Everything To Know About Nathan's Famous July 4th International Hot Dog Eating Contest 2024

The Fourth of July is at our doorstep, and the most American of holidays spurs only the most American of festivities. Soon, patriotic parades, firework displays, and fairs filled with ice cream, fried foods, and iconic bomb pops will rain down upon us. But the granddaddy of all Independence Day events has to be the Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest — because what's more American than gulping down a sizeable stack of franks?

The eating extravaganza has become a highly anticipated tradition that both fascinates and nauseates its audience each and every year. People gather annually for the proceedings, and just like any other sport or competitive function, it has its own intriguing history, strictly enforced rules, stars, and even heated rivalries. We're here to divulge all these juicy details of contests' past and additionally share what we know about the upcoming 2024 challenge, including which contestants could be on the road to hot dog glory.

Its history (possibly) dates back to 1916

The saga of competitive hot dog gorging is said to date back to 1916, over 100 years ago. However, there is controversy around the details of this first event, and some question if it happened at all — in fact, rumors have swirled in the past claiming it was just a phony publicity stunt. Made up or not, the tale involves four immigrants, the very first Nathan's hot dog shop which opened that same year, and a quest to be named the most patriotic of the group. To do so, the contestants supposedly readied their stomachs and gobbled their way through as many franks as they could. When all was said and done (and eaten), an Irish man named Jim Mullen was said to have walked away victorious having demolished 13 hot dogs and buns.

The first undoubtedly real and recorded contest, on the other hand, didn't occur until decades later in 1972. That year, Brooklyn College student Jason Schechter was dubbed the winner with 14 total hot dogs under his belt. His prize was allegedly a book of certificates for 40 additional hot dogs (probably a less-than-exciting award in the moment). 

Two additional decades passed before the event became officially sanctioned. The 1990s was when George and Richard Shea founded the International Federation of Competitive Eating (IFOCE) and Major League Eating (MLE) and assumed a publicity role for Nathan's.

This annual Coney Island spectacle always draws a crowd

Each year since that documented 1972 eating exhibition, Nathan's hot dog eating contest has continued to be held on none other than Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York. More specifically, it takes place outside the original Nathan's Famous restaurant on the corner of Surf and Stillwell Avenues. This is not to be confused with the chain's three other Brooklyn locations, some within mere steps of this flagship venue.

With just a few historical exceptions, the event is also held annually on the Fourth of July. During this time of year, Coney Island already attracts high crowd volumes with its rides, aquarium, boardwalk entertainment, and firework displays. And the frankfurter frenzy itself inspires even more intrigue. Each year, over 40,000 fans and curious bystanders gather wearing hot dog hats paired with red, white, and blue gear to gawk and sometimes grimace at the spectacle. This year, and every year, the affair is free for onlookers, but it could come at the cost of your previously eaten lunch.

Frank fans can also watch at home

For those who can't make the trip out to New York, there's still a way to get in on all the hot dog-eating action. ESPN has been live broadcasting the showdown since 2004 — for 20 years of televised frankfurter-filled fun — and the company recently signed an additional contract to retain the content rights through 2029. Nathan's reports that nearly 2 million people take time away from their other Fourth of July activities to tune in to the contest each year.

This time around, the event will take place on July 4th from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. EST. Typically, the programming starts a little early with a few pre-show activities followed by the women's competition and ending with the men's competition. Of course, this timetable is barring any inclement weather or other hiccups that could delay the proceedings. Fans also have a couple of viewing options, including watching live on TV through ESPN or streaming through the ESPN app.

Contestants must qualify for this MLE-hosted event

Have you ever wondered how the brave contestants are selected? Well, ever since the event became a sanctioned sport, they must qualify — just like in the Olympics or any other renowned competition — in order to prove their eating aptitude. That means these contenders are scarfing down obscene numbers of hot dogs not just once but multiple times per year.

The qualifying events are held leading up to the big day in July. The six contests to qualify for 2024 were scheduled during May and June in cities all across the U.S. Locations included Grand Rapids, MI; New York City; Cleveland, OH; Bristol, CT; Pleasanton, CA; and Washington D.C. The latter took place less than two weeks before the main event. Participants each year must be 18 years or older and register online ahead of time. Then, following each event, both the male and female winner automatically stamp their ticket to the finale.

All of these trials and contests are hosted by Major League Eating, which is a professional league of the International Federation of Competitive Eating. The organization oversees all professional eating contests, and it is no one-food pony either. Aside from Nathan's hot dog competitions, it also organizes and executes challenges for rib, shrimp, donut, sausage, wing, strawberry shortcake eating, and so many more.

There are meticulous rules to the hot dog devouring

The most important regulation for competitors is that they must be under contract with the International Federation of Competitive Eating. It is for this reason that previous competitors, such as six-time winner Takeru Kobayashi, no longer participate.

After this small stipulation, we get into the nitty-gritty of the hot dog-eating rules. To cover the basics, each participant is given 10 minutes — 12 minutes in previous years — to eat as many hot dogs (and buns) as possible. The hot dogs are cooked, although given time to cool, and presented on plates of five each. One plate must be completely finished before competitors are able to move on. Next, condiments, utensils, and alcohol of any kind are all strictly prohibited. However, other beverages like water are allowed and actually encouraged for hydration purposes. Vomiting is another no-no for obvious reasons. But once the 10 minutes are up, any food that is still in the contestants' mouths will be counted toward their total number of hot dogs. Partial hot dogs are also considered in the final count.

Both penalty cards and tiebreakers exist

With all these regulations, you have to have someone enforcing them. So, officials monitor every bite and swallow to keep track of both hot dog tallies and any rule violations. This is where the potential for penalty cards comes into play. Yellow cards may be issued for messy eating, or when players are missing pieces of the meat or buns as they chow down. With these warnings, it's a two-strikes-you're-out policy. Red cards, on the other hand, are given for any "reversal of fortune" — merely a polite and unique way of saying getting sick. This is an automatic disqualification.

There's also a plan in place should the contest come to a draw between two participants — because no one wants to share the precious podium. In this scenario, the competition goes to a sudden death tiebreaker. During this thrill bonus round, the contestants go face-to-face, and whoever chows down another five hot dogs the quickest wins. Although rare, this does happen. Take 2008 for example, when top dogs Joey Chestnut and Takeru Kobayashi tied with 59 franks each at the end of regulation. Chestnut then went on to win the title in overtime, finishing his five hot dogs fastest.

This contest often takes practice and a swift strategy

These hot dog champions — for the most part — aren't rolling up to competition day and simply winging it. Like any other sport or athletic tournament, it requires careful planning and body prep throughout the year. Nathan's reports that many of its eaters "practice stretching out their stomachs for the main event by drinking gallons of milk or water very quickly," or even by devouring filling foods like oatmeal and watermelon. Most competitors also exercise regularly to boost their metabolism and strengthen their muscles.

But even with all this training, some people just have a natural leg up due to their genetics. Past eaters, including Joey Chestnut, explained to The Washington Post that people who are tall with a broad build, long torso, wide jaw, and large teeth tend to have an advantage.

The contest also takes serious strategy. We bet you didn't know there was more than one way to eat a hot dog, but there are actually quite a few — and not all are created equal. Top gobbling methods include the dunking method — which is exactly what it sounds like — and the dividing method of eating the dog first and then the bun afterward. Other lesser-known techniques include the Solomon, popularized by Takeru Kobayashi, where the franks get broken in half before going down the hatch. It's also not uncommon to see players dancing and swaying back in forth as they focus on keeping the contents of their stomachs down.

Joey Chestnut is a Nathan's hot dog legend

Nowadays, the name most often associated with the Nathan's hot dog contest is none other than Joey Chestnut. Now 40 years old, Chestnut has been engaging in food contests for nearly 20 years — and as of 2024, he stands as the world's No. 1 competitive eater, touting 55 food ingesting records. The most well-known from this lot, though, has to be his Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest record of 76 franks in 10 minutes, which he set in 2021.

Chestnut first began his hot dog-eating stint in 2005. However, his first victory didn't come until 2007, when he finally dethroned the previous hot dog dominator, Takeru Kobayashi, with an impressive display of engorging athleticism. The champ has remained on the leaderboard every year since, with the exception of 2015, when a man named Matthew Stonie beat him by a margin of two hot dogs. With his most recent win in 2023, Chestnut now holds 16 total titles, making him something of a unicorn and superstar in the speed-eating scene.

But the 16-time winner won't compete in the 2024 contest

The 2024 contest blew wide open following the announcement that icon Joey Chestnut wouldn't be competing for the first time in 19 years. It was originally reported that the longtime champ and record-holder was left out of the running due to his recent partnership with the vegan meat brand Impossible Foods. Major League Eating stated, per NPR, that Chestnut had "chosen to represent a rival brand" rather than competing in this year's contest. On X, formerly known as Twitter, Chestnut shared his own side. "To set the record straight, I do not have a contract with MLE or Nathans and they are looking to change the rules from past years as it relates to other partners I can work with," he wrote in part. "This is apparently the basis on which I'm being banned."

However, in a statement to Tasting Table, the organization clarified, "Joey was not banned, he is the greatest competitor in history, and we hope he chooses to participate in this year's contest." But that's a no-go. Chestnut later claimed to the AP that he felt "bullied" by the MLE, saying, "If I'm ever going to work with them again, they're going to have to apologize."

Even though Independence Day could look different this year without Chestnut's commanding presence, fans can still catch him in action, as he plans to go head-to-head against competitor Takeru Kobayashi once again during a Labor Day hot-dog-eating duel. The event, dubbed "Unfinished Beef," will stream live on Netflix.

What we know about the 2024 men's competitors so far

MLE shared that the organization is expecting a total of 16 male competitors for the 2024 Nathan's contest. And we have some insight into who will be going dog-to-dog thanks to results from the previously held qualifying events.

During this season's first qualifier in Grand Rapids, MI, Darrien Thomas secured a spot in the race after polishing off 22 hot dogs, and just a few days later a man named Gideon Oji received the invite after sweeping the New York contest with 35. Pat Bertoletti dazzled the crowd in Cleveland by stuffing down 48.25 franks, while Geoff Esper — another MLE top eater and projected Nathan's hot dog winner — prevailed in Connecticut with a total tally of 49.5. At the California qualifier, Derek Hendrickson ended on top with 27.75 hot dogs eaten, also guaranteeing his place. Lastly, the winner of the sixth and final qualifying contest in Washington D.C. was Sean Yeager with 36.75. 

On X, Major League Eating also revealed that Takuya Yamamoto would be representing Japan in this year's contest. Nick Wehry, George Chiger, Max Stanford, and James Webb are four more names on the competitor list. 

On the women's side, Miki Sudo holds the current record

Joey Chestnut isn't the only one who's earned a spot in the Nathan's Hall of Fame. Miki Sudo currently holds the women's hot dog-eating world record, which she set in 2020 with an astounding 48.5 hot dogs and buns. She is currently the top female competitive eater in the world and is also ranked third overall behind just Chestnut and Geoff Esper. Sudo has been competing in the Nathan's contest since 2014 and has won the women's division every single year with the exception of one — similar to Chestnut's track record. In 2021, Michelle Lesco had her own moment in the sun as Sudo opted out during her pregnancy.

The female defender holds eight separate food-eating titles, from 87 Daddy Dough donuts in eight minutes to 368 steamed fish balls from Buntudthong in the same amount of time. Sudo is certainly a well-accomplished and seasoned veteran in this space.

Speaking of the women's competition, we can't go without mentioning Sonya Thomas. She controlled the game in the years before Sudo from 2011 to 2013, with an all-time high of 45 hot dogs in 2012. But she also held her own in the days before Nathan's split the men and women into two separate events, often beating out a large number of the men and finishing within the top five on seven different occasions.

What we know about the 2024 women's competitors so far

The women's lot will once again be smaller than the men's this year, with a total of 13 expected participants, according to Major League Eating. Miki Sudo will inevitably be back to defend her title and will be joined by another top contender, Michelle Lesco. However, there are six other women who earned their stripes and entry into the contest through this year's qualifiers.

After winning Michigan's match with 8.5 eaten dogs, Cherish Brown will step up to the plate alongside New York's prizewinner, Larell Mele, who almost doubled this number with 16 completed hot dogs. Katie Prettyman will represent from the Cleveland qualifier after annihilating 11 franks. From the Connecticut contest, Julie Goldberg will make an appearance with 6.75 feathers in her cap, and you can count on seeing Tandra Childress on the Fourth of July following her 12-dog accomplishment in California. Ellen Straub is a recent add to the roster after she won the final qualifier in Washington D.C. with a total of 7 finished hot dogs. 

In addition, MLE announced on X that Mayoi Ebihara would be returning this year, once again representing Japan. Ebihara finished second in the 2023 women's race and is currently the world's No. 14 ranked eater. 

The infamous Mustard Belt is the prize ... plus a decent chunk of change

Lastly, you must be wondering what all these challengers are chowing down for exactly. Fame? Bragging rights? Simply to prove that they can? All of the above may be true. But there are also a couple of tangible prizes on the line. 

First is the honor of receiving the one and only Mustard Belt. The bejeweled and showy accessory comes in a bright shade of yellow for the male winner and pink for the female. It is similar in look to the champion belts awarded for wrestling and boxing matches. But it has also been said that the mustard belt is to major league eaters what the green jacket is to professional golfers — quite a hefty comparison.

Speaking of green, that's the other half of the top finishers' winnings: cold hard cash. Since 2007, the contest has offered monetary prizes as an added incentive. This money comes from a pool that is split between the men and women — even though they compete separately. For the last few years, this has equated to $40,000 total. The male and female victors receive $10,000 each, second place in each category receives $5,000, third place is $2,500, fourth place is $1,500, and even fifth place walks away with $1,000. Major League Eating confirmed that this exact same cash prize distribution will be used for the 2024 event.