Joey Chestnut’s Mom Feared He’d Choke To Death When He First Competed In Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest

The reigning hot dog eating champ downed 74 dogs in 10 minutes at last year's Coney Island competition.

Joey Chestnut competes in the annual Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest on July 4, 2018 in the Coney Island neighborhood of the Brooklyn borough of New York City. Chestnut won the contest, eating a Coney Island record 74 hot dogs in 10 minutes.
Eduardo Munoz Alvarez / Getty Images

The reigning hot dog eating champ downed 74 dogs in 10 minutes at last year's Coney Island competition.

Joey Chestnut is the undisputed Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest champ, winning 11 out of the last 12 competitions at the annual Fourth of July event held at New York’s Coney Island. But while Chestnut has dominated the annual hot dog contest over the past decade—losing only to Matt Stonie in 2015—his mother worried about his foray into the world of competitive eating when he started out nearly 15 years ago.

In an interview for ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary featuring Joey “Jaws” Chestnut and his rival Takeru Kobayashi’s journey through competitive eating, the Mustard Belt champ’s mom, Alicia Chestnut, revealed that she monitored her son’s hot dog eating practices in her kitchen when he first started downing dozens of dogs in his early 20s.

“I stuck around not because I wanted to cheer him on and go, ‘Ah Joey, you can do it, son!’ It was more, ‘Please God, don’t let him choke to death.'”

Joey Chestnut told Yahoo Sports that on his quest for his 12th Mustard Belt at the 2019 Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, his goal is to break his own world record of 74 hot dogs and buns in just 10 minutes.

“I definitely want a new record. I’ve been able to hit record quite a bit in practice. I feel healthy. It’d be nice for the people out there.”

While Joey Chesnut’s competitive eating resume includes more than 40 food-related world records in competitions featuring fried asparagus, hard-boiled eggs, tacos, funnel cake, and more, he says the annual Nathan’s hot dog contest on July 4 is by far the most important contest for anyone in the competitive eating world.

“It’s everything. If you’re a competitive eater, this is the one everybody judges you by. How you do in hot dogs is the most important. If you want to be called the best, you have to win this one.”

Joey Chestnut’s first Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating win came in 2007 when he beat reigning champ Kobayashi by three hot dogs during his third attempt in the Independence Day comp. Since that time, Chestnut has been the one to beat.

The 35-year-old recently told Fox News that his practices for the annual event have changed greatly now that he is older. Chestnut says he practices less frequently and has developed several exercises he believes strengthens his jaw muscles and helps him to swallow faster.

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“When I was younger, I could practice every three to four days,” Chestnut said. “Now, I have to practice once every six to seven days. I know more about my body now. If I had that knowledge when I was younger, who knows how far I could go?”

Chestnut also revealed that his next milestone will to be 80 hot dogs in 10 minutes, a feat that he admits will be “hard” even in “perfect conditions.”

When Joey Chestnut first started out as a Nathan’s hot dog eating competitor, his mother Alicia told The Times Herald that while his large feasts don’t make him ill, they do make him “really tired.” Once she got over her fears that he could choke, Alicia Chestnut also revealed that she found her son’s eating accomplishments to be a break from what was going on in the real world.

“When he started doing it, one of his older brothers was in Iraq,” Alicia Chestnut said of Joey. “It’s something to laugh about and talk about besides the one who was in a war zone.”

You can see Joey Chestnut as he competes in the 2019 Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating contest on Thursday, July 4 at 12 p.m. on ESPN2.