‘Gutted’: champion eater Joey Chestnut excluded from New York hotdog-eating contest

<span>Joey Chestnut competes during the men's 2022 Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July international hotdog eating contest at Coney Island in New York City.</span><span>Photograph: Eduardo Muñoz/Reuters</span>
Joey Chestnut competes during the men's 2022 Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July international hotdog eating contest at Coney Island in New York City.Photograph: Eduardo Muñoz/Reuters

America’s top professional eater, Joey Chestnut, has been excluded from entering New York City’s annual hotdog eating competition after he signed a deal with a plant-based meat company.

Chestnut, 40, the defending champion, said on X that he “was gutted to learn from the media that after 19 years” he had been “banned” from the competition, held every summer on Independence Day at Nathan’s Famous original hotdog outlet in Coney Island. “I love celebrating America with my fans all over this great country on the 4th and I have been training to defend my title,” he added.

In a statement posted to its social media account, Major League Eating (MLE), which oversees the seafront contest, said it was “devastated” that Chestnut had “chosen to represent a rival brand that sells plant-based hot dogs”.

However, it added that the door was still open for Chestnut – known as “Jaws” for slugging dozens of wieners down his throat – to ditch the new endorsement deal and enter the competition.

Related: Hot dog! 100 years of Nathan’s Famous at Coney Island – in pictures

MLE, which describes itself as a governing body for “all stomach centric sport worldwide”, said organisers had gone to great lengths to accommodate Chestnut during recent negotiations. “However, it seems that Joey and his managers have prioritized a new partnership with a different hot dog brand over our long-time relationship,” the statement said.

“Joey Chestnut is an American hero,” it added. “We hope that he returns when he is not represented by a rival brand.”

The New York Post, which first reported the story, said Chestnut had reached a deal to represent Impossible Foods, which recently introduced beef-substitute hotdogs that it says generate 84% less greenhouse gas emissions than the animal-based alternative.

The California-based company said that Chestnut was free to compete in “any contest he chooses”.

“It’s OK to experiment with a new dog. Meat eaters shouldn’t have to be exclusive to just one wiener,” it added.

Related: Inside the Impossible Burger: is the meat-free mega trend as good as we think?

The 10-minute Nathan’s contest, broadcast on ESPN, began in 1980. Last year, Chestnut took his 16th win in the annual eat-off, which he has dominated every year since 2015. He hit a world record in 2021, devouring 76 franks and buns.

With Chestnut out, the number two, Geoffrey Esper, could take the title this July. Esper finished second last year, wolfing down 49 dogs, 13 fewer than Chestnut.

George Shea, the host and promoter of the ​contest, ​said he was devastated by the separation. “It would be like back in the day Michael Jordan coming to Nike, who made his Air Jordans, and saying, ‘I am just going to rep Adidas too,’” Shea ​t​old the New York Times. “It just can’t happen.”