History Podcasts

July Fourth Hot Dog Eating Contest

July Fourth Hot Dog Eating Contest

In this Holiday Foods video clip, we take a look at the famous food of July 4th. The hot dog is known around the world as being one of the biggest, most well-liked foods in America. Learn the history of the dog, and see an eating challenge as well. You won't want to miss the eat off between Fat Dave and champion Badlands in this hilarious face off video.


Nathan's hot dog eating contest returns July Fourth — outdoors and with a crowd

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America’s most delicious wiener war returns to Coney Island on the Fourth of July – outdoors, under the sun and open to the public – just like the boardwalk gods intended.

Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest "is my Super Bowl. It’s my Indy 500," competitive eating legend and miracle of metabolism Joey "Jaws" Chestnut, a California native, told The Post. "I can’t wait to be back in New York and do this the right way."

The competition began in 1916, when Coney Island frank-ophile Jim Mullen, an immigrant from Ireland, consumed 13 hot dogs.

It’s become a national holiday spectacle in recent years, broadcast coast-to-coast on ESPN.

But last year, amid the COVID-19 panic, the contest was held indoors for the first known time. Only a smattering of media attended. Even the nearby amusement parks were shuttered, leaving Coney Island a bland, empty bun of itself.

The event, too, lost much of its mustard without the boisterous beer- and sun-soaked crowds. Few people saw Chestnut set a world record, consuming an unbelievable 75 hot dogs with buns in just 10 minutes.

"It was weird, very weird," Chestnut said.

The contest returns outdoors in all its gluttonous glory, albeit in a new location, Maimonides Park, the recently renamed home of the Brooklyn Cyclones, just a few steps from the event’s traditional location in front of Nathan’s Famous at the corner of Surf and Stillwell avenues.

"The Nathan’s July 4th Hot Dog Eating Contest has been around longer than the Masters, longer than the NBA Championship and way longer than the Super Bowl," boasted Major League Eating co-founder Richard Shea, whose company runs the event on behalf of Nathan’s Famous. "It is one of, if not the most, venerable dates on the sports calendar. Rivaled perhaps only by the Kentucky Derby."


Annual July 4th Hot Dog Eating Contest Will Look Different This Year

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The Jewish History of Nathan’s July 4th Hot Dog Eating Contest

Back on July 4, 1916, four immigrants decided to settle the score over who was the most patriotic by holding a hot dog eating contest at Nathan’s Famous stand on NYC’s Coney Island, which was founded by Polish Jewish immigrant Nathan Handwerker. Jewish entertainers Eddie Cantor (born Edward Israel Itzkowitz) and Sophie Tucker (born Sonya Kalish) judged the contest, and put the institution at the center of American history.

Or so the story used to go.

But in 2010, press agent Mortimer “Morty” Matz admitted that back in the 1970s, he and his partner Max Rosey had only claimed they were reviving a decades-old tradition, when in fact they had just dreamed up the contest’s history themselves, as a publicity stunt to put Nathan’s even more prominently on the map. It seemed to work. They made the hot dog stand an obligatory destination for political candidates.

Thanks to Matz and Rosey, the annual Fourth of July hot dog eating contest is going strong—even if it’s about six decades younger than they said. Tune in to ESPN at noon on July 4 to watch this year’s contestants. Or better yet for you locals, flock to Coney Island, and revel in the collective horror.


America made the hot dog its own

In order to successfully marry hot dogs and the Fourth of July, Nathan's needed to convince America that the hot dog is a uniquely American food. And in that sense, they're right.

"A hot dog belongs to the ancient family of encased foods," food historian and President-Emeritus of the Culinary Historians of Chicago, Bruce Kraig, writes in "Hot Dog: A Global History."

It's a member of the sausage clan, he explained, traced back to Germany at least as far back as the 1400s.

But the term "hot dog" — and the form of sausages we now call hot dogs — is American. In the 1800s, Germans emigrated to America in great numbers and brought sausage culture with them, Kraig writes. The first known use of the phrase "hot dog" comes from a September 28, 1893 edition of the Knoxville Journal: "Even the weinerwurst men began preparing to get the 'hot dogs' ready for sale Saturday night." The term referred to a sausage in a bun.

There are several urban legends about the American hot dog — a sausage in a bun — originating from sausage salesmen at baseball parks, or people eating them to stay warm on a cold day, and of a Bavarian man selling them at the 1904 world fair. Those are unsupported by evidence, Kraig says.

The term spread through the United States by German ethnic comedians, Kraig says. Many hot dog carts were decorated with dogs, and the joke was that the dog illustrations were memorials for the animals.

"Within a few years, the term 'hot dog' had spread to other eastern colleges and then seeped into popular culture. The reason was simple: It was a funny joke and accorded with topical humour. Cartoons depicting dogs being processed in sausage-making machines were fairly common in the 1890s. Shortly thereafter such gruesomely amusing pictures were joined by dogs being eaten in buns, or about to be eaten, fearful of being consumed, happy to be food, and so on."

As hot dog stands and carts became increasingly popular across America, so did the jokes about its name. And so did the different types of hot dogs popular among different cultures.

German Jews, for instance, popularized all-beef hot dogs because pork, usually used in sausages, isn't kosher. They also popularized mustard, pickle spears, and onion salt as add-ons. Chicago's sizable Greek population, in the first half of the 20th century, popularized green relish, sport peppers, and tomatoes as hot dog topping — all foods that are Mediterranean in origin.

Greek and Balkan immigrants popularized a type of meat sauce topping on hot dogs, although the style was co-opted by Coney Island hot dog sellers and became what we now call "chili dogs."

Hot dogs became the sort of food item everyone in America ate, and different hot dogs had different cultural spins given by different sorts of immigrants, making them uniquely American.

Today, there are even more styles. Some places in New England, Kraig writes, sell "chow chow dogs" with steamed lettuce, bacon, and cheddar cheese. You'll find hot dogs with spicy sauces in Rhode Island. Places in Central Georgia sell them with oyster crackers.

Hot dogs also obtained an American identity for business reason, argues Kraig. Hot dog stands were relatively inexpensive to open, were served in public spaces, and everyone ate them.

"The hot dog is one of the first foods to fill that role as a symbol of social unity," Kraig writes. "Hot dog stands attract people of all classes who stand together, elbow to elbow, some with jackets and ties, others in work dresses, eating their city's signature sausage."


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This week on The History of Fun, we celebrate our country’s 242nd birthday just the way George Washington would have wanted: by exploring the grand, slightly gross world of competitive hot dog-eating.

Some people get overzealous with presenting their meaty gift to America. Those people are the winners of Nathan’s Fourth of July Got Dog Eating Contest, an annual competition that’s become a nationwide phenomenon. Fun Historian Chris Plante is no competitor, but he’s studied this extreme show of digestive fortitude extensively. How do these patriots chomp down so many dogs in so little time? Who’s the reigning champ? And where can we sign up?

You’ll hear all this and more on this week’s episode, below. (And if you’re nervous that there will be talk of some . bodily functions, don’t worry we give ample warning first.)

Special thanks to everyone who participated in our new segment, Reader Only Memories, wherein we share listener stories about the topic at hand. Here is the full thread of responses:

I'm talking about the history of Nathan's hot dog eating contest for an upcoming episode of @TheHistoryOfFun. Have any relevant memories/stories you'd like me to share on the episode?

— Chris Plante (@plante) June 20, 2018

Enjoying The History of Fun? Be sure to rate and subscribe on Apple Podcasts! Every rating and review is a big help to us, getting the word out to more listeners.

New to The History of Fun? Every Monday, Russ Frushtick, Allegra Frank and Chris Plante explore the hidden backstories behind the things we love to do. Ever wonder where dodgeball came from? Or the origins of the creepy Chuck E. Cheese robots? Or how about why Beanie Babies exploded and then vanished into the sands of time? We’ll seek to answer those questions and have some fun along the way! Subscribe and join us — we’d love to have you.


Nathan's July 4 Contest to be Held Live before Audience in Coney Island -- Tickets Available

The 2021 Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog-Eating Contest will take place before a live audience in Coney Island on Sunday, July 4, 2021, starting at 11 am. Last year, due to the pandemic, the contest was held for media only in a private location.

The annual contest, an American holiday tradition, will be held at Maimonides Park (formerly MCU Park), home of the Brooklyn Cyclones and only steps from the Nathan’s Famous flagship restaurant on Surf and Stillwell avenues.

The free, ticketed event will follow all federal, state and city health and safety regulations. Tickets to this year’s contest will be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis. Ticket reservations here: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfPHhCushAtw2OjFZMNtgAeSmd6Q7qdkvsCznq3WPiIkyBgFg/viewform?embedded=true Or, email [email protected]

Doors will open at 10 am and the event will begin at 10:45 am with the introduction of the female eaters. The women’s competition begins at 11:00 am, while the men’s competition will start at 12:30 pm.

Last year, Joey Chestnut of Indianapolis, IN, set a new world record, consuming 75 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes to retain his championship title. Darron Breeden finished in second place, Nick Wehry in third, George Chiger in fourth, and Eric ‘Badlands’ Booker in fifth.

In the women's competition last year, Miki Sudo of Tampa, FL, broke the women’s world record and took first place, marking her seventh consecutive win by eating 48.5 hot dogs and buns. Larell Marie Mele came in second, with 18 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes. Sudo will not be competing this year. A total of 18 men and 10 women are expected to compete on July 4.

On a typical year, as many as 30,000 fans make the pilgrimage to Surf and Stillwell avenues to watch the event in person. The ESPN telecast of the contest routinely draws an audience of millions of viewers. An annual part of the event is the Nathan’s Famous donation of 100,000 Nathan’s Famous hot dogs to the Food Bank for New York City.

“It is encouraging to hold this event live for fans, who last year were unable to celebrate July 4 as they traditionally do,” James Walker, Senior Vice President, Restaurants, Nathan’s Famous. “Next year, we hope to return to the corner of Surf and Stillwell avenues, where we have held this event for decade after decade.”

“The Nathan’s Famous contest is the crown jewel of the Fourth of July and stands as a beacon of freedom for all those who believe in American exceptionalism,” said George Shea of Major League Eating. “Joey Chestnut is a national treasure. The rock on which he stands is not a rock—it is the United States of America.”

ESPN has exclusive live broadcast rights from 10:45 am to the conclusion of the event, expected to be at 1:05 pm ET. The women’s competition coverage will begin at 10:45 am ET and will be telecast live on ESPN3 and the ESPN App. The men’s competition coverage will begin at 12:00 pm ET and will be telecast live on ESPN.

According to Major League Eating archives, the Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog Eating Championship has occurred each July 4th in Coney Island, NY, since 1916, the year Nathan Handwerker opened the legendary restaurant. MLE, the governing body of all stomach-centric sport, sanctions the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Circuit and ensures the contests are judged professionally and that safety standards are in place at each event.


The Annual Nathan&rsquos Hot Dog Eating Contest Will Be Held Indoors on July 4

The COVID-19 pandemic may have altered your July 4 plans, but Independence Day will still go on𠅊nd so will the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest.

How the event would look has been up in the air, but speculation seemed to confirm that the annual test of hot dog endurance would continue, coronavirus be damned. Back in April, Major League Eating (MLE)—which officially sanctions Nathan’s contest𠅋oasted that it would be the 𠇏irst major league sport back” with a bracket-style online eating competition. And perennial Nathan’s champion Joey Chestnut told TMZ he was still training for the event, despite being quarantined at home.

So, for 2020—the 104th edition of the contest𠅌hestnut and company will indeed be eating indoors. According to MLE, the event will take place in Coney Island, but “in a private location with COVID-19 safety measures in place.” Today reports that this first-ever indoor venue will be 𠇊 large, open warehouse-like space” featuring a 30-foot-long table. Regardless, for those used to watching the event at home, ESPN will still broadcast it starting at 12 noon Eastern Time.

“We’re ecstatic to make the announcement that the Hot Dog-Eating Contest will take place this year,” James Walker, Nathan’s Famous senior vice president, restaurants, stated. � has been a year for the history books, and the realization that this storied July 4th tradition would be able to occur is a great feeling. With that being said, our country and our world has endured so much in the last couple of months, that we𠆝 be remiss if we didn’t use this moment to honor those that have done so much for each of us during this time.”

On that last note, competition organizers said that, beyond its usual annual donation of 100,000 hot dogs to Food Bank for New York City, additional efforts will be made this year to raise money for and awareness of the needs of food banks and the work these organizations do.

Back to the actual competition, besides the location, another significant change this year is that the event will feature only five eaters instead of the typical 15𠅊 move the MLE says is “to allow for social distancing.” But seeing as Joey Chestnut has won 12 of the last 13 competitions, including the past four, the number of participants is likely a moot point.

And yet, always looking for an edge, Chestnut seemed to see other potential differences this year as well. “There&aposs a little bit of a bonus &aposcause we&aposre gonna be eating in air conditioning and they&aposre less eaters, so they&aposre making less hot dogs so they might taste better,” Chestnut told TMZ Sports. “There&aposs a good chance that we might have better conditions for a world record and I&aposma be pushing for it.” No wonder this guy is a champion.


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What to wear

Beach attire! Plain and simple. You are probably going to jump in the water at some point so bring a suit and a towel. Comfortable shoes for walking is a plus but sandals work just fine as well.

What to pack

July in New York can be one sweaty mess so pack accordingly. T-shirt and shorts is about the most you are going to want to wear. The days get super hot and humid so make sure to bring sunglasses and sunscreen. Hydrate as much as possible or bring a canister filled with water to get through the day.

Buy tickets

No purchase necessary. Save that money and go buy some of Nathan&rsquos Famous Dogs!