “They have the right to protest and we have the right to sell 30,000 turkey legs to people that want them.”

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