Competitive Eating: Zach Fowle's Adventures in Man vs. Food

 Read: all of Zach Fowle's battles in "Feasts of Fury."

We begin with a burger.

A foot tall it stands, each of its nine third-pound patties thick and glistening with gristle, cheese spilling out from every layer like molten gold. Hefty slices of tomato, pickles, onions, and lettuce sit softy underneath a toasted, poppy seed-peppered crown. Held in place by a wooden skewer, the beefy meal looks almost stately — a steamy, juicy Leaning Tower of Meat.

Jamie Peachey
Jamie Peachey


Think you can eat as much as an elephant eats? Visit any of these Valley restaurants to try your hand at the challenges Zach has attempted.

Barney's Boathouse's Anchor Pizza
• The challenge: One giant calzone, shaped to look like the anchor of a boat and hefty enough to weigh one down.
• Prizes: The pizza's free and you get a spot on the wall of fame.
• Where to go: 222 E. University Dr., 480-967-7744
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Buffalo Wild Wings' Blazin' Wings
• The challenge: 12 wings coated in BWW's Blazin' sauce and six minutes to finish them.
• Prizes: A T-shirt and a spot on the wall of fame.
• Where to go: 705 S. Rural Rd., 480-858-9464,
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Hawg 'n Dawg Express' 3-Foot Junkyard Dog
• The challenge: Three foot-long, half-pound hot dogs nestled delicately inside a three-foot loaf of French bread and topped with a full quart of chili along with pulled pork, bacon, cheese, onions, and French fries. It totals eight pounds and must be finished in one hour.
• Prizes: $50 and your picture on the "Wall of Wieners," plus you get the meal free.
• Where to go: 12020 S. Warner/Elliot Loop, 480-961-3647,
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Heart Attack Grill's Quadruple Bypass Burger
• The challenge: A two-pound, 8,000-calorie cheeseburger.
• Prizes: One of Heart Attack's sexy nurses will roll you out to your car via wheelchair.
• Where to go: 6185 W. Chandler Blvd.,
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Durant's 48-Ounce Porterhouse
• The challenge: A three-pound, three-inch-thick steak that must be eaten in a single sitting.
• Prizes: Induction into the Porterhouse Club, for which your name will be emblazoned onto one of the plaques adorning the steakhouse's walls.
• Where to go: 2611 N. Central Ave., 602-264-5967,
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Chik-a-Rib's Lava Jumbo Buffalo Wings
• The challenge: 10 wings that have been deep-fried and coated in a gooey sauce made from four different types of peppers — one of which is the dreaded ghost chili. All 10 must be finished in 10 minutes, and you're not allowed to drink anything until time runs out.
• Prizes: A free meal and a spot on the wall of fame.
• Where to go: 1830 W. Glendale Ave., 602-759-8521
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Chompie's Ultimate Sliders
• The challenge: A five-pound plate of 12 Jewish sliders (brisket, jack cheese, and a potato pancake inside a mini challah roll) and onion strings that must be finished in 30 minutes.
• Prizes: A T-shirt, your picture goes on the wall of fame, and the meal is free.
• Where to go: 9301 E. Shea Blvd., 480-860-0475,
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Venezia's Party Pizza
• The challenge: A 24-inch pizza with the toppings of your choice that you and a partner must finish in one hour.
• Prizes: A T-shirt and your photos on the wall of fame.
• Where to go: 33 E. Southern Ave., 480-858-1660,
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Lobby's Three-Pound Burger
• The challenge: Nine third-pound hamburger patties, nine slices of American cheese, and toppings between a sesame seed bun that must be finished within 10 minutes.
• Prizes: A T-shirt, your picture on the wall of fame, and the meal's free.
• Where to go: 3141 S. McClintock Rd., 480-897-1113,
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I might consider it beautiful if I had time to admire it. But the man with the timer has other ideas.

"Go!" he yells, starting the countdown on the 10-minute time limit I'm allowed to eat the entire three-pound burger.

All appreciation for the regal nature of this giant burger gone, I slap the behemoth on its side and begin devouring. At first, I try to go caveman on it, using just the hands and face to attack the burger like a meaty corn on the cob. This quickly proves reckless — resulting in a burned mouth, no opportunity for the addition of ketchup (a necessity), and juicy overflow. Grease is everywhere.

I switch to a more calculated (and dignified) method of sliding each patty off the stick and attacking it individually with a plastic fork. But about five minutes in: Crisis! My fork snaps.

With the clock ticking, time is of the essence, so instead of leaving the table for another utensil, I return to my caveman ways, picking up each patty barehanded.

A minute later, I feel confident that I can finish. Only four third-pound patties and the bun remain — just one patty per minute! Easy.

But, oh, how quickly things change. With just over two minutes left on the clock, my stomach spasms as if I've been punched. The medium-rare monster in my belly is fighting back, and he's pissed. Feelings of nausea and exhaustion wash over me. I can't go on.

Valiantly, I attempt a final push, but a pound of meat still remains and my pace has slowed to that of a camel lazily chewing its cud. I struggle through just another half a patty before time expires.

If this were an ordinary meal, I would have savored the bounty of this giant burger, taking my time and enjoying each bite. But this was no ordinary meal. This was a food challenge.

The average person's stomach can hold about a liter of food, or close to two pounds' worth. But who wants to be average? All over town, restaurants are offering up contests of confection, defying brave eaters to ingest more food than they should eat in a week — recommended daily values be damned!

Armed with a big mouth and an empty stomach, I've dared to become one of these food fighters — traveling metro Phoenix to face new challenges to prove to the animal kingdom that man belongs at the top of the food chain.

Seventeen times, I've started posts on Chow Bella, New Times' food blog, with those two paragraphs — the accounts of each food challenge I've undertaken in the past five months, part of a series we named "Feasts of Fury." It's been a long, strange, greasy trip.

Though American restaurants have offered food challenges to their bravest and hungriest customers for decades, the popularity of such meals has exploded in recent years — thanks, in most part, to a little show called Man v. Food.

It's a simple concept: Adam Richman — the eager host with a wealth of food experience from years of working in restaurants — travels across the United States, finding local spots serving up giant, tasty portions. At the climax of each episode, Richman faces the area's signature eating challenge in an attempt to tally another victory in the immortal struggle between man and food.

Man v. Food premièred in December 2008, garnering the highest rating a Travel Channel show has ever received for a debut. Currently taping episodes for his fourth season, Richman's been just about everywhere: He confronted a 72-ounce steak in Amarillo, Texas; an 11-pound pizza in Atlanta; giant pancakes in Hawaii; 180 oysters in New Orleans; a gallon of milkshake in St. Louis.

But these are American cities with established cultures and deep culinary backgrounds. When I started this quest for outrageous restaurant-offered tests of intestinal fortitude in Phoenix, I thought I'd find only a few, try my hand, and back out gracefully. No such luck. I'm constantly surprised by the sheer number of tasty challenges available at Valley restaurants. This trend is far more popular than I thought.

I've eaten sandwiches that pack about five times the amount of fat a person should eat in a day. I ate a five-pound burrito with more than 3,000 calories and 400 percent of the recommended daily amounts for sodium and cholesterol. On one day, I consumed more than 2,500 calories' worth of a 24-inch pizza, taking in more than 100 grams of fat (half of them the obscenely unhealthy saturated variety) and 250 percent of my daily recommended values for sodium. My mouth and innards have been singed by more than 4 million Scoville units' worth of hot chili peppers. I've eaten an 8,000-calorie cheeseburger cooked with pure lard.

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Mike R. Meyer
Mike R. Meyer

Awesome story, man. I was going to say that I want to start a band now for the sole purpose of naming it the Meat Sweats, but a quick Google search showed that someone already beat me to it. Damn.


A very well written story on an interesting topic. Good work, Zack...Keep on knoshin'...


Well done, Zach! Your writing is great and your eating skillz are even better. Keep it up! You and Erica (just offal and bottom of the barrel) deserve raises.


So let's get this straight..children are starving in this country and the New Times is paying someone to stuff 5 lbs of food in his gullet?They put this on the cover the week before Thanksgiving?!Here's an article this morning in the Republic about how Phoenix area homeless children will not have enough food to eat this year because the food bank is $80,000 short...and this guy is getting paid to competitively eat?!

What is wrong with you guys? I always thought the New Times was about social justice.Guess I was wrong. It costs $25 to feed a family of 6, but instead they're paying someone to eat in excess.


Central Scruitinizer
Central Scruitinizer

So let's get this straight, there are horrid injustices being done all over the world, and you're wasting your limited activist wrath on a freebie paper with a puff piece on overeating?

What's wrong with you person?



There aren't any starving kids in Phoenix. Except maybe some whose parents sold their food stamps for more meth.

Now please sell your computer and give the money to some starving family.