Written by: J. Vigotsky
Independence Day marks the birth of American as a nation. It’s a celebration that often features fireworks, barbecues, swimming pools, friends, and family. But for some people, the Fourth of July is serious business. The Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest returned yesterday for the 101st time. Some of the world’s most ambitious competitive eaters gathered on Coney Island in Brooklyn, NY to test the limits of the human body, mind, and soul. Thousands of eager spectators flocked to Brooklyn to experience the spectacle, and around one-million fans watched the event on TV from the comfort of their own homes.
The Birth of a Legend
Urban legend has it that on July 4, 1916, four immigrants got into an argument about which one of them was the most patriotic. To settle the dispute, they all agreed to a hot dog eating competition that would once and for all decide which one of them was the ultimate American patriot. Since then, the hot dog eating contest has taken place every year except 1941 and 1971. The contest was cancelled in each of those years as a protest against war and political unrest, respectively.
The Next Level
Although the Nathan’s Hot Dog eating contest had already been around for over 80 years, it wasn’t until the turn of the Millennium that its popularity skyrocketed. Renowned competitive eater Takeru Kobayashi played a pinnacle role in the contest’s success, eating nearly double the previous world record of 25.5 hot dogs and capturing his first victory in 2001. The Japanese sensation went on to win six consecutive contests from 2001-2006. Kobayashi’s training and eating techniques would revolutionize the sport, leading to influx of other talented eaters who would eventually challenge his dominance.
In 2011, the first Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest for Women was introduced. Before then, women always competed with the men. $20,000 in prize money is allocated to both the men and women eating competitions. The prize breakdown is as follows:
1st Place: $10,000
2nd Place: $5,000
3rd Place: $2,500
4th Place: $1,500
5th Place: $1,000
In addition to cash, first place receives a championship belt and trophy. The men’s belt is mustard-yellow, while the women’s belt is pink.
The Calm Before the Storm
The days leading up to each Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest are dominated by excitement for the upcoming event. The New York City mayor makes an appearance at a public weigh-in, where some eating contestants wear extravagant costumes and wild makeup. The festivities continue on the morning of the event, when all eaters board the “bus of champions” and make the trek to Coney Island. Upon arrival, the eaters are introduced independently and draw passionate applause from the crowd. Multi-time contest winner Joey Chestnut routinely makes his entrance atop a sedan chair.
Hot Dog Eating Wall of Fame
Any competitive eater worth his or her salt knows the only true way to eating immortality is to secure a spot of the Hot Dog Eating Wall of Fame. Located on the same ground where the annual contest takes place, the wall commemorates past contest winners and features a clock that counts down the minutes until the next contest.
Hot Dog Eating Controversy
Like other highly competitive arenas, the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest has had no shortage of controversies. On a couple of occasions, judges have had to step in and review videotape to see whether a contestant has vomited—which would automatically disqualify him. Kobayashi has been reviewed on two separate instances for a possible infraction, but the judges ruled in his favor both times.
The controversy doesn't step there for Kobayashi. After refusing to sign an exclusive contract with Major League Eating (MLE), the eating legend was not allowed to compete in 2010 and consequently attempted to rush the stage. He was arrested for the act, but a Brooklyn judge dropped all charges. In 2011, Kobayashi’s name was wiped from the all-important Hot Dog Eating Wall of Fame.
A 2003 experiment allowed celebrity eaters to compete against the pros. Former Chicago Bears defensive lineman Willam “The Refrigerator” Perry earned a spot in the contest be devouring twelve hot dogs at a qualifier. Unfortunately, the fridge folded under the pressure of the bright lights. He managed to eat a measly four hot dogs before waving the white flag only five minutes into the contest.
Rules & Contestants
Around twenty eaters compete for glutton supremacy. The field consists of the defending champ, winners of regional qualifiers, two wildcards, and special invitees of MLE. The wildcards are the two eaters who had the highest qualifier scores but didn’t win a single qualifier.
Contestants are allowed to have a beverage of their choice on the hand. Most eaters choose water, which has zero calories and helps enable them to stuff every last morsel of food down their throats. Condiments are also allowed, but contestants know that filling up on mustard, relish, ketchup is a less-than-ideal strategy. A scorekeeper is assigned to each eater and carefully monitors consumption. Eating penalties include a yellow card, which is issued for “messy eating,” and a red card, which is issued for “reversal of fortune”—AKA vomiting.
In the event of a tie, eaters face off against one another by seeing who can eat five hot dogs the fastest. Further ties result in contestants eating just one dog. Whoever finishes first, wins.
And Now - Your 2017 Hot Dog Eating Champions…
Defending his crown and winning his 10th contest overall, Joey Chestnut broke his own Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest record by consuming a whopping 72 hot dogs in 10 minutes.
For the women, Miki Sudo earned her fourth straight victory by downing 41 hot dogs—a personal best for the New York product.
Starting Your Own Contest
If your restaurant or concession stand is interested in offering hot dogs and starting an eating competition of its own, make sure to have the proper hot dog equipment. Commercial hot dog rollers are available in an assortment of sizes, and hot dog merchandisers are ideal for displaying your freshly cooked offerings.