The tradition of competitive eating in the United States dates back more than a century. In the spirit of these noble endeavors, restaurants across the country have launched contests of their own for anyone who has the desire — and the stomach — to try and win. From enormous burgers, to overstuffed tacos, to six-pound steaks, here’s a small sampling of some of these unique (often insane-seeming) culinary challenges.
The Don Juan Taco Challenge – Juan in a Million, Austin, Texas
The Tex-Mex restaurant with a penchant for all-day breakfast plates opened in July of 1980 and the long-standing staple of its menu is the Don Juan breakfast taco — potato, egg, bacon, and cheese wrapped in a tortilla. The Don Juan Taco Challenge is as straightforward as it gets: try to eat as many Don Juan Tacos as you can. While there’s no time limit, there are no bathroom breaks, either. If you manage to eat enough, you’re awarded with bragging rights and a coveted spot on the Wall of Fame. If you want to make it on that wall, the current number to beat is nine tacos for men, and five tacos for women.
The Zellagabetsky – Kenny and Ziggy’s Delicatessen, Houston, Texas
For the past 15 years, this New York-style deli in Houston has served up the Zellagabetsky, a four-pound sandwich layered with house-made corned beef, pastrami, turkey, roast beef, salami, and tongue in between slices of special-cut rye bread. This veritable meat-pile is topped with coleslaw, Russian dressing, and red peppers. Anyone who can take a whole Zellagabetsky down gets the sandwich for free, plus a complimentary slice of cheesecake for dessert. There’s no time limit for this challenge, either, so you can pace yourself as needed in order to make it through all eight layers.
The Stellanator – Stella’s, Bellevue, Nebraska
Regularly winning the best burger in the Omaha metro area, the centerpiece of Stella’s menu is The Stellanator, six patties, six slices of cheese, six eggs, a dozen bacon strips, and your standard burger toppings — plus jalapenos and peanut butter. You only have 45 minutes to try and eat it all, and if you’re one of only 4% of challengers who manage to do this, you get a complimentary t-shirt, along with the picture on the wall of fame, and a free burger. Fail and you have to pony up the $35, plus you’ll end up on their much more populated Wall of Shame. Also worth noting: the current record-holder, Molly Schuyler (who will come up on this list again), managed to take this burger down in under four minutes.
Allan’s Diablo Burrito Challenge – Allan’s Authentic Mexican Restaurant, Portland, Oregon
What this one lacks in sheer mass, it more than makes up for in spiciness. Allan’s Authentic Mexican Restaurant describes the Diablo Burrito Challenge as “a scuba dive into a volcano, after walking on hot coals to get there, the day after you went camping in a forest fire.” There’s a bit of a process to this one, too — once you sign a waiver (!), you eat the two raw serrano chilis sticking out the top as a way of showing you’ve accepted the challenge. Once that’s done, you have a mere 10 minutes to scarf down the tortilla stuffed full of steak, beans, rice, and salsa, then flavored with “some of the hottest peppers on the planet.” Succeeding means you win a free t-shirt along with one free burrito every day for one full year, making it the one challenge that keeps on giving.
The Five Malt Challenge – Crown Candy Kitchen, St. Louis, Missouri
Our lone dessert-themed entry, courtesy of St. Louis’ oldest candy shop, Crown Candy Kitchen, home of the Five Malt Challenge, another straightforward entry where participants try to drink five malts (or shakes, if you prefer) in under 30 minutes. You can only take this challenge when they’re not busy (which they decide, not you), and all five shakes/malts have to be ordered up front. If you manage to fight through your brain-freeze and finish off all five, you get them free, along with a t-shirt and your picture on their ‘Winner’s Wall.’
Mount Nacheesmo – Tio’s Mexican Cafe, Ann Arbor, Michigan
Making an eating challenge out of an appetizer, Tio’s Mexican Cafe offers up Mount Nacheesmo, a five-pound plate of nachos normally meant to be shared between four or five people. Should you try and conquer Mount Nacheesmo, you’re given one hour to make it through the pile of chips stacked with chicken, beef, refried beans, pork, cheese, tomatoes, onions, peppers, black olives, sour cream, guacamole, then topped off with a slathering of queso. There are no substitutions allowed and you can’t leave the table. If you win, however, you’re awarded with a t-shirt, along with your picture on the wall. If you don’t, you simply have to pay for the nachos and live with your shame (and overstuffed belly).
The Sarge Burger – Pig N Chik, Sherwood, Arkansas
Inside an unassuming, small-town BBQ joint, you can order a burger made from four pounds of beef, a one pound bun, and your choice of toppings for $24.95. That is, unless you can finish the burger, along with the half-pound of fries, all in under 30 minutes. If you do, you get to call yourself a winner, and you get your meal paid for along with the ever-popular picture on a wall. Keep in mind, though, that the owner of Pig N Chik, Kerry Gore — who has never attempted the challenge — likens the burger to “trying to eat a big phone book.”
The Carnivore Pizza Challenge – Big Pie In The Sky, Kennesaw, Georgia
If you want a pizza-oriented challenge, look no further than Big Pie in the Sky, home to an 11-pound pizza covered in bacon, ham, ground beef, pepperoni, and Italian sausage. If you eat it within an hour, not only is the pizza free, but they award you with an additional $250. If this all sounds too daunting, keep in mind that Big Pie allows you to chow down with a partner. Even when factoring in teamwork, however, only seven teams have managed to emerge victorious from The Carnivore Pizza Challenge, all of whom are immortalized on the restaurant’s website.
The 72 Oz. Steak Challenge – The Big Texan Steakhouse, Amarillo, Texas
While the steak itself is intimidating enough (though, it’s no “Old ’96er”), winning the 72 Oz. Steak Challenge means eating the shrimp cocktail, salad, baked potato, and the roll with butter that comes on the plate, as well. There’s a complete set of rules is available online, detailing some specifics, including where you sit (hint: where they tell you), and who’s allowed to touch the meal during the contest (just you). Videos of participants are streamed to the web, including a winner from last year, Molly Schuyler, who managed to take down two plates of food in the time allotted. Rewards include a full refund of the $72 you paid for the meal, a spot on the Wall of Fame, and some serious bragging rights.
Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest – Nathan’s Hot Dogs, Brooklyn, New York
Celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, the legend behind Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest dates back to a story of four immigrants eating hot dogs in 1916 to see who was the most patriotic. A century later, every Independence Day, hundreds gather at Nathan’s Hot Dogs to watch around 20 competitors try and take down the standing record, currently held by Matt Stonie with 62 for men, and Miki Sudo with 64 for women. The International Federation of Competitive Eating has endorsed the contest since 1972, and all who participate must fall under their guidelines. Those interested in entering can visit any of these qualifiers.