Why Is Turkey a More Common Cold Cut for Sandwiches Than Chicken?

Cold cuts – also known as lunch meats and deli meats are popular ingredients of a quick and cheap brown-bag lunch. You may have noticed that Turkey is more common cold cut than chicken, although chicken is clearly the more popular meat. The following top answers from the internet should fill you in on the reasons behind this.


I worked the first FOUR years of my engineering career at a factory in rural America that produced approximately 2 million pounds of unsliced turkey deli meat per week. I still work for one of the largest producer of turkey in the world. The answer almost exclusively boils down to economics. Turkey is a lower cost protein to make than chicken (by a small margin…but feed inputs are roughly 70% of the cost of poultry and turkeys are more efficient feed converters. Every little bit counts here). On top of this turkey is incredibly seasonal. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and to a lesser extent Easter are when turkey producers make their money and spend the rest of the year trying not to lose it. You can’t just turn on the giant industro-ag machine that is turkey production for three holidays so production must remain relatively stable year round.

People don’t buy whole turkeys throughout the year so producers have to get creative. Enter turkey bacon, burgers, and…..deli breast! Essentially…if you want reasonably priced thanksgiving and Christmas turkeys…the industry has to find creative ways to sell it year round….the white goes to deli, dark goes to ham, bacon, and burgers.

Turkey takes substantially longer to grow than chicken so contracts on pricing are easier to secure. Chicken grows in weeks…so your contract price might look great the first flocks…but feed prices change rapidly and if you lock in a year contract on chicken you could be getting screwed.

Also, there are higher margin outlets for chicken breast than deli meat. Restaurants don’t want to serve turkey because its slow to cook…chicken is fast and with high margins…chicken breasts are incredibly popular at the meat case for grilling. If you can get it in your store, buy raw turkey tenderloin to marinate and grill! Best cut of meat to grill bar a ribeye!


Mostly it’s the illusion. And the fact that turkeys only sell a few times a year (Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas), so the industry needed to find a way to market turkey meat year round. As for the illusion part – that is because nobody really expects to see slicked chicken since a chicken is small and they think that people are actually slicing a chicken breast.

When you get sliced turkey (from a deli for example) you are not getting an actual sliced turkey breast either. The meat arrives in a ball to the store, its mostly preformed meat with a little bit of binding agent (corn starch or something, I don’t really know) and a whole lot of water. The person who is going to slice it has to drain a lot of water – the water is great for adding weight and you pay by weight often.

sliced chicken breast

The big ball of meat is easy to slice and that is what they used to make sliced turkey from – which is a lot easier for people to believe than a sliced chicken breast I suppose.


Turkey is much more popular in the US than in other parts of the world.

Outside of the US (specifically thinking of Australia, UK and other parts of Western Europe) I’d estimate chicken sandwiches to be 10 times more available than turkey


I worked in a Deli in Australia many years ago (here Deli’s just sell cold meats, olives, sliced cheeses, etc.)I would say that Ham was the most popular product by far. There were at least 8 types of ham, with varying degrees of processing – with ‘off-the-bone’ being the least processed, and most expensive. ‘Champagne’ ham was just a ball of pink with a ham-like skin. Once sliced they all looked roughly the same.Turkey meat was a niche, and the 2 types you would get here were; processed, or breast meat – which again appeared similar once sliced, but tasted completely different.

There was also sliced processed chicken meat, which is mainly for kids and disgusting.


Turkey has less fat than chicken, and during the “fat is evil” era of the 1990s, this health aspect gave turkey a big boost, especially with all the ad campaigns reminding people of that fact.

To this day a lot of people still think that turkey is the healthy alternative to lunch meats like ham and roast beef.


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