It was a race to eat 25 wings coated in Pluckers' hottest sauce, their "Fire in the Hole" recipe, and from the word "go," as reigning champ Jesse powered through his wing platter, he was sweating like mad. At the far right of the table, Ricky downed seven wings fast, then hit a wall and had a hard time recovering.
The lightest eater at the table proved to be Donovan from The Ticket's Bob and Dan Show, who finished off two wings before calling it quits. Arlington firefighter Sean Gram, a veteran of local wing eating challenges, was cool and collected when host Amy Vanderoef checked in on him, while fellow fireman Jonathan Patton diligently kept pace beside him.
The biggest threat at the table proved to be soft-spoken Rudy Almaguer, who Vanderoef called "the civilian", who kept a quick pace and never showed signs of succumbing to the hot sauce.
The sauce was plenty hot at the time, bright orange and dripping with chunks of hot green and red peppers, but even a day later it's the persistent burning sensation on my fingers that has been the biggest surprise.
I'd studied up on technique before the contest, but found the "meat umbrella" unnecessarily complicated in a slow-moving 30-minute contest like this one. As Vanderoef suggested at the start, this contest was about handling the heat from the wings, not about stomach capacity.
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I was ready for the feeling of too much food in my stomach, but the light-headedness that set in after the first five wings was the real surprise. At one point with the cameras on me, a wing slip out of my fingers and it took a good five or six seconds for the fact to register.
My early lead helped convince Jesse not to try keeping pace -- this wasn't the sort of contest he was interested in winning second -- and in the end, my 25 wings (I ate 23 before the televised contest was called, but added two more for a place on the "Wall of Flame") were four better than Rudy "the Civilian," and good enough for first.
That total's a joke next to Joey Chestnut's half-hour record of 182 wings (can't be sure, but those were probably not coated in hot sauce), but it was more than enough to kill my appetite for a few days, and keep the first-place prize (a $100 card for more wings at Plucker's) unused for a good long time. Maybe it'll resurface as an end-of-the-week prize here on City of Ate.
Looking ahead to the next City of Ate eating challenge -- we're working on hosting one that's open to the public -- expect a return to a 12-minute format focused on volume and speed, not technique and spiciness. Burritos would be a classic competitive eating choice, and well within Ricky's wheelhouse, though a corn dog repeat could put Jesse's credentials back on the line. Stay tuned, once we regain our appetites and the feeling in our fingers.