A tablecloth flutters in the chilly sea breeze. Twelve minutes ago it was blindingly white beneath the summer sun. Now, it's stained a deep mottled red. Bits of meat and saucy detritus are scattered everywhere. The smell of charred flesh drifts across an expanse of tent-strewn blacktop. It's a scene of carnage and savagery and can only be the aftermath of the Smokin' at the Ocean World Rib-Eating Championship.
Lincoln City's Chinook Winds Casino sponsors this competition on the Major League Eating circuit, which includes stops in Stockton, California, for fried asparagus and Chattanooga, Tennessee, for the Krystal Square Off World Hamburger-Eating Championship. According to Major League Eating officials, competitive eating is the fastest growing sport in America; they also claim it's the most extreme.
Perusing the competitive eating record book, "extreme" is exactly the word that comes to mind. Consider the kind of stomach required to consume 10.63 pounds of corned beef and cabbage in 10 minutes, a feat achieved by Patrick Bertoletti in 2007.
It's a special person who can push past "the meat sweats," resisting a "reversal of fortune," also known as vomiting. In food festival tents, like those in the Chinook Winds parking lot last Sunday, July 13, the name of one particular person is whispered in reverence and awe. That name is Joey "Jaws" Chestnut.
Chestnut, the current competitive eating world champion, had come to the Oregon Coast to defend his rib-eating title. Among his gustatory accolades, Chestnut is the first American this decade to win the Nathan's Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog-Eating Contest, defeating Takeru Kobayashi, who held the title for six years. He's also featured in a new Major League Eating videogame for the Wii platform.
Chestnut never had ambitions to be a world-famous eater. But after placing third in his first competition—a lobster-munching melee—his competitive hunger was kindled.
"I love beating people," Chestnut explains. "I love knowing that they're getting sick just trying to keep up with me."
And keeping up with Chestnut is a difficult thing. He is legendary for his natural ability and speed. Competitor Richard "The Locust" LeFevre bested Chestnut during that first lobster-eating competition, but has only beat him three times since.
Still, the 64-year-old LeFevre has nothing but praise for his young colleague. "The man knows how to train. He's a great athlete. Nobody can top Joey."
But Chestnut took a training break after winning this year's Fourth of July hot dog-eating competition for a second time. As the competitors lined up at the clean white table, it was possible that someone could beat the three-time rib-eating champion.
Twelve minutes is a long time when staring down five pound piles of ribs. When the flailing, wiggling, and "chipmunking" had ended, LeFevre's words rang true. Chestnut had packed away 8.05 pounds of rib meat. LeFevre's second-place showing was a mere 5.3 pounds.
Afterward, Chestnut claimed he could have done much better. "I was having a little trouble swallowing quickly," he said, "The muscles weren't quite ready for rib meat. I could always do more."
Then, the slim and handsome Chestnut flashed a big smile. "I always continue raising the bar for myself. As long as I'm healthy I'll keep pushing myself harder."