You've probably heard of competitive eating, those food challenges in which people consume ungodly amounts as fast as they can, battling it out for cash prizes as high as $10,000. These challenges span the globe, are broadcast on ESPN, and include just about anything edible: jalapeños, shrimp cocktail, and gyoza, to name just a few.
They've also got history. In a story from the 1400s, notes Eater, a Nordic man enters an eating competition with a god. In the 1700s, poet James Taylor wrote of the "Great Eater of Kent," whom, Atlas Obscura reports, ate "some 60 eggs, a good portion of a lamb, and a handful of pies — a meal that left him hungry for more."
As for today's competitions, food is supplied by organizers, and participants typically register via Major League Eating's website — the organization that oversees all professional eating competitions. Usually entry is free.
Competitive eaters, like the surprisingly slim 24-year-old YouTube star Matt Stonie, told GQ that when he's gearing up for a competition, he'll eat anywhere from 10,000 to 22,000 calories a day. In a 2015 interview with GQ, Joey Chestnut, the top-ranked eater in the world, said he only binges on solid food once every five days when he's in practice-mode.
The sport comes with its own set of risks, like asphyxiation, which has killed several competitive eaters, as well as morbid obesity, gastric ruptures, gastroparesis, and eating disorders, according to USA Today. But you don't need to be a professional eater to enjoy the competitions. We compiled the 11 best, weirdest, and most disgusting we could find. Get ready to be grossed out, but also impressed.
11. The Vaughan Pizza Fest World Pizza Eating Contest
At the Vaughan Pizza Fest World Pizza Eating Contest in Woodbridge, Ontario, competitors feast on as many personal pizzas as possible in record time.
At the third annual event, which took place in July of 2018, Geoff Esper broke a world record by eating 19.25 9-inch personal pizzas within 10 minutes, according to a Major League Eating report.
His prize for devouring those mini pizzas, supplied by Pie: Wood Fired Pizza Joint, was $4,000. Cash and free pizza? Not too shabby.
It's inconclusive what, if any, toppings made it onto the pies.
10. Smoke’s Poutinerie World Poutine Eating Championship
Major League Eaters from all over the world head to Toronto for this annual competition to see how much of the popular Quebec dish consisting of French fries topped with cheese curds and gravy they can consume.
2017's poutine-eating winner, Carmen Cincotti, the number two eater in the world, ate a little over 20 pounds of poutine in 10 minutes, taking home a $6,000 prize. The competition returns for its ninth year on October 13, 2018.
According to Smoke’s Poutinerie, since it began in 2016 the event has helped raise more than $100,000 in donations, which support Friends of We Care in sending children with disabilities to summer camp. That's probably the nicest possible outcome of a bunch of adults eating a massive amount of cheese curds and gravy for public enjoyment.
9. La Costeña Jalapeño Eating Contest
The thought of eating just one jalapeño is enough to make my eyes water. Imagine eating 265!
Molly Schuyler won a $1,500 grand prize for doing just that at the 2018 WBCA Jalapeño Festival's La Costeña Jalapeño Eating Contest in Laredo, Texas.
While the festival has just passed its 40 year anniversary, it's unclear when people began competitively stuffing spicy peppers into their mouths for cash prizes.
8. St. Elmo Shrimp Cocktail Eating Championship
Joey Chestnut won this annual shrimp cocktail-eating competition in 2017, beating out nine other eaters for the grand prize of $1,500, according to RTV6.
The professional eater earned his fifth win by downing 10 pounds and 6.4 ounces of shrimp cocktail (including the sauce) all at once.
The Indianapolis-based competition has its contestants eat their shrimp with St. Elmo's shrimp cocktail sauce, which is famous for being exceptionally spicy.
7. The World’s Ice Cream Eating Championship
At the weeks-long Indiana State Fair in Indianapolis, visitors can feast on fair concessions, interact with farm animals, and witness the World's Ice Cream Eating championship, where competitors try to eat as much ice cream as is humanly possible.
Geoff Esper won this year's competition in early August, eating 15.5 pints of vanilla ice cream in six minutes, according to Indy Star. He took home a prize of $4,000 for guzzling down an equivalent of about nine tubs of Häagen-Dazs.
6. Berkwood Farms Bacon Eating Contest
At the Keystone Bacon and Bourban Festival in Keystone, Colorado, visitors can find bacon sampling stations, concerts, and most important: the Berkwood Farms Bacon Eating Contest.
The bacon-eating competition is still going strong since it began in 2008. February 16, 2018, brought a new bacon-eating champ. Matt Weis, a relatively new competitive eater, was crowned 2018's "gold skillet winner," after he ate a full pound of bacon supplied by Berkwood Farms.
Weis, who is on the high fat, low carb Keto diet, told the Des Moines Register that he can eat bacon pretty much whenever he wants, because it has the "perfect ratio of fats and protein with no carbs."
Must be nice.
5. The National Harbor World Peeps Eating Championship
The National Harbor World Peeps Eating Championship began in 2016. Despite its newness, many of the world's highest-ranking eating competitors, including Carmen Cincotti and Gideon Oji — numbers two and six, respectively — have turned up for the Maryland event.
At the inaugural competition, Matt Stonie ate 200 peeps in five minutes, setting a world record. In 2017, he beat his own record by eating 255 peeps. That's enough to fill at least 25 easter baskets.
4. World Pie Eating Championship
Unlike most eating competitions, at the UK-based World Pie-Eating Championship in Wiggan, competitors must only consume one thing: a single pie. The beef and potato-filled pies measure four inches in diameter and one inch in depth, according to the Daily Mail.
Whoever eats the pie the fastest receives a free lunch at Harry's Bar (where the competition takes place) and the "Bradley Piggins" cup — likely a nod to British cyclist and sports personality Bradley Wiggins, but with a cheeky meat-oriented spin.
The pie-eating contest has been happening for 24 years now and it has become a local and national favorite.
Martin Appleton-Clare won the competition for the third year in a row in 2017, eating his pie in 32 seconds flat. Vicky Lindley won the women's competition, devouring her pie in 30 seconds. Champions, both of them.
3. Acme Oyster Eating World Championship
This event takes place at the New Orleans Oyster Festival in Louisiana, and witnessing it must be a bit like watching a culinary horror movie. You will be scared, you will be amused, and you will be so relieved when it's all over.
Competitive eater newcomer Darron Breeden won the 2018 competition — and a beautiful oyster belt (a belt adorned with fake oysters) — for consuming 480 oysters supplied by the Acme Oyster House in one sitting. Absolutely revolting.
2. The Day-Lee Foods World Gyoza Eating Championship
The fried Japanese dumpling known as gyoza is a delicious appetizer or snack. But if you're Joey Chestnut, it's just another food you're eating by the hundreds.
In 2018, Chestnut gobbled up a whopping 359 gyoza in 10 minutes at the 12th annual Day-Lee Foods World Gyoza Eating Championship in Los Angeles.
Nineteen competitors, including Matt Stonie, fought for a large cash reward, the amount of which is currently unreported (last year it was $6,000). But Chestnut out-ate everyone.
1. Nathan's Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest
Ah, Nathan's Fourth of July Hot Dog-Eating Contest, or the Super Bowl of the competitive food eating world.
In 1916, Nathan's hot dog-eating contest in Coney Island turned competitive eating into a sport, according to Time. Every Fourth of July, thousands of people still head to Coney Island to watch people eat one of the least healthy foods on the planet: the hot dog.
At Nathan's 102nd contest this summer, competitor Joey Chestnut defended his championship title, winning his third hot dog eating contest in a row while breaking a new world record of 74 hot dogs, according to NBC News. Chestnut has won the contest 11 times, and only been beaten once — by Matt Stonie in 2015 — since he started competing.
Miki Sudo also defended her title in the women's competition — which began in 2011 — eating 37 hot dogs. Each winner took home a grand prize of $10,000 and a belt (mustard-yellow for Chestnut, pink for Sudo).