“Until last year, no one in the history of mankind had eaten twenty-eight and a quarter sloppers,” says Sam Barclay, emcee of Colorado State Fair’s World Slopper-Eating Championship. But he has no doubt that the record will be broken this Saturday, September 5.
At this year's Slopper-Eating Championship, five of Major League Eating’s top ten competitors — including defending Slopper-Eating Champion Darron Breeden and world-renowned Joey Chestnut — will race to see who can down the most sloppers in eight minutes. What will separate the winner from the rest will be a combination of strategy, inner motivation and technique.
The competition will be virtual this year and will be streamed live on the Colorado State Fair website at 1 p.m on Saturday.
Sloppers, for those who don’t know about the Pueblo specialty, are open-faced cheeseburgers smothered in green chile. Local legend is vague about their invention; they entered the culinary world in the 1950s or ’70s (depending on which story you believe), and multiple Pueblo establishments, including Gray's Coors Tavern and Star Bar, claim to be the creator. But regardless of time or place, the delicious combination — especially when coupled with plenty of beer — has since become a local sensation.
Barclay says that the slopper is exactly the kind of food Major League Eating likes to highlight with its competitions. “People are looking to celebrate authentic, local experiences...[with a] connection to a place,” he says. He’s even tried a slopper of his own and loved it — “recreationally, with a knife and fork at a civilian pace,” of course.
But Barclay’s experience couldn’t contrast more with Breeden’s recollection of eating sloppers last year. “I focus more on the mechanical aspects of it,” the reigning champion says. “If it tastes good, that makes it easier, but I’m normally focused on trying to get it down fast.”
His technique is to eat the sloppers in halves. He crushes each burger in his hands, “so it’s somewhat masticated,” he explains, before he starts chewing. The consistency of the food the competitors eat certainly helps, and Breeden believes “the slopper is a little easier to get down [because] it’s covered in chile sauce.”
“Warm, moist food is easier to eat than cold, dry food, inherently,” Barclay adds. “You’ll see the eaters trying to use the chile to lubricate and wetten and moisten the hard food,” he explains.
Eaters have to know “when to breathe and when to drink and when to swallow...working out a rhythmic pattern,” Barclay continues. He also acknowledges that “certain people have greater innate capacity than other people” to consume vast quantities of food in small amounts of time.
That’s how Breeden stumbled into competitive eating in the first place. “I had a natural ability, and I wanted to push myself,” he says. “I’m a competitive person.” Though the sport is mostly about winning, there’s also an internal desire for competitors to challenge themselves, just as in any other sport.
And that will be especially poignant at this year’s virtual event. Instead of a screaming crowd and eaters bunched up next to each other, the room will be relatively silent — aside from Barclay’s narration and the competitors’ intake of sloppers. This year will force contestants “to really look deep within themselves and find that inner motivation,” Barclay predicts.
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He says that at the core, “the desire to challenge oneself is more important to one’s happiness than being deemed more successful than someone else.” And that’s what brings contestants to the table: the chance to better their own performance, to bring “the best effort they can do,” he continues.
Still, there’s the winning: the prestige, the prize money and the careers these contestants build from their fame. Joey Chestnut has become a household name as the Michael Jordan of the competitive-eating world for his ability to set records like his recent 74 Nathan’s Famous hot dogs and buns in ten minutes this past July. He is the top-ranked eater in Major League Eating, and Breeden says that if he can beat him, he’ll “be ecstatic.”
But the competition isn't just between Breeden as the defending slopper champ and Chestnut as the reigning world champ. All told, five of the best professionals in the world will come together to eat an awe-inspiring number of sloppers. And that’s what makes this particular race exciting, Barclay says, referring to himself as “a grizzled, seasoned veteran” of hosting food competitions.
“I certainly don’t condone gambling,” he says, “but some think forty sloppers will go.”