Nathan's or Bust




Could N.H.'s competitive eating soon rival the famous Coney Island contest?

Everybody knows about Nathan's - the hot dog stand on Coney Island that's been holding a hot dog eating contest every 4th of July for the last 95 years.

Contestants eat as many hot dogs and buns (HDBs in contest lingo) as they can in 10 minutes. One Joey Chestnut last year defended his championship title by downing 54 HDBs in the allotted time.

Never mind that it's really disgusting to watch, the event draws huge crowds and huge media attention.

Well, watch out Nathan's, Hampton Beach is ready to grab some of your glory.

"We're planning to one day be bigger and better than Nathan's," says Jude David, chairman of the Hampton Beach Seafood Festival. "Our lobster roll-eating contest has the potential to be huge. Last year, the first year we did it, the crowds were unbelievable - and we expect even bigger crowds this year. We also hope to break a world record."

Why lobster rolls (LRs?) instead of hot dogs? The answer is easy, says David - it's happening in New England, where the lobster is a "signature item."

So here's how it works: First, the qualifying rounds - the second and final one is Aug. 16 at The 401 Tavern in Hampton. Then on Sept. 10, 16 contestants (four of them celebrities, the rest winners of the qualifying rounds) will gather to await the "start your stomachs" signal to begin eating as many lobster rolls as possible in 10 minutes. Thirteen LRs are set in front of the eaters, with more waiting behind them.

"It has to be done picnic-style," David says. That means lobster and roll have to be eaten together. No dunking the roll in water to make it easier to eat.

Last year, professional eaters (yes, there are such people) were amazed when Matthew Stonie -18 years old, 120 pounds and a first-timer - took the top prize. He ate 23 1/2 lobster rolls, beating out a professional by half a roll, or as someone said, "by a tail."

(Editor's Note: Just as this issue went to press we learned that Stonie placed 5th at Nathan's 2011 4th of July hot dog eating contest, so game on.)

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