Sports

When Did Competitive Hot Dog Eating Become a Thing?

The Fourth of July is a day filled with cookouts, fireworks, and Joey Chestnut and friends. While many people will be outside grilling their holiday food, others will be frantically stuffing hot dogs down their throats – or watching others frantically stuffing hot dogs down their throats. The annual Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest has become a holiday tradition, but when did eating hot dogs competitively begin?

Joey Chestnut the heavy favorite to retain his title

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There’s no Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest without Joey Chestnut. Chestnut is the reigning champion and holds the record for most hot dogs eaten (74) during the contest. A year ago, he nearly broke his own mark but came up short with 71.

Since 2007, Chestnut has won the contest every year but one. Matt Stonie shocked the hot dog-eating world in 2015 by outeating Chestnut 62-60. Chestnut had won eight straight times prior to Stonie’s upset victory. In the last four years, Chestnut has eclipsed the 70 mark. He had his record-setting year of 74 in 2018.

Chestnut will be looking for his 13th title and, according to The Sporting News, he’s the heavy favorite (-1750) to pull out the win. Last year, he fell three short of tying his own record of 74 and despite the drop, Chestnut still managed to eat 21 more than runner-up Darron Breeden. Stonie is not making the trip this year.

Chestnut hasn’t skipped a beat during quarantine

Joey Chestnut has been busy during the quarantine. He spent a lot of time devouring the 90 pounds of hot dogs that Nathan’s supplied to him, according to The New York Post. When asked how many hot dogs he ate during quarantine he said, “Nathan’s shipped me out 90 pounds. I definitely had 90 pounds. They’re gone. I had to buy some more on my own.”

Chestnut said because of being stuck in the house, he hasn’t been able to enter any eating contests to see how he’s stacking up against others. “It’s weird ’cause usually there’s contests throughout the year, and they give me an idea for how I’m doing,” he said. “This year I’ve done one contest, and it was in February, so I haven’t been in competition mode that much at all, so it’s been a lot of trying to be self-motivated.”

He did say that during quarantine he ate 100 Pop-Tarts. It was a move he wished he didn’t make. “Not too long ago I did 100 Pop-Tarts,” he said. “It was terrible. I thought it would be delicious, start to end, but it got really, really old really quickly. They got super dry, it tore up my mouth, it took me longer. It was not as enjoyable as I thought it would be.”

How did it all begin?

According to Nathansfamous.com, the hot-dog-eating competition began on July 4, 1916 when four immigrants gathered at the very first Nathan’s Famous hot dog stand in Coney Island. As the story goes, they were competing to see who was the most patriotic. They determined the winner by having a hot-dog-eating contest.

Although this year’s event will be held indoors with no fans in attendance because of the pandemic, typically the contest attracts roughly 40,000 people each year. It’s also televised on ESPN, making it a true holiday event. Chestnut told The New York Post that the lack of fans could hurt because he usually gets that extra push from the crowd.

“That’s what we have to do,” Chestnut said. “I’m happy we’re able to put on a contest. There’s been years where I break a personal best on the 4th of July, and I think it’s purely because the crowd pushed me. At the same time, I do practices home, alone a lot of the time. I should be able to perform well without the audience.”