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What Is Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest?

by Scott Kacsmar
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Nathans Hot Dog Eating Contest

Nathan’s Famous International Hot Dog Eating Contest is the Super Bowl of competitive eating competitions. Every 4th of July, the world’s best hot dog eaters gather to see who can eat the most hot dogs in 10 minutes. 

In the 2000s, American competitive eater Joey Chestnut has put Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest on the map while simultaneously creating a dynasty with his ability to down dogs at a record rate. Chestnut is a 16-time champion at the competition.

While you may know the recent history of the competition, and as we prepare to place our bets on this year’s event, we are going to cover the full history of Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, including the rule changes, the year women entered, the best challenger to Chestnut, and the weird stories like when a meat shortage forced Nathan’s to pretend the competition never happened one year.

Who Is Nathan?

Nathan's Famous Restaurant

Nathan’s Famous is the name of a fast-food restaurant that specializes in hot dogs. It was founded in 1916. Its original restaurant stands at the corner of Surf and Stillwell Avenues in Coney Island, which is in Brooklyn, New York.

Nathan’s has been in charge of the hot dog eating contest where contestants eat Nathan’s brand of hot dogs since its inception. The contest is held at that original Nathan’s spot in Coney Island.

The Origins of Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest

There is a mythical story about how Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest came into existence. Mortimer “Morty” Matz was a Nathan’s promoter, and he claimed that on July 4, 1916, 4 immigrants took part in a hot dog eating contest at the original Nathan’s Famous stand in Coney Island to settle an argument about who was the most patriotic.

Some stories say entertainer Jimmy Durante was one of the contestants, and some place the date to be 1917. But by 2010, Matz finally admitted he fabricated the 1916 story with a man named Max Rosey in the early 1970s as a publicity stunt for Nathan’s.

There is spotty record keeping for a 1967 contest at Nathan’s that says a 400-pound man named Walter Paul ate 17 dogs to celebrate the 100-yard anniversary of the creation of the hot dog. Some online archives even suggest Paul ate 127 hot dogs in 60 minutes, but this is not verified information.

1n 1972, there were 2 Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contests. The 1st was on Memorial Day and won by a Brooklyn College student who ate 14 hot dogs in 3.5 minutes. His prize was a book of certificates for 40 more hot dogs.

Then on Labor Day 1972, a 2nd contest was won by Melody Andorfer, who ate 12 hot dogs in 5 minutes. The 18-year-old girl, who only weighed 105 pounds, won a paper crown. But Nathan’s gave her a belt in 2021 that’s similar to recent winners to commemorate her historic win in 1972.

1973’s Secret Winner

In 1973, there were again 2 hot dog eating contests scheduled, with the 1st one for April 7th, the beginning of the spring season at Coney Island. A 14-year-old contestant named Michael Rabin reportedly won and was featured on the local news.

But since there was a meat shortage at the time, Nathan’s did not want the bad press of wasting hot dogs for an eating competition, so they had to pretend the contest never happened. Rubin is not listed among the official winners for 1973.

Likewise, they were going to hold another contest on Independence Day, but perhaps because of the shortage, they never recorded any results. No one’s sure if it ever even happened that year.

There were also no documented contests in 1976-77.

1979: The Real Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest Truly Begins

If you wanted to see the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest in a format similar to today’s, you have to go back to 1979 for the beginning of that. In 1979, they moved the event to July 4th, and the contestants were given 10 minutes to eat as many hot dogs as they could, just like today.

There was a tie, then they tied again during a 3.5-minute eat-off.

International Talent

During the 1990s, more Japanese contestants took part in the hot dog eating contest. The time was often raised to 12 minutes too.

Starting in 1997, the contest has been sanctioned by Major League Eating (MLE). Only contestants under contract with the MLE can participate in Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest.

Contestants are allowed to consume water or other drinks to help them eat more. For a hot dog to count as fully eaten, they must consume the entire hot dog and bun.

2001-06: The Takeru “The Tsunami” Kobayashi Dynasty

With the Japanese contestants starting to take over, no one made a name for himself like Takeru “The Tsunami” Kobayashi. In 2001, he smashed records at Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest by consuming 50 hot dogs, doubling the previous record.

Kobayashi had a unique way of eating that helped him get the dogs down much faster than other contestants. He broke his own record with 53.5 hot dogs in 2004, then he did it again in 2006 with 53.75 hot dogs.

Kobayashi won 6 straight hot dog eating contests at Nathan’s in 2001-06. But in that 2006 contest, he barely beat out American eater Joey Chestnut, who was gaining traction for a couple of years on Kobayashi. In 2006, Kobayashi, who recently announced his retirement, edged out Chestnut 53.75 to 52 in hot dogs.

What happened next was a rivalry that could have been on par with Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady or Magic Johnson vs. Larry Bird.

2007: Joey Chestnut Takes Over

In 2007, we were in for a treat as cash prizes became the standard for winners. Kobayashi was the 6-time defending champion, and his 63 hot dogs in 2007 would have been another world record.

But Chestnut took the world record and title from Kobayashi with 66 hot dogs for his 1st victory at Nathan’s. Sonya Thomas finished in 5th place with 39 hot dogs, which set a new female record.

That would only set up the greatest Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest ever in 2008.

2008: Chestnut Establishes Himself as New Champ in Controversial Finish

The 2008 contest was the 1st to formally establish 10 minutes as the time limit for the contest. In a showdown between Chestnut and Kobayashi, it was all tied at 59 after 10 minutes.

This led to an impromptu 5-hot dog eat-off to break the tie. Chestnut beat Kobayashi by consuming the extra 5 hot dogs faster (in about 50 seconds). Many thought this was a controversial finish as the tie-breaker method was not an official rule at the time.

Unfortunately, we only got one more matchup between Chestnut and Kobayashi in 2009. Chestnut won 68 to 64.5.

Since Kobayashi would not agree to a MLE contract, he was not allowed to compete in any more Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contests. In 2010, Kobayashi was arrested after he jumped on the stage after the contest ended to apparently congratulate Chestnut for winning again. All charges were dropped.

In 2011, Kobayashi again refused to compete, so he held his own competition from the rooftop of a Manhattan bar simultaneously with Nathan’s competition. Kobayashi ate 69 hot dogs, which was more than Chestnut’s 62.

But the rivalry was already over.

2011: Women’s Only Competition Begins and the Rise of Miki Sudo

Starting in 2011, Nathan’s broke up the hot dog eating contest to have men’s only and women’s only competitions. The only other time this had been done was in 1975.

In 2011, Sonya Thomas won the inaugural women’s competition with 40 hot dogs eaten. Her prize was a bejeweled pink belt. Winners of the men’s competition receive a bejeweled mustard-yellow belt.

In 2014, Miki Sudo dethroned Thomas in the women’s competition. Since then, Sudo has become the 2nd-winningest competitor at Nathan’s with 9 championships (2014-20, 2022-23).

In fact, the only time Sudo did not win in the last 10 years was in 2021 due to her pregnancy. She did not compete that year, so her dynasty is up there with Chestnut’s remarkable run.

Sudo also holds the women’s world record with 48.5 hot dogs in 2020. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 contest was the 1st to be held indoors.

The Chestnut Dynasty: 2007-??

Joey Chestnut has now won 16 times at Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest. His reign has gone from 2007-2023 and he is not done yet. The only year he was defeated was 2015 when he ate 60 hot dogs. Winner Matt Stonie ate 62 hot dogs that year, but Chestnut has had a pair of 8-year title runs sandwiched around that defeat.

Chestnut’s success at Nathan’s has made him the most famous competitive eater in America and arguably the world.

Who can step up and challenge Chestnut? Kobayashi announced his retirement from competitive eating in May 2024, so we won’t see that matchup ever again.

In 2022, Chestnut was shoved from the table while eating by a protestor, who he then put in a chokehold. Chestnut went on to win by 16 hot dogs. He truly might be unstoppable.

Chestnut’s 76 hot dogs in 2021 remain the world record. He is only 40 years old, and perhaps the best argument to disprove the finding that eating 1 hot dog will take 36 minutes off your life.

Forget about Tom Brady and LeBron James. Joey Chestnut, the 16-time champion at Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, is the greatest athletic winner of the 21st century.

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Scott Kacsmar
NFL football picks are Scott Kacsmar's expertise, serving as his main focus. He has contributed to various sports websites and blogs, such as NBC Sports, ESPN Insider, FiveThirtyEight, and, JoeWager. Originating from Pittsburgh, Scott maintains a love-hate connection with the Pirates.

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