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Hot Dog Eating Contest rules, explained: Time limits, vomiting & more to know about Nathan’s competition

The Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest returns to Coney Island for the third straight year in 2024. After the Fourth of July staple was held indoors due to the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 and at a minor-league baseball stadium in 2021 due to capacity restrictions, the Hot Dog Eating Contest is back to normalcy again.

The change in venues never affected Joey Chestnut. Chestnut has won every contest since 2016 and 16 of the last 17 overall, setting new records in both 2020 and 2021. His 16 titles are more than double the total of anyone else in the men’s competition. 

Chestnut ate 62 hot dogs in 2023, one fewer than the previous year, but he still finished 13 dogs ahead of the second-place finisher. There will be a new champion in 2024, however, since Chestnut is banned from the competition for his contract with Impossible Foods.

Here are the rules you need to know for the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest on the Fourth of July.

MORE: Joey Chestnut vs. Takeru Kobayashi to face off in Netflix special

Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest rules

The rules for the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest aren’t overly complicated, but they do 

  • Each competitor has 10 minutes to eat as many hot dogs as possible.
  • Competitors receive one plate of five hot dogs and buns at a time.
  • Though there was some confusion, Major League Eating told People in 2022 that ketchup and mustard are not permitted.
  • Any non-alcoholic beverages are allowed, but only water is provided. If competitors bring their own beverages, they are limited to 13 cups.
  • Competitors can separate the hot dogs from the buns but must eat an equal amount. For example, 49 hot dogs and 48 buns eaten equals a score of 48.
  • Competitors are allowed to dunk the hot dog and bun in a cup for as many as five seconds.
  • No utensils are allowed. Eaters are allowed to break up the hot dogs but must do so with their hands.
  • Any eater who vomits during the competition is disqualified.
  • The competitor with the most hot dogs and buns eaten within 10 minutes wins.

Hot Dog Eating Contest time limits

The Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating contest lasts 10 minutes.

Beyond the parameters of the contest, competitors are only allowed to dunk their hot dogs and buns in water for five seconds. While it might sound pretty gross, the softer bun allows eaters to get the hot dog down faster. 

Can Hot Dog Eating contestants use condiments?

According to Major League Eating director of operations Sam Barclay, who spoke with People in 2022, Nathan’s does not allow condiments in the contest. While Major League Eating does allow condiments in some events, you won’t see contestants lathering their hot dogs with mustard.

Whether condiments were allowed or not, it seems pretty unlikely that any competitor would use them. Eaters can’t prepare their hot dogs ahead of time, as they’re served in plates of five, so it would waste far too much time if a competitor started squirting ketchup or mustard while everyone else is eating.

Water, or any other beverage brought by the eaters, softens the hot dogs and buns instead.

MORE: What happens inside an eater’s body after the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest?

Why do they drink water during the Hot Dog Eating Contest?

Simply put, it’s not easy to swallow dozens of hot dogs and buns without something to make it all a bit less dry.

Eating any kind of bread in large quantities without a beverage is difficult, and competitive eaters are able to get the bun down much quicker when it’s not as dry. The water acts as a lubricant on the esophagus during the whole process.

So, no, most competitive eaters likely don’t believe hot dogs and buns taste better when soaked in water, but they’re in this competition to win. If water-soaked buns get the entire hot dog down quicker, they will use any advantage they can get. 

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