Competitive eater Joey "Jaws" Chestnut has won the last six Nathan's Hot Dog Eating contests. Wikipedia Commons

It’s that time of year again. The 98th annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest will take place this Thursday on the 4th of July.

Nearly 40,000 people are expected to crowd the stage at the corner of Surf and Stillwell avenues, the site of the original Nathan’s Hot Dogs, to watch dozens of competitive eaters as they devour franks. The official contest is scheduled to begin at noon on Thursday, but fans don’t have to worry about showing up at Coney Island to watch. For the 10th straight year, ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPN 3 will televise the event and broadcast an online live stream of the proceedings.

Joey “Jaws” Chestnut, the reigning champion of the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest, is once again favored to take home the title -- and it isn’t even all that close. Chestnut has won the last six consecutive 4th of July contests and tied his own record (set at the 2009 contest) by downing a ridiculous 68 hot dogs and buns (referred to as “HDBs”) in 2012. Matt Stonie, last year’s runner-up, managed to eat just 46 hot dogs, meaning that Chestnut should cruise to yet another victory.

For the women’s hot dog eating contest, Sonya Thomas, also known as the Black Widow, remains the competitor to beat. Thomas won the inaugural women’s event in 2011 by downing 40 HDBs and defended her crown in 2012 by eating 45 hot dogs. By the end of last year’s 4th of July contest, her nearest competitor, Julie Etley, had managed to eat just 33 hot dogs.

The first-ever hot dog eating contest was reportedly held on July 4, 1916, by a group of European immigrants who wanted to decide which of them was the most patriotic. According to legend, an Irishman named James Mullen won the day by eating 13 hot dogs in 12 minutes. However, the first official hot dog eating contest wasn’t held until the 4th of July 1972, when a college student named Jason Schechter gobbled 14 hot dogs to win the Coney Island competition.

Participants in the spectacle aren’t just competing for bragging rights. The winners of the men’s and women’s hot dog eating contests are awarded a title belt, as well as a $20,000 cash prize.

Want to watch this year’s Nathan’s hot dog eating contest? We’ve included a full schedule of the day’s televised events below. You can also find a live stream of the men's event here and live stream of the women's event here, both courtesy of ESPN.

11:30 a.m.: 2013 Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest -- Women's Championship (ESPN Online live stream)

12:00 p.m.: 2013 Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest (Live on ESPN 2, ESPN Online live stream)

1:00 p.m.: 2013 Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest (ESPN)

5:00 p.m.: 2013 Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest (ESPN2)

7:00 p.m.: 2013 Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest (ESPN)