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Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest Rules

The Nathan’s Hot Dog eating contest has been a tradition since it “started” in 1916. The legend goes that four immigrants wanted to prove their patriotism and decided to eat hot dogs at the original Nathan’s Hot Dog stand in Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York, which would prove that.

The contest was officially recognized and organized in 1972 and has stayed a stable of United States Independence day, July 4, since then. The basic premise of the combination is whoever eats the hottest dogs in a 10-minute time frame wins the competition. However, for a large portion of the contest’s history, the time was 12 minutes from 1988 to 2008, when it changed to 10-minutes.

Tim Janus, Joey Chestnut, Matt Stonie and Bob Shoudt compete in the Nathan's Famous Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest at Nathan's Famous in Coney Island
Monika Graff/Getty Images/AFP

If two competitors have tied for the hottest dogs eaten within the time frame, like Joey Chestnut

and Takeru Kobayashi tied in 2008, it becomes a five hot dog eat-off. The competitor who eats five hot dogs the fastest, Chestnut in 2008, eating the five in 50 seconds, is declared the winner.

When time runs out, if a competitor is still eating a hot dog, that hot dog will count if they can finish and keep it down. If the competitor chooses not to finish, the hot dog is measured, and the length, by eighths, is added to their final tally. Hot dogs can be separated from the bun and eaten, but for every hot dog, a bun needs to be eaten to count and vice versa.

Each competitor is given water by Nathan’s Hot Dogs but is allowed to bring their own non-alcoholic beverages to the contest. However, each person is only allowed 13 cups maximum during the competition. The water can also be used to soften up the buns and hot dogs to be eaten easier, but each dunk can not exceed the limit of five seconds. This method is paired up with a lot of moving and jumping to eat the most amount of hot dogs, as quickly as possible. Ketchup and mustard are offered for contestants, but they are not allowed to use utensils.

Penalty cards can be handed out during the competition, with a yellow card for messy eating and a red card for regurgitation. If a competitor regurgitates and receives a red card, they are disqualified from the competition.

The competition up until 2011 featured both men and women throughout its history. 2011 marked the first year they were repeated, awarding a winner for both the men’s and women’s competitors.

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