Crazy Legs Conti is competing in The Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest this year. We sat down with him to talk about his preparation and techniques.
Every Fourth of July, rain or shine, tens of thousands of people gather at the corner of Surf and Stillwell in Coney Island for Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Competition. This year, 10-time champion Joey Chestnut — ranked number one in the world by Major League Eating — will defend his title against 19 other contestants. Even though he won't be participating this year, former competitor Crazy Legs Conti shared his tips and techniques for what it takes to eat dozens of hot dogs in 10 minutes.
Since his 2002 debut as a competitive eater in the Acme Oyster Eating Contest in New Orleans, in which he downed 14 dozen oysters in 10 minutes, Conti has secured world records for eating the most French-style green beans, buffet food, and lumberjack breakfasts (pancakes and bacon).
The 45-year-old is also a four-time corn on the cob eating winner — his all-time best is 47 ears in 12 minutes.
How does one prepare to gobble down that much food all at once? Conti, who admits he’s “probably eaten half of Noah’s Ark,” says the key is “mind over stomach matter.” He claims the stomach can fill up, but the mind can’t.
“John Havlicek, the great Boston Celtic, always said he would skip dinner. He would go into the game hungry. In competitive eating, you go in hungry and focused,” Conti told The Daily Meal. “You don’t want to be ravenous. You don’t want to hear your stomach. You really want to go in with this sort of placid calmness.”
He continued, “I am not a Buddhist, but Zen is kind of the goal when you’re eating. Some people call it the zone. It’s a state where everything’s in rhythm. The world is in harmony. You’re one with everything, which doesn’t mean putting all the condiments on the hot dog, but it means you’ve really transcended what it takes to combine 25 hot dogs and the human body in 10 minutes, and that’s kind of the goal.”
To keep in shape and achieve a relaxed state of mind, Conti gets loose and limber at yoga and runs the Williamsburg Bridge. He also participates in the New York City Marathon every fall, which is just over 26 miles.
“I think we are in traditional athletic shape, which people find hard to believe,” Conti said. “But people go to the gym, people work out so they can eat competitively. It’s not just a crutch for eating too much.”
You’ll only find Conti eating wieners when he’s working on his technique, as he considers it strictly “competition food.” He chooses burgers over dogs at backyard barbecues, but he much prefers seafood to anything.
“My stomach seems to be a beacon to the ocean’s creatures,” he said. Before the big day though, Conti fuels up with ramen. The soup always fills him up, and it’s soft and digestible.
As far as the contest goes, “I always go nubs up,” Conti says, snapping a dog in two. This method places equal parts of the wiener along the molars, allowing for optimal chewing. At the same time, he’s dunking the bun — but not as a whole.
“If you have time, you want to get this fleshy underside. It’s called reversing the bun,” he said. “Fold it, get it into your liquid, and then you’re gonna use that to wash down the dog. You want to create a natural log flume ride from your mouth to your esophagus.”
Conti’s personal preference is to dunk his bread into Tang, the orange-flavored beverage made from powder. It gained popularity after being sent to space in 1962 when Mercury astronaut John Glenn began experimenting with food and drink in orbit.
“Retired eater Mike ‘Eater X’ Janus started the alternative beverage movement. So you pair a sweet beverage with the savory hot dog. I happen to use Tang. It’s good enough to go into space for the astronauts, so it’s good enough to dunk hot dog buns in,” Conti said.
After the competition, Conti says most contestants won’t eat for 24 to 36 hours, which he refers to as the “Anaconda Diet.” Anacondas eat large animals such as pigs, deer, and capybara, and then rest unbothered for weeks. But before anyone heads home to hibernate, a celebration is in order.
“My legacy is that I require an after-party at every contest. We go to Ruby’s on the boardwalk and then we actually go to the city at Professor Thom’s. The password is ‘swordfish,’” Conti said. “If you think competitors drool a lot during the contest, you should see when they switch to whiskey.”
The 102nd annual Nathan’s Hot Dog eating contest takes place July 4. The women’s competition starts at 10:50 a.m. ET. The men start at 12 p.m. ET. Those watching from the couch at home can live-stream both events on the ESPN app or watch the women’s event on ESPN3 and the men’s segment on ESPN2. In honor of this beefy patriotic showdown, here the healthiest and unhealthiest store-bought hot dogs in the game.