Love them or hate them, we can all agree that eating contests are gross. And yet, competitive eating is considered a sport. Enter Major League Eating. Founded in 1997 by brothers George and Richard Shea, the organization formerly known as the International Federation of Competitive Eating holds sponsored eating competitions throughout the world. Some of these challenges have reached iconic status and are exciting to watch, while others are ... hard to stomach. What makes one major league eating competition better than another?
For one, the food. Depending on what's eaten, these competitions can go from "hey, I could do that" to "pass me the barf bucket" pretty quickly. And quick they are. It's cringy to watch someone ingest gallons of chili like a hog on holiday, but seeing them do so in six minutes is wild. Eating competitions involving heavy foods, spicy stuff, and items we can barely look at let alone ingest will rank among the worst on our list. More palatable foods and prestigious competitions will be toward the top. We'll go into more detail about the methods behind our ranking a little later.
For now, let's get to know which Major League Eating competitions past and present have drawn the elites of this curious sport to the table, shocked and delighted crowds, and broken world records. From the gluttonously gruesome to the insatiably impressive, these are the 13 Major League Eating competitions we've ranked from worst to best.
13. Glutton Bowl
Mayonnaise, beef tongue, and butter: Just let that sink in. The Glutton Bowl was vile, excessive, and so bad that you couldn't look away. The one-time event aired on Fox in 2002 and featured some bonafide stars of the early aughts competitive eating circuit. This was no fairgrounds-style eating competition. It was the campy spectacle that reality TV was known for back then, with "Fear Factor"-inspired shock value and comical gloating from a contestant lineup that was predominantly white, male, and chubby. The hosts, including Major League Eating co-founder George Shea, sat at a sportscasters' desk bellowing observations. It was part "Monday Night Football," part "Monday Night Raw."
Among the winners: Eric "Badlands" Booker ate 38 hard-boiled eggs (he was so big that the first-round medal wouldn't fit around his head); Don Lerman swallowed seven quarter-pound sticks of butter in 5 minutes; and Oleg Zhornitskiy consumed eight pounds of mayonnaise in eight minutes, a sight so gut-churning you had to tell yourself it was Cool Whip.
Most memorable was the final round. Badlands was there. Lerman and Zhornitskiy were too. But the one to fear was 23-year-old Takeru Kobayashi. On the menu? Cow brains. They were so spongy and colorless you almost wanted to know how they tasted, but judging by the eaters' staccato gags, they weren't good. Then you saw Kobayashi. His swift technique made eating brains look ... elegant. He consumed 17.7 pounds without so much as staining his shirt to take home the championship title.
12. The Circuit Of The Americas Spamarama World Spam Eating Championship
The Spamarama festival in Austin, Texas, dates back to 1978. It started as a community cook-off that took Spam from misunderstood to avant-garde (you know, like people drinking Spam daiquiris and such). Competitive eating, a sport as polarizing and nuanced as this processed mystery meat, eventually found a home at Spamarama. It was weird, untamed, and only for the brave.
Major League Eating's Spam-eating showdown was born in 2004. Eager participants crammed the contents of Spam tins down their gullets while the crowd looked on in amusement-tinged horror. Richard LeFevre ate six pounds of Spam in 12 minutes, setting a world record that year because ... who else would do that? By 2005, competitive Spam-eating had left Spamarama. The festival itself took a 12-year break before returning in 2019 ... without the eating contest. Would LeFevre forever be known as the incomparable king of Spam?
Not quite. In 2021, the eating competition was back, rebranded as The Circuit of the Americas Spamarama World Spam Eating Championship. Yet flooding one's insides with oodles of Spam is a feat that even some Major League Eating elites struggle with. Miki Sudo, the world's No. 3 ranked eater by Major League Eating, cited Spam as one of the more difficult foods to eat competitively. No. 2 ranked Geoff Esper didn't think so. He obliterated LeFevre's record, inhaling 9.75 pounds of Spam in eight minutes.
11. The World Twinkie Eating Championship
After Twinkies' halt in production in late 2012 (and subsequent resurrection months later), Major League Eating honored the classic confection with the World Twinkie Eating Championship in Tunica, Mississippi, in 2013. It was a natural fit for Joey "Jaws" Chestnut, a voracious man-beast who has raised the stakes for eaters everywhere and has been dominating Major League Eating competitions since the late 2000s. When Chestnut stepped up to the Twinkie table that first year, the history books of this never-before-seen competition were unwritten, their pages briefly spared from the greasy snack cake smudges and sickly sweet cream of a brutal Twinkie take-down.
In the six-minute event, Chestnut scarfed down 121 Twinkies with such ferocious abandon it was a wonder he didn't go into hyperglycemic shock right then and there. It mattered not that runner-up Matt Stonie nipped at his heels, packing in 111 total, nor that Chestnut had consumed 24 pounds of poutine in a competition one week before. A Twinkie-stuffed Chestnut was the champion ... this time.
At the contest the following year, Stonie was relentless, packing his cheeks so full with Twinkies you'd think he was a chipmunk being banished to Siberia. He destroyed 120 Twinkies to Chestnut's 85. This was the last year for Twinkies from Major League Eating, but not the last of Stonie vs. Chestnut.
10. The Taste Of DC World Chili Eating Championship
It's a competitive eater's job to defy what the average human deems necessary or logical, and there are few better ways to do that than by consuming obscene amounts of chili. At The Taste of DC World Chili Eating Championship, a popular Major League Eating competition that started in 2011, contestants spoon in bowl after bowl with maniacal speed — gastrointestinal stress be damned.
The goods are supplied by Washington, D.C., favorite Ben's Chili Bowl, a Black-owned, James Beard Award-winning eatery that's been a community fixture since 1958. Unfortunately, Ben's Chili Bowl chili can't be savored here — not when there is glory on the line.
Dog bowl-sized helpings and plenty of water cluttered the competitors' table as they mentally prepared themselves for what came next. With phone cameras aloft, the audience watched the ladling begin. In 2016, Joey Chestnut broke his own record set in 2011, finishing 2.25 gallons of chili in six minutes. That was the same year one guy competed on his knees — a posture we can't help but think more than a couple of eaters assumed once the fanfare was over.
9. The World Famous St. Elmo Shrimp Cocktail Eating Championship
Did Joey Chestnut get attacked by zombies? No, he's just devouring shrimp cocktail in the above photo. The O.G. appetizer with spicy cocktail sauce burns so good; it's why most people are happy with just one order. Of course, Major League eaters aren't most people.
Big Ten Tailgate Town in downtown Indianapolis hosts the World-Famous St. Elmo Shrimp Cocktail Eating Championship in celebration of Big Ten football's title game. The city's historic St. Elmo Steak House is the kind of place where you dress up ... but over at Big Ten, competitive eaters gorge unrestrained on its shellfish. Gourmet cocktail sauce streaks their cheeks and drenches their shirts.
Chestnut set the world record in 2018 by eating 18 pounds, 9.6 ounces of shrimp cocktail in eight minutes, but he cannot escape the chowhounding prowess of Geoff Esper. The crowds may chant Chestnut's name, but it's Esper who has emerged victorious in this eating contest in 2022 and 2023.
8. The Acme Oyster Eating World Championship
If you've ever gotten a little reckless during buck-a-shuck night at the oyster bar and thought, "I could eat a few hundred of these" ... consider that the world record for eating oysters has held for over a decade. It was set during The Acme Oyster Eating World Championship in New Orleans in 2012 when Sonya "The Black Widow" Thomas ate 47 dozen raw oysters in eight minutes. No need to calculate -- that's 564 oysters.
Acme Oyster House, a French Quarter landmark since 1910, provided the mollusks. In a pre-COVID world, the competition was part of the city's annual oyster festival. Ranked Major League eaters Crazy Legs Conti and Michelle Lesco found victory there. In 2019, Darren Breeden defended his title, eating 44 dozen oysters using a don't-pick-your-head-up vacuum technique. Breeden was dextrous — there was no way he was chewing those things — soldiering on with what we presume was a belly full of seawater, but no one has yet to take The Black Widow's record down.
7. The Siegel's Bagelmania World Bagel Eating Championship
Success at Major League Eating competitions means having an acquired taste for the food consumed, and bagels with cream cheese are a milder than most. Siegel's Bagelmania World Bagel Eating Championship in Las Vegas started in 2023 and is already brewing stiff competition. The inaugural championship, held in January as an homage to National Bagel Day, saw Geoff Esper put down 17.75 bagels with cream cheese in eight minutes — a high standard set by the No. 2-ranked Major League eater.
New players came into the mix in 2024, including No. 5-ranked James Webb and good old Joey Chestnut. Chestnut won, downing 15 bagels ... significantly less than Esper's record. Only 15? Chestnut admitted he was new to bagel speed-eating and that the kettle-boiled bagels required a lot of chewing.
Webb, who finished third with 13 bagels, said on Instagram that this was "one of the hardest contests I've ever participated in." Esper was second with 14.5 bagels. Contestants are allowed to dunk the bagels in water to soften them up; nevertheless, bagel binge-eating is tougher than it seems.
6. Wonderful Pistachios Get Crackin' Eating Championship
Pistachios seem feasible. They don't need much salt to taste good, and a long day at the beach might see you eat a couple hundred (or maybe it just feels that way). If you can consume a couple hundred in under 10 minutes, then the Wonderful Pistachios Get Crackin' Eating Championship might be your chance to take a crack at the $5,000 grand prize. This isn't the bedraggled, water-soaked affair that you've seen with other Major League Eating competitions, but that doesn't mean it's a walk in the park. Cracking pistachios and scooping them into your mouth at breakneck speed is a new type of art. So far, Major League's No. 4-ranked eater Nick Wehry with his pistachio-hued mohawk is the best in show.
Wehry ate 188 pistachios in eight minutes to claim the title at the inaugural 2023 event. Eating pistachios for the world record involves not just brawn, but also dexterity — thus adding another element of skill to the game. We admit we're curious about how the tables could turn in 2024.
5. Jack's Donuts World Donut Hole Eating Championship
2022 was the year of Geoff Esper. He won several eating competitions that year. When Joey Chestnut's away, Esper will play, and he's demonstrated it many times over. Major League Eating added the Jack's Donuts World Donut Hole Eating Championship to its 2022 lineup, holding the competition at the flagship location of Jack's Donuts in New Castle, Indiana.
Esper handled the first outing, eating 293 donut holes in eight minutes. Come 2023, Chestnut decided to have a go alongside rival Esper and told Fox59 his goal was 300. Notably, Chestnut pointed out that sweet foods can pose a unique challenge in eating contests because sugar "is different on the body." He referenced a flashback of his Twinkie-tackling days and said that donut holes would definitely be easier to ingest. We saw your Twinkie efforts, Chestnut, and we agree.
Jack's Donuts World Donut Hole Eating Championship was Chestnut's to lose. And lose he did. Chestnut surpassed his goal by eating 310 donut holes, but it was Esper who again snatched the trophy. Esper's final count? A glucose-defying 344 donut holes.
4. Wing Bowl
Any event that involves the attendance of Philadelphia Eagles fans is going to be a little unhinged — okay, really unhinged. What happens when you combine Eagles fans with the zaniness of a Major League Eating competition? You get Wing Bowl. Held at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Wing Bowl predates Major League Eating by several years. It began in 1993 as a way to distract Philly fans from their pain over the Eagles' perpetual absence at the Super Bowl. It quickly became a tradition, characterized by the many hijinks that ensue when women in skimpy costumes (called Wingettes), unholy amounts of beer, and a hardcore wing-devouring contest are the order of the day. Crowds show up by the thousands.
Competitors had 30 minutes to inhale as many wings as they could physically muster. The results bordered on unfathomable. Joey Chestnut had a three-year winning streak from 2006 to 2008 with a personal best of 241 wings. Chestnut told CBS News in 2019 that the vibe at Wing Bowl is "just anarchy."
Takeru Kobayashi set a record at 2012's Wing Bowl with 337 wings. Patrick Bertoletti broke it in 2015 with 444. When the Philadelphia Eagles finally became Super Bowl champs in 2018, the consensus was that Wing Bowl had achieved all it could. That final year, Molly Schuyler smoked the competition and set a new record, eating 501 wings.
3. Krystal Square Off World Hamburger Eating Championship
The best years of the Krystal Square Off World Hamburger Eating Championship saw legendary rivals Takeru Kobayashi and Joey Chestnut vying for the title in dramatic fashion. There were 11 qualifying rounds leading up to the finals in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where the original Krystal Burgers still operates.
Predictably, Kobayashi dominated in the mid-2000s and held the 2006 world record after wolfing 97 of the square-shaped sliders. In 2007, Kobayashi, dogged by persistent pain from arthritis in his jaw, sat out while the hamburger-gobbling baddie Chestnut crushed 103 hamburgers in eight minutes. Chestnut still holds this record; however, the plot thickened when the Krystal Company enacted a no-dunking rule for burgers in the 2009 event.
That was the year Kobayashi would again reign supreme, consuming 93 hamburgers to Chestnut's 81. It also marked the final year of the competition and Kobayashi's participation as a Major League eater. A contract dispute with Major League Eating resulted in Kobayashi spending the rest of his career as a free agent, and his bad blood with Major League Eating's co-founder George Shea has never cooled.
2. Thailand Food Kingdom
Major League Eating has added some new competitions in recent years, bringing fresh enthusiasm to the table. Perhaps the most exciting new competition was 2023's Thailand Food Kingdom, a three-day, eight-round event held in Bangkok, Thailand. Among the competitors were a trio of highly ranked Major League eaters: Miki Sudo, Nick Wehry (who happens to be Sudo's husband), and Zosan Pacpac.
This never-before-seen competition was an opportunity for contestants to try some foods not yet featured in other events. The first day had loin katsudon bowls and fish balls. Day Two included beef bowls, pocket sandwiches, and steamed pork buns ... lots of them. Each eight-minute round came with a $10,000 prize. Going into Day Three, Sudo, Pacpac, and Thailand's own Nat vs. Food were neck-in-neck. Donuts, cheese slices, and pork with egg noodles would determine the champion. Sudo downed 87 donuts to take the lead. Four hours later, she won another round by eating 348 slices of cheese. A couple of hours after that, she lost the final round to Pacpac, who packed in 3,376 grams of pork and egg noodles. But with five out of the eight rounds going to Sudo, this Major League Eating phenom added Thailand Food Kingdom to her lengthy list of victories.
1. Nathan's Famous Fourth Of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest At Coney Island
There are hot dogs on the Fourth of July, and then there's Nathan's Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest at Coney Island. The tradition is said to have started on Independence Day in 1916 when some New York City immigrants looking to Americanize themselves pounded hot dogs at Nathan's stand in Coney Island. Now, it's the Olympics of Major League Eating. Nathan's Famous hot dogs are 100% beef, but they also hold the hopes and dreams of every competitive eater who wants to be great.
Takeru Kobayashi won each year from 2001 to 2006 with a personal best of 53.75 hot dogs and buns in 2006. Kobayashi, the sport's original icon, added a cool factor to Nathan's contest — until Joey Chestnut came around and made the competition look insane. Chestnut holds the current world record of 76 hot dogs set in 2021. He's competed at Nathan's for the last 16 years and lost only once, to Matt Stonie in 2015.
Sonya Thomas and Miki Sudo have long dominated the women's competition. Sudo holds the record with 48.5 hot dogs. The buzz surrounding the competition is cartoonish and exciting. In 2023, a crowd of about 35,000 watches the sloppy splendor in person while millions tune in on ESPN. The spectacle, intense and bizarre, helps inch Major League Eating toward the mainstream.
These rankings were informed by watching hours of Major League Eating competitions and reading countless contest stats, world records, and competitive eater interviews. Competitions with a major gross-out factor were lowest on the list (you were exciting, Glutton Bowl, but please don't pass the butter). Foods we know would have us running to the bathroom also fell to the bottom (so long, chili). Competitions involving pistachios and donut holes (aka foods that make you feel like a contender) ranked higher, alongside Major League Eating's most legendary events attended by tens of thousands each year.
Read the original article on Mashed.