The Science Of Dark vs. White Meat

Thanksgiving day, if you eat turkey, you have the choice of eating white meat or dark meat. What's the difference? In this episode, Trace breaks down what meat is.

People usually have a pretty strong preference between white meat and dark meat, and more than any other holiday, Thanksgiving is the time in which you are forced to pick a side: White meat or Dark?

But what's the difference between them, scientifically speaking? White meat consists of fast-twitch muscles, which are made for short bursts of energy and tire out quickly. Dark meat, on the other hand, are made up of slow-twitch muscles, which are used more frequently and can work for longer periods of time than their fast-twitch counterparts.

So what makes dark meat dark and white meat white? It has to do with the concentration of the protein myoglobin in the muscle fibers. Similar to hemoglobin, myoglobin helps carry oxygen to muscles. The more the muscle is used, the more oxygen it needs, and therefore the more myoglobin and the "darker" the muscle will appear.

In the case of turkeys, which rarely fly, their breasts and wings have much less myoglobin than their legs (which they stand on all day long), so they have less myoglobin and are lighter in color. On the other hand, ducks fly and swim all the time. So duck breasts and wings are made up of darker, slow-twitch muscles.

What accounts for the difference in taste between white meat and dark meat? Since white meat is thinner, less dense, and more tender, it can be cooked more quickly. The denser dark meat takes longer to cook which is why white meat tends to dry out when you roast a turkey.

All of which begs the question: which do you prefer on Thanksgiving ... the white meat or the dark meat of the turkey? Or are you one of those rare ambidextrous people who like both equally? Let us know which you think it better and why in the comments section below.

Read More:
Why do turkeys have dark and white meat (via Library of Congress)
"Turkeys can fly short distances -- typically from ground to perch -- but they are not known for their sustained flighting abilities."

What's the Difference Between Dark and White Turkey Meat (via Live Science)
"Schools are closed on Thanksgiving, but the learning doesn't have to stop."

Comparative Muscle Chart (via Exploratorium)
"Muscles that are used for extended periods of activity, such as standing or walking, are made up of muscles with fibers that are called slow-twitch."

What Gives Meat Its Color (via Exploratorium)
"Red, or dark meat is made up of muscles with fibers that are called slow-twitch."

What Is Meat? (via Exploratorium)
"Meat is mostly the muscle tissue of an animal."

The Unbearable Whiteness of White Meat (
"On Thanksgiving, a family member will carve up the turkey and ask us all, ‘White meat or dark?'"

Food Science: The Difference Between White Meat and Dark Meat
"It seems like there's a new theory, trick, or technique every year for making sure the white and dark meat on a turkey cook evenly."

Dark Meat Can Be Heart Healthy, Study Shows (via Live Science)
"Fear not the dark side. Dark meat in poultry is healthier than you might think, according to a new study by researchers at the New York University School of Medicine."

Turkey Teaser Explained (via Scientific American)
"A common question flowing across holiday tables trimmed with turkey this week may be ‘white meat or dark?'"