You can't swing an annoyed ferret nowadays without hitting a food show.
Food challenges are staple of any network tracing its DNA back to Julia Childs. The South has long been known as much for its cooking as it is for its charm. Today we've listed some of the best gastronomically trying contests that south of the Mason-Dixon line has to offer.
1. The Kookamonga Burger Challenge
A bowling ball weighs 7 pounds. Seven footballs weigh a total of 7 pounds (at least before Tom Brady gets to them). Newborn babies average 7 and a half pounds. Unless you suffer from priapism or have a DNA link to Jeffery Dahmer, none of these things are considered edible. In short, if it's over 7 pounds, it's too big to eat.
The good people at Memphis, Tennessee's Kooky Canuck strongly reject this premise. Leave it to the people who brought us Tim Hortons and John Candy to come up with the Kookamonga Burger Challenge.
The Kookamonga Burger is 4 pounds of ground chuck, decorated with a pound and a half of toppings (lettuce, cheese, pickle, and onion) and nestled inside a 2-pound bun. This burger weighs in at 7 and a half pounds and is north of 12,000 calories. Those who can eat it in an hour or less get their money back and their victory is immortalized on the Kooky Canuck's wall of fame.
Kooky Canuck - Memphis, Tenn.
2. The Inferno Soup Challenge
Who knew the portal to hell could be found in a St. Petersburg, Fla. soup bowl?
The Inferno Soup Challenge at Nitally's Thai-Mex Cuisine is a ghost-pepper fueled, chicken and chili IED to the digestive system. The folks at Nitally's are so serious about their challenge that it has qualifying rules. You must be over 18, in good health and completely sober. They also throw in a line about needing to be of sound mind. Let's face it, if you're taking this challenge you probably have the survival and self-preservation instincts of a chain-smoking asthmatic. The very act of ordering Inferno Soup negates the whole "sound mind" thing.
Once a competitor is seated and the huge bowl of soup is served, they cannot get up. They must stay seated until the end and keep their soup down. Winners get $100 and colorful stories about this near death experience. Losers get to pay $65 for their meal and presumably an expensive ambulance ride to the nearest burn ward.
Nitally's Thai-Mex Cuisine - St. Petersburg, Fla.
3. The 15 Dozen Club
Oysters are one of those foods that people must have started eating on a dare. The Acme Oyster House takes it one step further and dares its patrons to eat 15 dozen of them.
Since 1988, less than 100 of its customers have managed to put away the 180 oysters needed to qualify for its 15 Dozen Club. Those who do manage to beat the challenge get a spiffy Acme T-shirt, a hat and the right to be in the same club that accepts a person named "Crazy Legs" Conti. If the rumors about oysters are correct, they may also wind up with a very tired and and satisfied significant other.
Acme Oyster House - Sandestin, Fla.
4. The Carnivore Challenge
Two people, four rules and an 11-pound pizza. This sounds like a bad made-for-TV movie starring Pauly Shore and Tom Arnold, but it's not.
That is the dinner hour at Kennesaw, Georgia's Big Pie in the Sky Pizzeria. This is a very simple challenge. A team of two people must finish a pizza heavier than a Les Paul guitar in less than an hour. Competitors cannot leave the table during the challenge, nor can they bring the food back up at any point. Big Sky is so emphatic about the non-purging rule that the words "throw up" are mentioned three times in Rule Two.
Those who complete this challenge get more than bragging rights and a "what the hell were you thinking" look from their doctor. Winners get $250 in cash and their picture on the website.
While this challenge is designed for a team, there's nothing that says a person can't declare themselves an army of one. Of course, a sane person shouldn't do that without Cadillac-level insurance and a frank discussion with a therapist prior.
Big Pie in the Sky - Kennesaw, Ga.
5. The Ultimate Destroyer Challenge
The word "destroyer" is reserved for a very specific type of menace. It was a Destroyer who killed the first born of Egypt in the Book of Exodus. Pandemics are often referred to as destroyers and we all know that Darth Vader's Star Destroyers made life miserable for Yoda and his friends.
Conversely, nobody is ever going to use the word destroyer to describe David Schwimmer or a capuchin monkey. It's a big mean word reserved for big mean things. So when Papa Bob invented the Ultimate Destroyer Challenge, he knew what he was doing.
The Ultimate Destroyer, in this case, is a foot-long sandwich laden with a pound of pork products (pulled pork and hickory-smoked sliced pork). Competitors must finish this hoagie in under 45 minutes. Along with this artery-clogging affront to a kosher lifestyle, the contestant must also polish off the pound and a half of fries and four pickle spears that come with it.
Victory in this case consists of the return of the $45 entrance fee and presumably a colonoscopy in the near the future. Losing means surviving to fight another day and no shooting pains in one's left arm. So who is really the winner here?
Papa Bob's Bar-B-Que - Bonner Springs, Kan.
6. Mama's Pasta Challenge
"How big are your balls" is rarely a question someone's mom ever hears. In the case of Mama Campisi, it's probably a query she hears several times a week.
The meatball in Mama's Pasta Challenge is so big that stray capers from the kitchen occasionally go into orbit around it. This meatball sits atop a massive bowl of pasta and is smothered in her own homemade marinara sauce. To win, a contestant must consume everything. Sauce, pasta and a meatball that may as well have its own ecosystem. Mama picks up the check for the winners and rewards them with a commemorative T-shirt.
Mama's on the Hill - St. Louis
7. The Five Malt Challenge
So many food challenges involve beef that at some point the bovines need to exact a measure of revenge for this "cowmageddon". Crown Candy Kitchen's Five Malt Challenge is it.
Someone taking on this challenge must down five of the CCK's best and thickest malts in less than 30 minutes. Each malt is a full 24 ounces. This is more of a lesson in math then a food challenge. The equation goes as follows. Pour 120 ounces of ice cream, milk and sugar into a 33-ounce stomach (the normal average) and try to guess where the remainder will spew out. Those who laugh in the face of math and common sense and somehow win this contest will get their name on a plaque and a T-shirt. They also don't have to pay for their malts. Crown Candy Kitchen is not responsible for the trauma-induced lactose aversion that will inevitably follow.
Crown Candy Kitchen - St. Louis
8. The Titan Cheesesteak Challenge
The Titan Cheesesteak Challenge is not something to clash with lightly.
Combatants will face off against a 10-pound sandwich of shaved beef, cheese, coleslaw, fries, onions and peppers. If this weren't bad enough, the bun is big enough to wrap around a medium-size Rottweiler. There goes the old bromide about filling up on bread at a restaurant.
Contestants have one hour to finish off a sandwich that comes with its own Sherpa guide. Winners will get their $75 entrance fee back plus another $100 to put toward a black market donor heart. The victor will also get his or her face on the wall of fame.
If rumor is to be believed, the first person to beat this challenge was a 100-pound woman. Her conquest should give hope to all the food challenge fiends who want to take on this Titan.
Piranha's Bar and Grill - Nashville, Tenn.
9. The 72-Ounce Steak Challenge
When the website describes this challenge, it includes the words "Many have tried. Many have failed". It may as well hang a sign over the door that states "Abandon hope all ye who enter".
This is a pretty straight-forward challenge. Here is 72 ounces of cow with all the fixings (buttered roll, shrimp cocktail, salad and potato) and you get one hour to eat it all. Start eating. Winners get their meal on the house and are inducted into the hall of fame. Losers learn a $72 lesson. Once the contest has started, there's no getting up.
The record for completing this challenge is less than 10 minutes. According to urban legend, she champion then ordered another 72-ounce steak. Just remember, this is about finishing, not speed. The second steak was just showboating on her part.
The Big Texan Steak Ranch - Amarillo, Texas
10. Cold Sweat Ice Cream
This isn't an official challenge. There are no winners, only the brave men and women who rise to challenge Sunni's Cold Sweat Ice Cream.
While everyone knows ice cream is cold, Ms. Sky added hot sauce, peppers and pepper extract to her recipe. Considering the affect her treat has on the human body, she may as well of added napalm. This is the only ice cream in history where a liability waiver needs to be signed before you're allowed to eat it.
While there's no official contest associated with this, people have built up their own challenges around the Cold Sweat Ice Cream. Somehow Sunni Sky has turned dessert into something that feels like jumping on a live grenade. Bon Appetit.
Sunni Sky's Homemade Ice Cream - Angier, N.C.