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Hot Dog Heroes

Remember the guy who ate 12 hot dogs?  His feat raises some good questions, and with the clicks of a few Google searches, there’s no need for the answers to remain elusive.  So here’s a shot at nailing down a few of them.

Let’s begin with the observation that, “Wow, that’s a lot of hot dogs.”  Maybe that was true back in the 1960s, when the champions in eating contests were downing only 19 hot dogs.  But times have changed.  At last year’s annual Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest, Joey “Jaws” Chestnut claimed his fifth straight title by consuming 62 hot dogs in just 10 minutes, a clip of one hot dog every 15 seconds.

Chestnut rose to fame as Major League Eating’s Rookie of the Year in 2005 and finally bested former six-time champion Takeru Kobayashi in 2007, while Kobayashi had an injured jaw.  In a 2008 rematch, Chestnut and Kobayashi tied at 59 hot dogs each, but Chestnut took home the prize after a 5-dog overtime round.

In 2009, Chestnut set the standing world record by eating 68 hot dogs.  In 2011, Kobayashi, banned from the official contest due to a contract dispute,  staged his own off-site event on the roof of a Manhattan bar.  He wolfed down 69 hot dogs, a new world record (which MLE officials have declined to recognize).

But what about the rest of us?  As it turns out, Chestnut and Kobayashi are scarfing more hot dogs in 10 minutes than the average American will eat in an entire year.

How many hot dogs does the normal person eat?  It’s no easy task to tally all the hot dogs served at backyard barbecues, school cafeterias, convenience stores, and street vendors, but the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council estimates that Americans consume 20 billion hot dogs a year.  That works out to an average of 65 apiece, but by now we surely know that it comes with a large standard deviation.

Does hot dogs eaten vary by season?  “Hot Dog Season” runs from Memorial Day to Labor Day, accounting for more than 40% of annual hot dog sales.  (To save skeptics from doing the math, it’s only 27% of the calendar.)  Approximately 155 million hot dogs are eaten on Independence Day alone. 

Does hot dogs eaten vary by age?  While manufacturers and grocers often cater to summertime backyard grillers, Nielsen reports that the most reliable consumers are households with teenage boys who eat hot dogs for after-school snacks (as many as 4 per sitting and up to 5 pounds per month.)

So hot dog consumption correlates nicely with summer holidays, adolescence, and Y chromosomes.  What else could vary hot dogs eaten? 

Recessions help.  In 2009, hot dog sales grew by 5.6%, reversing a previous shift toward more expensive bratwurst.  Store brands jumped by more than 22% as shoppers tightened their budgets.  Since then, consumers have gained more confidence in the economy, and they’re splurging once again for name brand hot dogs and even for premium options like black angus beef.

What about geography?  Which regions love their hot dogs the most?

It depends who you ask.  The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council credits the Midwest and South7-Eleven, which singlehandedly sells 100 million hot dogs a year, ranks the Washington, D.C. area as its top market, while grocery experts point to grilling meat sales in Michigan, Missouri, and OregonSouth Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Arkansas lead the pack for Google searches.

That takes care of a wide swath of America.  When it comes to hot dogs, it seems, anyone can be a wiener.


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