Nathan's Hot Dog Contest
Takeru Kobayash (L) and Joey Chestnut (R) compete in the 92nd Annual Nathan's Famous International Hot Dog Eating Contest in Coney Island, New York, July 4, 2016. Getty Images/ Bobby Bank

The Fourth of July celebrations in the U.S. are considered absolutely incomplete without grilled hot dogs. This long-standing tradition has been turned into a spectator sport with Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest, the annual American hot dog eating extravaganza which is considered as a big part of the day’s celebrations.

The hot dog eating competition held by Nathan's Famous, Inc. takes place at Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York, with thousands of fans joining in the celebration every year. The rules of the contest are pretty simple — eat as many hot dogs and buns as you can in 10 minutes to be declared the winner.

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The legends of how the contest started are as popular as the contest itself. The origins of Nathan’s Inc emerged with a Polish immigrant named Nathan Handwerker who migrated to the U.S. in 1912. Nathan borrowed 300 dollars from his friends Jimmy Durante and Eddie Cantor so he could open a hot dog shop. In 1916, Nathan opened his own hot dog shop on the corner of Surf and Stillwell Avenues in Coney Island.

According to Nathan’s website, legend has it that on July 4, 1916, four immigrants gathered at this hot dog stand and made eating contest history. As the story goes, they were competing to see who was the most patriotic. A man named Jim Mullen is said to have won the contest first, although the accounts vary. Another account says Jimmy Durant won the contest after he ate 13 hot dogs in 12 minutes. The first major and recorded hot dog eating contest was held on the Fourth of July in 1972. Jason Schechter from the U.S., who are 14 hot dogs and buns, won the contest.

Nathan’s Hall of Fame shows that for the next few decades, the contest sputtered along with small crowds watching the winners eat between 10 and 20 dogs. Most of the winners were from the U.S although a few came from Japan. According to Politico Magazine, it was in 2001 when the face of the competition was changed by a contestant from the latter country.

Takeru Kobayashi, a Japanese competitive eater, set a record at his rookie appearance when he reportedly ate 50 hot dogs in about 12 minutes, doubling the previous record of 25. He subsequently broke his own record, winning the contest six consecutive times. Kobayashi employed a revolutionary technique of separating the hot dogs and buns — by breaking the dogs in half and squishing the buns in water. When he tasted it, he discovered that the waterlogged buns made everything slide down his throat and required minimal chewing. Kobayashi called his new creation “the Solomon Method.”

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His streak was broken by Joey “Jaws” Chestnut from San Jose, California, who remains the audiences’ favorite to date. Chestnut ate 66 hot dogs and buns in 2007 and has retained his position at the top ever since, having only lost once to Matt “Megatoad” Stonie in 2015. In 2016, Chestnut became the reigning champion once again, eating 70 dogs in 10 minutes.

The Kobayashi-Chestnut rivalry has been heralded the golden age of the July 4th hot-dog contest. Since 2011, two separate contests have been created for men and women and the popularity of the event has prompted networks to televise it live. There is even fierce betting on the outcomes. This year, Chestnut and Miki Sudo (both defending champions) are being considered favorites in the men’s and women’s category respectively. As spectators gather to watch the contest with the same enthusiasm as the Superbowl, it remains to be seen who emerges the champion of gluttony.