Joey Chestnut breaks record at reimagined Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest

Joey Chestnut wolfed down 76 hot dogs in ten minutes — eating two hot dogs at a time for the first half of the competition.
Photo by Dean Moses

Gulping down 76 hot dogs in ten minutes, Indiana’s Joey Chestnut took home his 14th mustard belt this July 4 — while breaking his 2020 world record by a single hot dog. 

“I feel pretty good,” Chestnut told reporters after his win. “I’m bloated. I’m sweaty. I just want to lay down and have some water.”

The Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, a beloved tradition held each Fourth of July in Coney Island, took place in front of a live audience this year after it was relocated in 2020 to a private location to avoid large crowds amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Attendees filled the 7,000 seats at Maimonides Park.Photo by Corazon Aguirre

This year’s bonanza of beef was held at Maimonides Park, formerly MCU Park, in an effort to limit the event to the stadium’s capacity of 7,000, as opposed to the contest’s typical showing in front of Nathan’s flagship location on Surf Avenue which in previous years has drawn over 20,000 people.

Chestnut blew his competitors out of the water, taking an insurmountable lead in the first five minutes while eating two hot dogs at a time — and broke Takeru Kobayashi’s record of 50 hot dogs in six minutes in just five minutes and 20 seconds. 

The world’s number one hot dog eater was in a competition against his record more than any challengers on the stage, it seemed, as Chestnut’s longtime rival Kobayashi did not compete this year, giving him a strong advantage over the other contestants. 

Mayor Bill de Blasio with Master of Ceremonies George Shea.Photo by Corazon Aguirre

“I had a pretty good idea I could do it,” Chestnut said of breaking his record. “I just had to stay calm, not panic when things got a little bit rough and just make my body work for me.” 

While Chestnut won with 76 hot dogs and buns, Geoffrey Esper took second place with 50 hot dogs and buns. Fellow opponent Nick Wehry ate 44 hot dogs and buns, coming in third place. Wehry is expecting a child with Miki Sudo, a seven-time winner of the contest’s women’s competition who did not compete this year due to her pregnancy. 

Michelle Lesco gave a theatrical performance dancing and jumping to get her food down.Photo by Dean Moses

The women’s competition was much closer, with a new winner crowned the category’s franks-eating champion. Michelle Lesco of Tuscon, Arizona ate 31 hot dogs and buns in ten minutes. Lesco kept a lead throughout the race, using a theatrical technique where she was seen dancing and writhing to get the food down. 

Sarah Rodriguez came in second place, eating 24 hot dogs and buns, and Larell Marie Mele took third place with nearly 19 hot dogs. 

Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest introduced a new competition this year: a lemonade chugging contest. Eric Booker, a rapper who goes by Badlands, won the inaugural challenge, chugging a gallon of Nathan’s lemonade in about 38 seconds. 

Attendees told Brooklyn Paper they were excited to return — and dress up — for one of their favorite annual events, and enjoyed the contest’s new venue, mostly because it had seats. 

“We think it’s our fifth year,” said Hannah Garrett, who dresses up annually with her friend, Dr. Carly Dragan.

This year, the pair came dressed as hot dogs.

“We really love the new venue,” Garrett said. “It’s great to be able to have a seat and buy drinks.” 

Hannah Garret (left) with friend Dr. Carly Dragan.Photo by Dean Moses

Though Garrett is a vegetarian, she and Dragan said they attend the contest each year as a celebration of America’s pastimes.

“I am actually a vegetarian,” the talking hot dog said, “but this is independence day so we are celebrating American culture, and part of American culture for better or for worse is excessive consumption.” 

Kids and adults alike enjoyed the live return of the annual frankfurter frenzy.Photo by Dean Moses

“It is just so outlandish and crazy to watch people eat as many hot dogs as they can,” Dragan added. “It’s like disgusting, right, but there is something about it that sparks curiosity and joy from watching somebody overeat.”

While many found the venue a nice change of scenery for the contest, organizers previously told Brooklyn Paper that they’re looking forward to finally getting back to their original location, hopefully by 2022. 

“It is encouraging to hold this event live for fans, who last year were unable to celebrate July 4 as they traditionally do,” said James Walker, senior vice president of restaurants for Nathan’s Famous. “Next year, we hope to return to the corner of Surf and Stillwell Avenues, where we have held this event for decade after decade.”

From left: Joey Chestnut, the day’s host George Shea, and Michelle Lesco.Photo by Corazon Aguirre