Big Earl's BBQ's Leg of Beast Feast: 30 Pounds of Food, 6 People, 17 Minutes
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 -- daily recommended values be damned!
Armed with a big mouth and an empty stomach, our intrepid writer Zach Fowle has dared to become one of these food fighters -- travelling metro Phoenix to face new challenges and prove to the animal kingdom that man belongs at the top of the food chain.
Twenty pounds of pork butt and brisket. One pound of macaroni and cheese. One pound of baked beans. One pound of collard greens. One pound of potato salad. One pound of coleslaw. One pound of French fries. One pound of wedge salad. One pound of corn bread. One pound of fried pickles. And an entire whole pecan and date pie.
This is what awaited the intrepid teams of eaters during the inaugural Leg of Beast Feast at Big Earl's BBQ May 24. A grand total of 30 pounds of food, split between six people and set to be eaten in 17 minutes. Mother of god.
The "Leg of Beast Feast" at Big Earl's BBQ. The pecan pie is not pictured.
Normally, the food challenges I face are a one-on-one scenario -- just a man, some food, and the demons of indigestion caused by said food. But for this battle, a whale's shitload of eats, I've assembled a crack team of New Times eating superfriends: Jason Woodbury, John Walters, Benjamin Leatherman, Jonathan McNamara and James King. We gather at a table and get ready to rumble.
Our fellow competitors are pretty intimidating. At one table is Rodney Hartwig, AKA @TheLargWhiteMan, who, if you remember, crushed me in a cupcake eating contest a few months back. At another is a team of Yelpers wearing gloves and bandanas. Most unsettling of all is a table full of folks called The Genteel who look like they escaped from a Civil War reenactment.
Being the only veteran of food challenges on Team "Bro-nan the Barbarians," I felt an obligation to shoulder most of the weight of this challenge and offer tips for success. But when the platters of food are actually brought out, I realize there's no amount of coaching that could prepare us for this. The meat -- 20 POUNDS of it -- is piled into a two-foot-tall pork pyramid. At each corner, slumped underneath the protein avalanche, is a different side: macaroni and cheese, potato salad, baked beans, collard greens. The remaining of the food rests on additional plates and baskets scattered across our table.
I'll spare you most of the gory details, leaving it to my fellow teammates to share below. But, as a bit of foreshadowing, near the end of our time limit, our testosterone-fueled enthusiasm had waned to a table full of disoriented stares and shaking heads. King was mere seconds from spewing, hugging our "in case of emergency" bucket like a teddy bear.
I'll also say that the pecan pie was fucking delicious. If the pie-to-meat ratio of this challenge was swapped, I could've taken it down single-handedly. In the end, Hartwig and his team "Here for Beer" took first, eating 20.2 pounds of food in 30 minutes. We ate 15.4 pounds of food, securing second place. - Zachary Fowle
Team Yelp had a strong showing until one of their members had a reversal of fortune.
James King (news blogger):
At six feet tall and 172 pounds, nobody expected I could eat five pounds of food -- and I didn't. Not even close. The contest was over for me when the guy sitting directly behind me projectile vomited hunks of brisket and potato salad all over his table -- and then tried to eat food off of his puke-covered plate. For me, like many, the sight of chunder induces chunder, and I spent the remainder of the contest trying to keep the unhealthy amount of picnic food I'd just consumed from ending up on my teammates' laps. We finished a respectable second -- and I take full credit. Had it not been for my courageous, 15-minute battle with nature, Big Earl's would have been covered with my puke and we would have been disqualified. Some people call me a hero -- I like to think I'm just a team player. The result of my brief, five-minute pig out: a solid 50-second fart on the ride home, which turned my car into a gas chamber that even the Nazis would consider cruel and unusual. For an entire day, I felt like an elephant took a shit in my stomach. There was room for nothing but Gatorade and boxed wine for nearly 24 hours. It was horrible -- but the pecan pie was fucking awesome.
Jonathan McNamara (web editor):
Ipecac is a vomit-inducing syrup used to counteract the ingestion of poisonous substances by purging them from the body. It turns out that pharmacies no longer sell the substance, or at least the two pharmacies near my place in Tempe don't. This is a damn shame because after helping our team consume about 15 pounds of BBQ (about 10,000 calories per person) I was in serious need of some purging.
Going in to the challenge, I thought about competitive eating's most famous hot dog consumer, Takeru Kobayashi. The man never sits down. He kind of dances as he shoves hot dogs and buns into his face. I tried to emulate this as I sent forkfuls of sloppy brisket dripping with sauce down my gullet. The fried pickles were one of my primary targets. I took them two at a time, feeling their steamy juice running down my throat as the crunchy outer coating scraped across the roof of my mouth.
I'm proud of what we accomplished. I'm also hell-bent never to eat that much in twenty minutes again so long as I live.
In case of emergencies.
John Walters (ass't art director): I hadn't given forethought into the competition until fellow Barbarian Fowle distributed the night's menu (read: MEAT). Now try to picture 20 lbs of meat, not too bad: a couple dozen cheeseburgers, maybe a large cat. And divided among six people. That's only 3 lbs and change, to which you're probably thinking, as I was, chump change.
Fast forward to 6:45 p.m. Put yourself in my shoes.
You've signed your waiver. You're starving from the day's fast and you can't stop staring at the Phil Jackson twins sitting at the next table over. Enough dilly-dallying. Let's grub! Pecan pie, salad, the food begins to arrive. And then you see it: brisket. Not just brisket. A pyramid of brisket. Shit just got real. The foundation consisted of baked beans, mac 'n' cheese, coleslaw and collard greens.
You know when they say your eyes are bigger then your stomach? I was crying. Before you know it, the countdown to 17 minutes had begun. Beans! Brisket! Corn Bread! Repeat! I was in the zone. Seventeen minutes later I wished I was in the bathroom. A member of the team next door lost it, and guess what came up? Beans. Brisket. Cornbread. I looked back at our table. It all looked the same. I looked across at Jason, sweating, his eyes were watering. At the table across from us, another goes down. At this point it's clear, no one is finishing. Fuck it, I start on dessert: pecan pie.
Jason Woodbury (clubs editor):
This was awful. I've watched plenty of episodes of Man Vs. Food, and, usually in the throes of late night hunger, thought, I could do that. Of course I could eat that. But it's not like on TV. Seeing 30 -seriously, 30 pounds of food--in front of you, is terrifying. I did my best, scooping platefuls of meat, and I'm pretty sure I managed four full plates, but at the end of the 17-minute mark, it looked like I hadn't eaten anything. Sides were a blessing. I wolfed down a pretty good chunk of the coleslaw, some mac and cheese and a slice of pie, but when it came down to the wire, it was just meat. So much meat.
I managed to keep everything down until after the competition, but what I did later wasn't pretty. I don't see any more competitive eating competitions in my future. I felt bad about myself afterward, for more than one reason, though I'm proud of what we pulled off. In a sick, shameful way. Go team Bronan.
Benjamin Leatherman (ass't calendar edtior):
When the emcee shouted go, I sucked it up and loaded up my plate with brisket and turned into a food vacuum cleaner.
After two minutes of breakneck scarfing, any pleasure at all from eating the meat evaporated and I simply shoveled as much food as I could stand down my throat. As my pleasure from eating diminished, my revulsion grew. Not just at the amount of meat and carbs going into my gob, but at the utter disgusting decadence of the messy orgy of eating going on around me.
I had visions of that squalid scene from David Fincher's Seven going through my head where a fat man was forced to eat himself to death, consuming mass quantities of food until his stomach burst. We had turned into nothing but pigs dining at a trough, all manner of cleanliness and decorum abandoned for a blinding stampede of a royal gorge in the name of glory and triumph. Each table was a mess of food detritus as teams gangbanged their digestive systems with beef and pork lubed up with sweet and spicy barbecue sauce. When a few competitors began reguritating their massive dinners, the scene then became akin to the Vomitoriums of Ancient Rome, where the populace would eat until they puked.
And like ancient Roman times, the conquerers were celebrated when Team Bronan managed to eat approximately half of the 30 pounds in front of them. Unlike the rest of my compatriots, I managed to keep going even after they had faltered, and was the last of my team to be eating when time was called. I unleashed a mighty roar and plunged my fork into the messy pile of remaining meat.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Phoenix dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.