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 brand-new college degree and a big mouth, our intrepid writer Zach Fowle has dared to become one of these food fighters -- travelling metro Phoenix to face new challenges to prove to the animal kingdom that man belongs at the top of the food chain.
After the abject failure of my Lobbys challenge last week, I figured that before I took on my next plateful (at Dave's Doghouse, more to come on that) it was time to pick up some strategies on eating vast amounts of food from those who know best: competitive eaters.
So, I travelled to the Arizona Mills Mall to witness this year's regional qualifier for the annual Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest.
Several world-class gurgitators were in attendance, including the eventual champion, Erik "the red" Denmark, who also happens to be the 8th-ranked competitive eater in the world.
Denmark won by eating 29 hot dogs in 10 minutes, and watching him do it can only fill one with a sense of awe.
Like a snake unhinging its jaw to swallow a mouse whole, it's beautiful in its own disgusting way.
Inspired by Denmark -- and, for some reason, craving hot dogs -- I visit Dave's Dog House (ASU Tempe Campus, 480-967-DOGS) to take on the Devil Dog: a behemoth one-pound wiener that comes on a footlong buttered and toasted hoagie roll slathered with all the toppings you could want.
Now, before you get all grossed out and start telling me how hot dogs are made from cow knuckle and pig rectum, hear me out. The story of butchers indiscriminately throwing every extra scrap of meat they find into grinders isn't exactly the truth -- though it's not far off. The modern frankfurter is most often made via "advanced meat recovery," a slaughterhouse process by which the last traces of usable meat are removed from bones after the prime cuts have already been carved off.
That's not letting any of the meat go to waste -- and that, my friends, is called conservation. Hot dogs aren't only delicious; they're environmentally friendly. Tell your friends.
Full disclosure: the Devil Dog is no longer a challenge that Dave's officially recognizes and rewards. After the restaurant made the move to its new location on ASU's Tempe campus, space constraints led owner Dave Cheren to discontinue the practice of rewarding those who conquer the Devil Dog with a congratulatory T-shirt. However, though the prize may be gone, the Devil Dog still remains, ready and waiting to test brave eaters.
The cook manning the grill tells us that people often add their own requirements to the challenge. The fastest he's seen it done, he says, is four minutes -- and one guy ate twos back-to-back. I'm in no mood for such foolishness; I just want to finish the Devil Dog and regain my dignity.
Even when working with super-sized dogs, Dave's make some of the best wieners around. My Devil Dog is char-grilled to perfection -- the mustard, onions and relish in beautiful harmony with the meat and the warm crunch of a buttered and toasted bun. I use a fork and knife to cut the monster frank into bite-size chunks, and the absence of a time limit allows me to enjoy each and every one.
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Though it's only a pound, finishing the Devil Dog is more daunting a task than it seems. Your average packaged hot dog weighs about two ounces, meaning the Devil Dog is worth eight regular franks. With about two inches of meat left, that familiar feeling of nausea washes over me. I suddenly despise hot dogs and would be perfectly content to throw away this last chunk and never eat another link in my life.
But I've never let a 16-inch wiener stop me before, and I'll be damned if Iet one stop me now. I dispose of the final bits of Devil Dog, finishing the challenge in a leisurely 30 minutes.
I raise my fork in victory, my heart filled with pride and phosphates.
Until next time....