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Top Dogs: Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Competition

Food Network Magazine's behind the scene view of the Nathan's hot dog-eating competition.
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Illustrations by Nishan Akgulian

Competitive eating requires Rocky-style physical training: Nine-time competitor Crazy Legs Conti does cardiovascular training to improve his stamina. "I always slow down between the 15th and 20th hot dogs," he says. Patrick "Deep Dish" Bertoletti, who took third place the last two years, alternates hot dog-eating practice with fasting and drinking milkshakes. "Dairy settles my stomach, so I'll drink a lot of milkshakes the day before," he says. "With a few doses of Pepto."

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As the big day approaches, top qualifiers from regional competitions head to New York City for photo ops, like a weigh-in with the mayor at City Hall Park. Before they're declared fit for competition, the pro eaters must get on a scale, and a dentist sometimes checks their teeth to make sure they're ready for the wear and tear of battle.

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Early on July 4, competitors depart the hotel and travel on the Bus of Champions to Coney Island in Brooklyn, where they wait in "The Bullpen" for kickoff. "It's around the back of Nathan's, so the smell of hot dogs constantly drifts toward us, which is kind of unnerving," says six-time contestant Eater X.

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At about 9 a.m., a crew of four at Nathan's begins cooking 1,000 all-beef hot dogs for the contest on a long flattop griddle. It's still a regular business day, so the cooks also have to make dogs for customers. Nathan's method is to slow-cook them, starting on low heat and upping the temperature until they're cooked through, about 40 minutes later. By 12:15 p.m., all 1,000 hot dogs are suited up in untoasted buns and ready for the competition.

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