How to Have an Eating Competition at your Tailgate

By Justin Poythress

There are about two hours to kill before kickoff and so far, you’re hosting like a champ. No one’s run out of ice, the music is getting you pumped up and you’ve managed to keep the vicinity clear of crying children. Well done! But you’re not one to settle for just “good enough.” You’re not happy with just breaking .500; you want the championship. So what can you do to set your pre-game festivities above the rest?

Forget about horseshoes or corn hole. okay, don’t forget about them. Those are still really fun games, but they’re sometimes it’s nice to shake up the routine. Host an eating competition instead. How do you run such an event? Well, Tailgate Fan is the right place to find out. Follow some of these thoughtfully outlined suggestions, and people showing up to your pre-game party may never leave.

1. Prep the eating competition in advance.

Just like most awesome things in life, anticipation trumps — or at least bolsters — reality. So get people psyched. Use whatever newfangled technology the kids are raving about these days and consider sending out an invite, complete with disturbing pictures of open mouths and half-chewed food. Set a designated time and get people to sign up beforehand.

Prime the crowd in the moments leading up to the event. This, after all, will be a spectacle and potentially the main draw. The actual event probably won’t exceed 10 minutes, but the build up makes it all worth it.

If you try to throw it together at the last minute, then it will feel thrown together. So take the time to do it right.

PHILADELPHIA - FEBRUARY 4:  Uneaten wings awaits a contestant during Wing Bowl 13 at the Wachovia Center February 4, 2005 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. An estimated 20,000 spectators gathered to watch the buffalo wing eating contest. Wing Bowl started 13 years ago when a Philadelphia radio personality came up with the idea as an alternative to the Superbowl because he believed the Philadelphia Eagles would never again make it to the Superbowl.

Photo Credit: William Thomas Cain/Getty Images

2. Select the food(s).

If you’re feeling ambitious, try one entree-centered competition and one dessert-centered competition. Don’t break the bank on this one; the quality of the food at an eating competition isn’t important. To a large extent, it’s disrespectful to throw down well seasoned, carefully prepared grub for the purpose of mass, competitive consumption. You wouldn’t dress and slow-grill a filet and sett it on a fine china plate only to serve it to the raccoon who breaks into your trashcans.

Pretty much any food will do, as long as you have a lot of it. But if you don’t, make it a race to finish the food you do have. Another variation is a ‘set quantity’ competition, in which the first one to finish — say, an entire case of White Castle sliders or an entire meal — wins.

NEW YORK - JULY 04:  Joey Chestnut of San Jose celebrates after eating 66 hotdogs to win the annual hot dog eating contest at Coney Island July 4, 2007 in New York City.

Photo Credit: Chris McGrath/Getty Images

3. Include some prizes.

The stakes are higher because the honor’s greater, though you needn’t take out a second mortgage to recognize the winner. Creativity trumps expense every time, especially at a tailgate. Some form of a champion’s belt or cap would let the winner gloat at next week’s tailgate. One of your kid’s little league trophies would do the job as well. The real goal is give participants some motivation and the winner something to show for his efforts beyond the memories of other people’s repulsed laughter.

Maybe go a step further and hand out multiple rewards (say, for style or effort). Everybody doesn’t have to win, but additional prizes can rev up the competition and add a few wrinkles to the spectacle.

There you have it; those are the basics. Timed competitions are all the rage, and a tailgate is the perfect atmosphere for this sort of revelry. Be sure to bring plenty of napkins. You’ll need them.

Find more tasty recipes for your next tailgate.

Stop in at the Man Cave Daily, where the women are hot and the beer is cold.

Justin Poythress has a prodigious palate, enjoying all things food, from the fast to the extreme. His work and latest food adventures can be found on


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