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Joey Chestnut, banned from Coney Island, takes his hot dog-eating skills to Fort Bliss

Joey Chestnut (right) won a hot dog-eating contest against soldiers at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas, on Thursday, with Impossible Foods pledging to donate $1,000 in support of military families for each hot dog downed.
Impossible Foods
Joey Chestnut (right) won a hot dog-eating contest against soldiers at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas, on Thursday, with Impossible Foods pledging to donate $1,000 in support of military families for each hot dog downed.

Joey Chestnut did compete in a July 4th hot dog-eating competition after all, but not in the Coney Island contest that made him famous.

Chestnut, the 16-time winner of Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest, was officially banned from the annual event by Major League Eating in mid-June. Their beef? He had signed an endorsement deal with Impossible Foods, which makes plant-based proteins.

While Major League Eating has since said it walked back its ban, according to the Associated Press, Chestnut has said he won't return to their stage at the corner of Surf and Stillwell avenues without an apology.

The world's leading competitive eater instead battled a group of soldiers at the Fort Bliss army base in El Paso, Texas, in a patriotic performance for charity that was streamed live on his YouTube channel and followed by a "Meat and Greet."

"For the first time anywhere, especially here at Fort Bliss, we have the ultimate hot dog-eating challenge," roared an emcee wearing an American flag-patterned polo shirt. "Five minutes, all-beef hot dogs, one man against four of the Army's finest."

Chestnut, who said onstage that his grandfather, uncles, father and brother all served in the U.S. Army, faced off against four soldiers competing as a team.

The two tables were nearly neck and neck for much of the five minutes, but it was Chestnut who ultimately prevailed. As more than 18,000 viewers at home watched, and a horde of in-person spectators chanted his name and "USA," Chestnut downed 57 hot dogs and buns to top his opponents' 49.

"I love you guys, thank you so much. I'm so happy to be here," Chestnut said afterward as he hoisted up his hard-earned, gold-plated belt. "I was hustling in the beginning and I slowed down a little bit — for a second I thought I might be able to hit 60, but you guys pushed me hard. Thank you so much."

In an especially meaty twist, Chestnut ate almost as many hot dogs as the winner of the Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest did earlier that same day, some 2,000 miles away, but in half the amount of time.

Chestnut said he had broken his previous record of 55 hot dogs in five minutes. The 40-year-old holds over 50 world records for competitive eating (and not just for frankfurters), including a stomach-turning 76 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes at Coney Island in 2021.

When asked at Fort Bliss what he could have done with 10 minutes, Chestnut replied, "I was on record pace … but eventually I'll make a new record anyways."

Impossible Foods — which officially announced its partnership with Chestnut earlier this week — pledged to donate $1,000 for every hot dog eaten to Operation Homefront, a nonprofit that supports military families. That added up to $106,000.

Chestnut may have been voted off the island, but he's still hungry

Chestnut's absence loomed over Coney Island on Thursday morning and afternoon, as 14 women and 14 men stuffed their faces in two separate, fast-paced faceoffs. Impossible Foods aired several ads (for chicken nugget alternatives) on ESPN as it aired, part of its effort to market to meat eaters.

Among the women, defending champion Miki Sudo of Florida downed 51 hot dogs in 10 minutes to claim the medal and a new world record, while Chicago's Patrick Bertoletti scarfed down 58 to become just the third man to claim victory since Chestnut's winning streak started in 2007 (he was defeated just once, by Matt Stonie in 2015).

Chestnut told USA Today earlier in the week that he hoped to consume more hot dogs and buns in five minutes than the Nathan's winner could in 10, adding, "I think 56 is doable." He finished one minute above that goal, and two short of beating Bertoletti.

Fort Bliss' official account on X (formerly Twitter) publicly invited Chestnut to a hot dog eating contest in a post on June 25, about two weeks after his Coney Island ban made headlines.

Chestnut responded four days later that he was headed to El Paso on the 4th "to do what I do best, military style," and extended an invite of his own to Impossible Foods.

"While I'm crushing hot dogs do y'all wanna come with and help feed the hungry crowd?" he added.

An Impossible Foods spokesperson told NPR over email that, even though Chestnut was eating real beef in the competition, they accepted his invitation and set up a "VIP sampling tent" at the base.

They also flew airplane banners in Miami and Los Angeles urging people to "Watch Joey Eat."

And more than 113,000 YouTube viewers have, at least as of Friday morning.

Those who want another chance to watch Chestnut at work can tune into Netflix on Sept. 2, when Chestnut will go head-to-head with his archrival Takeru Kobayashi for the first time in 15 years.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.
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