The Fourth of July is all about the land of the free, the home of the brave ... and shoveling as many hotdogs as possible down your throat.
This Independence Day will mark the 92nd annual Nathan's Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest in Coney Island, N.Y., which invites contenders from across the world to polish off as many hotdogs as they can in 10 minutes. On Saturday in Pinellas Park, eight gastronomically gifted eaters from across Florida will compete for $100, a trophy and a trip to the July 4 contest, which will be broadcast on ESPN. The winner of that eat-off will take home $20,000 and the coveted Mustard Yellow Belt.
Saturday's favorite is Hall Hunt Jr., 27, of Jacksonville. Last year at Coney Island, he ate 30 hotdogs to tie for sixth place.
Hunt, whose nickname is "Hoover" (as in the vacuum), got his start after his college roommate signed him up for sushi-eating contest as a joke. Hunt ate 110 jumbo California rolls in five minutes, and his competitive eating career was born.
Since getting laid off from his job as a structural engineer a few months ago, Hunt is a full-time chowhound, with a Major League Eating contract. For scarfing down 63 Krystal burgers in eight minutes, Hunt got his picture on the fast-food chain's hamburger boxes. Last August, he travelled to the Czech Republic for a dumpling eating contest. He's also filmed TV commercials for Tropicana Field.
Astoundingly, the 6-foot-1 Hunt weighs 170 pounds. Earlier this week, he called tbt*.
How do you train?
For the last month, I've already been practicing for Nathan's, buying like 10 hot dogs at a time and then just timing myself and trying to get my time faster and faster for the 10. Today I bought 30 packages of hotdog buns. It was 240 hot dog buns. That's all I had in my cart. People were like, "Are you having a big cookout?"
Why are the champions usually skinny guys?
It helps to be athletic. A couple reasons: You feel better in general. You have more energy when you're more in shape. When you have more energy and you feel a lot better, you can focus on things better. But a big physical reason is there's a thing called the Belt of Fat Theory. That is, when you have an extra layer of fat around your midsection, it is actually inhibiting your stomach from expanding further.
Is there a way to increase your capacity?
I've never actually felt even close to full at any contest. In fact, I've never felt full in my entire life. Occasionally, my jaw or my throat just gets really tired, or after eating the same food, the taste just kind of gets old.
What's your strategy?
I take out one hot dog at a time. I'll take the meat out of the bun. I'll snap it in half, which is called Solomoning — after King Solomon cutting the baby — and then I'll take those halves and maybe take one or two quick bites, and then just try to swallow it. While I'm doing that, I pick up the bun and I dunk it in water, just real quick, just to get it a little softer and a little easier to swallow. Then I just pop it in, and I try to swallow that in one gulp. And then just repeat.
How does that taste?
It doesn't taste quite as good wet as it does when it's dry. But to me it tastes delicious, because I know it's the taste of victory.
My mom always said, "There are children starving in Africa." How do you reconcile that with eating 30 hotdogs in 10 minutes?
I definitely support a lot of different charities that can provide food to people in Africa. In fact, I've been over there three times myself to try and do different mission work. The people over there are big fans of me. They think it's really cool that people will pay me to eat food fast.