How to Competitively Eat Almost Anything
Joey Chestnut, one of the world's greatest competitive eaters, shows us his techniques for wolfing down pizza, wings, hot dogs, eggs, and more.
What's the most you've ever eaten in one sitting?
Maybe you're thinking back to a particularly indulgent Thanksgiving, or a decadent day of day-drinking that somehow segued into multiple pizzas, a double bacon cheeseburger, and half a batch of peanut-butter cookies. Maybe you opted for a fourth doughnut during a work meeting, then ordered so much Chinese food delivery that they provided utensils for three people even though it was all for your greedy little maw.
But it's probably fair to assume that you haven't eaten 73-and-a-half hot dogs in one sitting. One ten-minute sitting, especially. Because no one can do that besides Joey Chestnut, the winner of the most well-known eating competition in the world: Nathan's Famous International Hot Dog Eating Contest, which took place on Monday—it's 100th anniversary. Joey is considered the greatest competitive eater of all time, with so many world records it's hard to keep track.
With his championship belt in tow, Joey stopped by our offices on Wednesday to present an award to Noisey editor Kyle Kramer, who—with 11 hot dogs consumed in five minutes—was the winner of an unofficial hot-dog-eating contest at the VICE offices a few weeks ago. Kyle would not only receive a custom trophy, but meet the master. And naturally, we all wanted to know how he does what he does; how a lone man can casually eat 121 Twinkies, or 25 pastrami sandwiches from Katz's, or 384 gyozas at one time. He has done all of these things.
When he arrived, Joey was good-humored, a little bit shy, and apparently still reeling from Monday's events. Even two days later, he still hadn't had a "normal" meal. "I snacked a little bit yesterday," he said. "By the time you're done with interviews and things, it's settled in deep. If it's digesting, I just want to go to sleep and drink water. I have the craziest dreams when I'm digesting a massive amount. It feels so real, it's psychedelic."
As his appetite slowly returned, we presented Joey with a few foods that he holds records in or has otherwise wolfed down before in large quantities to get some serious pro tips on how he overcomes gastrointestinal adversity and defies science to eat more than you—or he—ever thought was possible. We even tried out a few of his techniques for ourselves.
Joey has previously won two pizza-eating contests: one in New York held by Famiglia Pizzeria, and another thrown by Pizza Hut. (He broke the record for Pizza Hut P'Zones, with seven-and-a-half of the calzone-like inside-out pizzas consumed in ten minutes.) When he's stuffing slices into his mouth, he has an interesting, origami-like technique.
"In a contest, you fold the tip under and fold [the slice] in half, because you want all the cheese to touch your throat. You don't want the rough bottom," he explained.
"Fold the tip under and then pull the sides together into a reverse fold." (Is the term "pizza reverse fold" trademarked?) "If it's really crusty," he continued, "you'll dip the crust in water. I only use hot water. It helps everything. It helps your muscles relax. If I'm drinking water, it's always hot."
We recently got our test kitchen pizza oven in working order, and ever since, have been pumping out pies like it's nobody's business. They're a little daintier than what you'd typically see in an eating contest, but would do the trick for demonstration purposes. This technique isn't for crust-lovers, but for those who are looking for a cheese-only bite, here's your solution.
"I eat it with a fork and knife. I've never done a steak contest, but I've done challenges," Joey said. "I would love to [do a contest], though. A lot of women can really eat—[competitive eater] Molly [Schuyler]'s nuts. She goes straight animal. I've never eaten a steak like that. She broke my record at the Big Texan. I just use a fork and knife. I didn't even know you could eat a steak like that, but she went straight wolf. She tore through it like butter. It was insane. I don't steal techniques from people, but we all borrow and try to enhance techniques from each other."
Turns out that there's at least one type of eating contest where utensils are welcome.
Why asparagus, you may ask? Well, the very first eating contest that Joey won was an asparagus-eating competition in Stockton, California.
Although my small, feeble hands are clutching thin little stalks in the photo above, the asparagus you'll find in such a contest will probably look much different. "In California, we have the big ones—the thick ones," he said. "The contest I did was at the asparagus festival, and they're really proud of their asparagus in Stockton. [The pee smell] hits so quick. We're talking 45 minutes after the contest. You're peeing, like, What the fuck is that smell?"
When it comes to asparagus, you've got to crush it—literally. "It's cooked, so I squeeze the hell out of it," Joey described. "It's fibrous—there's a lot of fibers in there—so if I squeeze the hell out of it, I can break it and bring out some of the liquid. So my hands are doing a lot of the work of my jaws. That's a trick—any time you can use your hands to pre-chew something." (Note to self: Pre-chew all things with your hands moving forward.)
Also, you'll want to double-team the stalks, which sometimes come deep-fried. "It's two big stalks in my hand, wrapped around, so it's like four," he said. "They're long stalks, bent in half, so they're about the size of your hand. So I squeeze them and then feed them into my mouth, standing up straight, and drinking water. I can get it to break or if I do swallow it, it can be stringy and I'll relax my throat [and the muscles will work it down]."
In a 2013 competition, Joey ate 141 hard-boiled eggs in just eight minutes. Because this number is completely staggering, you may assume that Joey loves hard-boiled eggs. But this is not the case.
"It was really coming out of my pores," he said of the aftermath. "I could smell it on my clothes."
There is a method to his madness when it comes to this squishy, sulfuric food. "The hardboiled eggs make you nauseous real quick. You have to chew them a little bit. It's hard," he explained. "In the contest, I'll stand up really straight and grab two of them at a time in one hand. I use the water to help swallow because the yolk is really dry and pasty. So you get into the rhythm… A little sip of water will help it go down."
And no, he does not swallow them whole: "I slice it with my teeth and use my tongue to work it to the back."
As with asparagus, multiples are key here. "In the contest, I'll grab two or three at a time. I'll have my eyes closed and just be in my happy place, doing the same thing over and over again. It's muscle memory. I just try to ignore any kind of negative flavor, any time I want to burp. I just think, Eat it like you ate the first one. Also, the audience is awesome; they're pushing me. I get pretty amped up. It's harder when you practice. It's really weird [to practice]."
And despite the nausea that comes with eating dozens upon dozens of hard-boiled eggs, the only time he has ever almost barfed during a contest was once, during a lull in the crowd's roar, when he heard his mother yell, "Do it for Mama!"
Water seems to be the helper of every competitive eater, turning everything into a more digestible mush and preventing contestants from choking.
"I'm happy because my doctor says I'm pretty healthy," Joey remarked, when asked if he is concerned about his health after these events. "My weight does fluctuate, and there are extreme highs and lows in my blood sugar, so there is some worry about diabetes. He says to make sure I don't gain weight and that I get exercise. But my blood work is coming back really good. I have a couple things in my family history that I'm more worried about than the actual eating. I like going to the doctor, being vigilant, being told that I'm healthy so I can push myself."
OK, I blew it on this one. I immediately snapped the hot dogs in half, assuming that this was something all competitive eaters do, as I'd seen the well-known Japanese eater Takeru Kobayashi do it before, and even attribute his resounding success to "the snap."
Anyways, I should haven't done that. Joey does not break them in half. Pretend that they're intact below. Shoving four hot dogs in your mouth simultaneously isn't as easy for everyone, or always as advantageous, as it is for Kobayashi.
"Hot dogs are fun. It's a big contest," Joey said of Nathan's. "It's the only one that's a little bit stressful, just because it's so big." (It consistently rakes among the highest-rated television shows to air on the Fourth of July.)
"It was a big year this year," he sighed. "It was a comeback year."
Joey is referring to the fact that after winning the contest eight times in a row, he was dethroned in 2015 by Matt Stonie. But this year, he was back on his feet, and resumed his top spot by eating 70 hot dogs to Stonie's comparatively pitiful second-place show of just 53. Here's how.
"I do the same thing over and over from the first to the last. While I'm eating two pieces of meat, I'm dunking the buns in water. And as soon as I get the last bit of meat in my mouth, I transfer one wet bun in my hand and I shove them down," he said.
To reiterate: He does not break them in half. He simply grabs two and feeds them into his mouth, with his teeth gnashing, as though they're whizzing down a conveyer belt and being sliced along the way. "I grab the two hot dogs, bun, then other bun while I'm eating. I do all my feeding with my left hand and my dunking with my right. I'm left-handed, so I use my left hand for my mouth," he said. "Some people will do one hot dog, one bun. I feel like I have a bigger throat, so I can do two pieces at one time. Just chop it up and suck it down."
He's well-aware of the ways competitors differ in their tactics, but is clearly confident in his. "Kobayashi used to snap them in two and then do a bun. Not everyone separates the bun, and it works for me. I actually like the taste of the Nathan's hot dog, but with the wet bun, it ruins it for me. So I don't look at it as a bun. I look at as this thing that's just funny water. I'm using the bun as water to help swallow."
Wings are one of Joey's favorites when it comes to battle foods. In addition to being totally delicious, they won't fill you up to fast because they require a little bit of legwork in between bites. At the Hooters wing-eating contest that he'll be participating in on July 11, he expects to eat "about 200 wings" in ten minutes.
"That's another one where it's a technique food," he commented. "You're not going to get full. If a [little bone] gets stuck, you work it down or up. My muscles are pretty strong. I can't really imagine choking."
Joey's wing-eating technique is actually incredibly practical outside of competitive eating, too.
It starts with a twist. "I pinch both bones really tight, and then I do a little twist and try to break the cartilage."
Then, there's the slide. "I slide up my thumb underneath one end, so the meat is sticking up a little bit, and then I can pull it all off."
After sliding the meat off the bone, you pull the bones out as cleanly as possible. It all happens in one quick motion, but the meat and bones separate pretty effortlessly when I give it a go myself—plus, you don't get sauce all over the perimeter of your mouth while trying to get at the meat that usually hides out between the two big bones.
So, in summary: "I twist, jam my thumb underneath the meat a little bit, hold it really tight, and then bite off all the meat."
And if a bone does make it into your mouth, it's not a big deal when you're a serious competitive eater. (But the rest of us should probably be a little more careful.)
"There have been times when things get stuck in my throat," Joey said, "but you just work it up or down. Like how a swimmer probably can't imagine drowning. Their bodies are so used to being in the water. I'm so used to shoving things down my throat."
Ultimately, while eaters depend on their muscles, they also require a strong mental will above all else. "You have to use these weird psychological tricks to fool your body into doing this," Joey explained. "Growing up, we're always told not to overeat, and we never eat fast like that in public. It was so weird [at first] to have people yelling at me to keep eating. It's insane."
That it is. But damn, this dude is good at it.
Oh yeah, and Kyle was psyched about his trophy—mostly because it was handed off by a living legend.