Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Anatomy of a Hot Dog Eating Contest

Practice tray of hot dogs at home.

I enjoy hot dogs. My favorite is the 1/4 lb Costco hot dog with deli mustard, sauerkraut and a drink for $1.50. It's a fantastic deal.

For competition however, I can't think of hot dogs the same way. As I've mentioned before, there is no taste in competition, just procedure and logistics. I'm not savoring a condiment laden bargain from Costco, but rather efficiently storing bundles of meat and soggy bread in my stomach as fast as possible.

This blog post is my analysis of this process, a sort of mental masturbation of numbers and logistics to benefit myself as well anyone else preparing to participate in hot dog eating competitions this summer.

Hot Dogs

For competition, the biggest consideration are the hot dogs themselves. For the sake of accuracy, practice should be done with the same hot dogs used in competition. Even subtle differences between them become of greater consequence as more are consumed. For example, bun length hot dogs can vary in weight from 45g to 75g. The 20g discrepancy can quickly add up, with nearly a pound in difference after consuming 20 hot dogs.

The type of casing should also be considered, as hot dogs with natural casings tend to be easier to swallow than ones using traditional casings. The composition of the fillings, using different proportions of random meat bits, fat, salt and spices can really affect the texture as well. So that technique should be developed after being accustomed to the type of hot dogs used in the contest. I tend to have the most difficulty with swallowing ones with a surprising texture.

Dunking

Dunking the hot dog buns in liquid while consuming the hot dog is a common practice during competition. It can help save time from having to drink in between consuming the bun and hot dog. This method also compresses the bread so that you're swallowing less air. There are arguments for both dunking and not dunking but I believe that both are viable techniques and it really comes down to your personal preference and objectively what allows you to consume more. Just look at your own performance metrics with either technique and stick to what works best.

Even though I now mimic Kobayashi's very effective hot dog splitting and dunking technique, I've seen guys like Tom Gilbert put them away with no problem to win events while eating the bun and hot dog together. Even my personal best during competition was with the no dunking method during a chili dog eating contest in Las Vegas where it was impossible to do so.

The weight of the liquid being consumed should also be considered. Whatever liquid the bun absorbs during dunking is a detriment towards your total capacity but aids in swallowing. Since a gallon of water weighs approximately 8 pounds, eaters should avoid over soaking their bun than what is necessary to help them swallow.

Counting

There is a lot of ambiguity when it comes to counting how many hot dogs one can eat. As with other contest foods, simply stating that you ate a specific amount is not a very empirical method of measuring actual consumption. Factors such as the weight of the hot dog, bun and amount of debris are not factored in. Also, changing the weight of a hot dog can drastically alter the count. It would be more accurate to state how many pounds of hot dogs you ate rather than the number.

The general consensus on the weight of hot dogs used during competition is a 57g hot dog and 42g bun. This is the most common weight for bun length hot dogs from several  manufacturers and leads to a somewhat elegant approximation of 100g (~99g) for each count during competition. Here is an analysis of weight, excluding liquids, for every 10 hot dogs eaten:

Count - kg - lb
10 - 1kg - 2.21lb
20 - 2kg - 4.41lb
30 - 3kg - 6.62lb
40 - 4kg - 8.82lb
50 - 5kg - 11.03lb
60 - 6kg - 13.23lb
70 - 7kg - 15.44lb
80 - 8kg -17.64lb

Considering this data, if an eater ate 30 hot dogs along with half a gallon (4lbs) of fluid from dunking and drinking, they would be consuming a total of 10.62 pounds. Whereas if the eater ate 40 hot dogs but only consumed a quarter gallon (2lbs) of fluid, the total weight of consumption would be 10.82 pounds, nearly the same as an eater that consumed 30 hot dogs and half a gallon of fluid. Since you are not given credit for any fluids consumed, it only makes sense to minimize liquid consumption, drinking only what is necessary to aid in swallowing the hot dogs.

Conclusion

This ultimately becomes a balance of technique and capacity. If you still have room for more hot dogs when time runs out, you should focus on honing your technique since they are not getting to your stomach efficiently. And if you are full before time runs out, don't worry about dunking or how you eat your hot dogs as much as getting your stomach accustomed to consuming more food. You ought to modify your practice sessions to address your weakness as an eater.

Lastly, I think always finishing what you prepared for practice helps a lot. It makes no sense to prepare more hot dogs than you can eat. Any seasoned competitive eater should have a good idea of what their limitations are and ought to push themselves to finish everything even if it's past the time limit. Eating all of your hot dogs is a good stretch and prepares one to be comfortable with holding so many in their stomach. Hopefully you can turn that hard work into a win.


And....

In case you don't know what I'm preparing for, it's the Crif Dog Classic:

www.crifdogclassic.com