Hot dogs on the Fourth of July are an American tradition. In fact, it’s estimated that Americans consume as many as 150 million hot dogs on Independence Day each year. So it’s no surprise that hundreds of thousands of fans spend their Fourth of July cheering on their favorite hot dog-eating contestants at Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York.
What Is Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest?
For many Coney Island residents, it’s not the blast of fireworks that marks the annual Fourth of July celebrations. Instead, it’s Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest. Each year, over 35,000 fans gather around to watch contestants eat as many as 76 hot dogs per person within a 10-minute time frame. The contest, hosted by Major League Eating (MLE), has been a New York staple since 1972.
The contest awards two winners, a male and a female. The winner of Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest gets a cash prize, a mustard yellow championship belt, and bragging rights. They also get guaranteed admission into next year’s hot dog eating contest. Each of the top five finishers in both the men’s and women’s categories will earn some amount of cash.
Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest Rules
The rules of Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest are simple. Contestants have just 10 minutes to consume as many hot dogs as they can. They’re allowed to wash the hot dogs down with water or other approved beverages. They can also add condiments to their hot dogs if they wish, although most typically don’t.
Contestants sit on a raised platform for the crowd to watch. Each contestant also has their own scorekeeper, who uses a number board that flips with each consumed hot dog. To earn a point, contestants must swallow the whole hot dog without leaving any meat or bun behind. A partially consumed hot dog only counts as a portion of a point, measuring in eighths.
Scorekeepers can also issue penalty cards against contestants. A yellow card means the contestant is eating messily. A red penalty card means that there’s a reversal of fortune, and it can disqualify the contestant as a result.
If there’s a tie at the end of the 10 minutes, the tied contestants will compete in a separate contest to see who can consume five full hot dogs the fastest. While the current time limit of the competition is 10 minutes, it hasn’t always been this way. In the earlier days of the contest, contestants had 12 minutes to eat as many hot dogs as they could. Some years of the competition had time limits of as little as three minutes.
History of the Hot Dog Eating Contest
While the urban legend claims that Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest has officially been around since 1916, this was later proven to be false. The story goes that the first hot dog eating contest was less formal and between four immigrants. Each contestant argued that they were the more patriotic one and agreed that they could settle their dispute with a hot dog eating contest. However, a Nathan’s employee later admitted that this was a made-up story to sell the contest.
While the hot dog eating contest has been around for many decades, it didn’t gain popularity until the early 2000s. In 2001, Takeru Kobayashi exceeded previous records with an impressive 25.5 hot dogs. He went on to win six contests in a row while also increasing the competition’s popularity. It wasn’t until 2011 that women were invited to participate in the hot dog eating contest.
The contest has since become a New York tradition as well as a sign of resiliency of New Yorkers. After Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on the East Coast in 2012, many fans wondered if the contest would go on the following year. The city came together, made repairs, and the 2013 hot dog eating contest was just as successful as in previous years.
Hot Dog Eating Contest Changes in 2020
This year’s hot dog eating competition is a big one, as it finally returns home. Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest and the flagship Nathan’s Coney Island location have been a pair since the contest began.
Due to the pandemic, the company had to move the contest for 2020 and 2021. In 2020, they held the contest inside Nathan’s factory with a reduced number of contestants and no live fans. In 2021, they moved the contest outdoors to Maimonides Park, a few blocks from Nathan’s restaurant. This year, they welcomed 7,000 guests, which was still a significant reduction from what the contest normally brings in each year.
Maimonides Park hosts the Minor League Baseball team, the Brooklyn Cyclones. Hosting Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest here helped signify the athleticism of the contest. However, fans have been eager to return to the tradition of the contest being hosted at Coney Island.
How to Watch the 2022 Hot Dog Eating Contest
Fans can travel to Coney Island to watch the 2022 famous hot dog eating contest in person as it returns to Nathan’s. Fans can also catch the festivities on ESPN. The contest will air live starting at 10:45 a.m. on July 4, 2022. ESPN signed a long-term agreement with MLE and will continue to live broadcast the contest until at least 2024. Preshow festivities begin at 10 a.m., which is followed by the women’s competition at 11 a.m., and then the men’s at 12:30 p.m.
Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest takes place in Coney Island at the crossroads of Surf and Stillwell Avenue in Brooklyn, which is the location of Nathan’s flagship restaurant. Attending the famous hot dog eating contest is a unique experience. There are thousands of fans cheering, people sporting hot dog hats, and a lively energy that many compare to the Super Bowl championship.
Many would describe the hot dog eating contest as a true New York experience. Contestants often wear brightly colored costumes, and the event almost always has its fair share of celebrity commentators. Some celebrities have even tried out their hot dog eating skills. William Perry won a qualifier in 2003 and went on to that year’s hot dog eating contest. However, during the contest, he was only able to keep down four hot dogs, and other sports athletes have since been more hesitant to enter the contest.
What Does It Take To Become the Hot Dog Eating Champion?
Of course, fans who think they have what it takes to compete can also enroll to be a part of Nathan’s famous contest. Interested participants must attend one of the qualifying events, where only the top three finishers will get the opportunity to compete in the Fourth of July hot dog eating contest. Fans who miss this year’s qualifying event can try out next year since this is an annual contest.
What To Expect for the 2022 Hot Dog Eating Contest
This year’s hot dog eating contest is sure to be an exciting one, with 16 males and 12 females, including the two defending champions. The returning male champion, Joey Chestnut, will attempt to defend his title and beat his own record of 76 hot dogs in one sitting.
The 2022 returning female champion of Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest is Michelle Lesco. She consumed 30.75 hot dogs in 2021, earning her the Mustard Belt. 2021 was Lesco’s first championship, but she’s currently ranked number nine by Major League Eating on a list that includes both men and women. This year’s female contest pairs Lesco up against fan-favorite Miki Sudo, as well as a few other contenders.
Miki holds the female record with 48.5 hotdogs in 10 minutes, which she earned in 2020. Sudo has won every championship since 2014, with the exception of 2021, when she was out on maternity leave. Sudo is best known for defeating “The Black Widow,” Sonya Thomas, in 2014. Because Sudo went on to win every championship in the following years, she’s now the female who holds the most hot dog eating titles.
More About Nathan’s Mustard Belt Champions
During the 2021 hot dog eating contest, Joey Chestnut surprised fans by beating his own record set the prior year when he downed 76 hot dogs in just 10 minutes. Chestnut is a common household name when it comes to the Mustard Belt, with 14 championships.
Chestnut has won the contest every year since 2016. In 2015, Matthew Stonie won the contest in an upset with 62 hot dogs. Before that, Chestnut was the annual winner every year since 2007. Chestnut’s 14 Mustard Belts have led to him becoming the athlete who has won most championships in a single event in sports history across all leagues. Fans have come to refer to him as Joey Jaws because of his ability to quickly chew and swallow hot dog after hot dog.
Attending or watching Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest is a great way to celebrate a different form of athleticism, especially when many sports leagues are on break. In the meantime, fanatics can also stock up on officially licensed sports apparel, sports collectibles, or memorabilia of their favorite NBA, MLB, NFL, and NHL teams. New York team gear is also the perfect attire for watching the hot dog contest.