Every year on July 4, while many people host barbecues in their backyards, there's a select group of people who take a stage and compete to see who can eat the most hot dogs. It's known as Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest and it is a cultural touchstone of food, rivalry, and competition.
While most people have heard of the hot dog eating contest in passing, few know all of the history and rules that go into the annual event. It started off as a folklore story about immigrants showing off their patriotism and is now an American tradition that attracts professional competitors. FYI, you can watch this year's contest on July 4 on ESPN.
What is Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest?
The annual American contest takes place on Independence Day every year. It's hosted at Nathan's Famous Corporation's most well-known restaurant on Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York. Registered competitors stand on a raised platform with a long table in front of them stacked with drinks and Nathan's Famous hot dogs in buns as spectators watch either in person or on television.
What are the rules for the contest?
Competitors must have a contract with Major League Eating (MLE) in order to participate and men and women compete in different sections. Drinks are available to contestants, and while many people opt for water other drinks can also be used. Condiments are also permitted during the contest, but most participants do not use them. Hot dogs are allowed to cool off before the contest starts as to not lead to any burns when consumed.
How is the contest scored?
The winner of the contest is the person who consumes the most hot dogs and buns in ten minutes (...while keeping all of it down). Each contestant gets assigned a score keeper who counts hot many hot dogs are consumed—partially eaten hot dogs can count and are measured in eighths. At the end of the 10 minutes, hot dogs still in the participants mouth can count as long as they are swallowed. Penalty cards can also be given out for different reasons, including a yellow card for "messy eating" and a red card for "reversal of fortune" (vomiting). The red card will result in disqualification from the contest.
What happens if there's a tie?
In the case of a tie contestants will go head-to-head in a five hot dog eat-off to see who can eat all five the fastest. Any additional ties lead to a sudden death eat-off of one hot dog in the least amount of time.
How did it all start?
The history of Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest is blurry, with the first claim being that on July 4, 1916, four immigrants had a hot dog eating contest on Coney Island at the Nathan's Famous stand to decide who was the most patriotic of them all. This rumor was started by Nathan's promote Mortimer "Morty" Matz, but he admitted it was fabricated publicity stunt. The earliest recorded winners of the official contest date back to 1967. It's also important to note that 2011 was the first year of the official Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest for Women; prior to then men and women competed on the same stage.
Who are some of the most decorated winners?
Even those who don't know much about the contest's tradition has heard the name Joey Chestnut. He's the defending men's champion and holds the record of 75 hot dogs which he completed in the 2020 contest. Miko Sudo is the defending women's champ with a record of 48.5 hot dogs in 2020 as well and seven titles total. Joey Chestnut is the most decorated Nathan's Hot Dog contest champion and has taken home the first place spot for the past 13 years. Competitive eater Takeru Kobayashi from Japan is second against Joey in the men's contests and has won six titles total with his last being in 2006.
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