RibMania Ribs Eating Contest in Chicago

How not to prepare to compete in an eating contest.

How I competed at Ribmania ribs eating contest at Ribfest, Chicago.

Step 1: Don’t Sign Up for an Eating Contest

The first step to not preparing to compete in an eating contest is to not sign up to compete in an eating contest. I suppose you can apply this logic to most anything you might (not) want to train for: marathons, SATs, dog-obedience. Whatever. Just don’t sign up and you don’t have to prepare.


For instance, I didn’t sign up to compete in the Ribmania ribs eating contest at Ribfest Chicago this past Friday. To be fair, I might have tried to sign up for it if I hadn’t have been in this funk that had me ignoring almost everything in life and missed that registration had even been announced. But I tried last year and didn’t get in anyways because it’s a popular contest, there aren’t many spots, and, apparently, my ability to eat three whole hot dogs in 10 minutes doesn’t exactly put me in the rankings.

RibMania Ribs Eating Contest in Chicago

If I was competing, my name would have been on the T-Shirt.


Step 2: Do literally nothing to prepare.

You have no reason to. You’re not competing.


Step 3: Eat a big lunch.

Like a burrito bowl at Chipotle. With guacamole even though it costs extra. Live a little. It doesn’t matter if there are beans and chicken and two kinds of salsa stirring in the pits of your stomach throughout the day — you’re not competing in an eating contest later.


Step 4: Show up to watch the contest.

Some things are just as fun to watch as they are to participate in. Eating contests, for most of us, are one of those things. I mean, wouldn’t you rather have a slab and a beer at a leisurely pace while watching some other schmuck put their stomachs through torture? I’m going to guess yes. So, despite the fact that I had no intention of competing at Ribfest, I showed up to watch, to see my friends compete, and have to a fun night out. But, other than charging my camera batteries, that took no preparation.

RibMania Ribs Eating Contest in Chicago

Nope, didn’t sign up to compete.


Step 5: Have someone drop out last minute.

I’m not saying you’d be responsible for whoever it was not showing up to compete. That’s out of your control. Unless you’re that bad friend who made them stay up all night drinking or you’re pulling some Tonya Harding shit and popped their kneecaps. But I’m going to pretend you’re better than that.

Someone dropping out of a contest you’re just there to watch is beyond your control. Something no one can prepare for. And, usually, it’s something that won’t effect you. I mean, if some quarterback drops out of the Super Bowl they won’t expect you to take his place. They’ll put in some second-string player. So if, say, a competitive eater’s bus is late and he won’t make it to Ribfest, they won’t ask you to compete in his place. That’s just silly. Unless you’re a second-string competitive eater.


Step 6: Be a second-string competitive eater.

Oh, that’s me. You see, I’ve competed in several eating contests before. A cupcake eating contest. Several hot dog eating contests (including the Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July hot dog eating contest last year). And, technically, I’m a contracted eater with Major League Eating (a fact I like to throw around because it kind of makes me sound cooler than I am — guys on Tinder love it). But I’ve always come in last place. (OK, so technically I once won one even though I came in last place…long story…) And I’m definitely not good enough to get ranked.

Second string.

OK, maybe third or fourth string, but you get the picture.

So there was an empty seat at the ribs-eating contest table. And I was there. And so I was asked, ten minutes before the contest, if I wanted to step in.

So, obviously, despite the fact that I was in no way shape or form ready to compete, I said yes.

RibMania Ribs Eating Contest in Chicago

I was so unprepared to eat none of my friends were there! Had to get the last minute Facebook messages out.


Step 7: Panic.

Panic because you haven’t prepared at all. Panic because you aren’t prepared at all. Panic because you’ve never eaten anything with bones in competition. Panic because you still have guacamole in your gut. Panic because you don’t know any techniques for eating ribs. Panic because you don’t know what you’re supposed to do with the bones when you’re done. Panic because you hope to some day come in something other than last place. Panic because you know you’re going to come in last place. Panic because you apparently came out too soon when you were being introduced. Panic because crowds of people make you nervous. Panic because you’re not sure what to do with your cups of water. Panic, panic, panic.


Step 8: Ask the eater next to you how this all works.

Lean over to the guy next to you and ask what you’re supposed to do. Do you throw the empty bones in that empty tray? Do you need to clean the bone? How long is this contest again? He doesn’t know either. Good luck.

RibMania Ribs Eating Contest in Chicago

I had no idea what I was doing.


Step 9: Eat.

No matter how unprepared you are to eat in an eating contest, all you have to do it eat. When standing on that stage, in front of that crowd, after the emcee counts it all down, you eat. You eat through the terrible jaw pain that sets in two minutes in. You eat even if you’re head is telling you you’re going to puke. Compose yourself, push those feelings back. You eat until your cheeks are full of meat. You eat when a vegan radicalist group storms the stage in protest. You eat, knowing the guy next to you has twice as many bones cleaned. You eat knowing you can’t possibly beat anyone else at the table.

You eat for the entire eight minutes.

You eat until the emcee counts down the end.

You eat.

RibMania Ribs Eating Contest in Chicago

Eating. Because it’s all I can do.


Step 10: Come in last place.

Obviously. Because you’re competing against ranked eaters. You’re competing against professional eaters. You’re competing against people who trained. Who were prepared. And you didn’t prepare at all. But that’s OK. Because you did all you could do. Because your coming in last place made sure other people got prize money. And because Michelle Lesco, one of your favorite people on the circuit and one of your own biggest supporters, came in first place: her first first place win outside of a qualifier.

See? Everyone has their day.

Maybe even you. Someday. If you’re actually prepared.



Thank you Meliss (Waxology by Meliss) for taking the photos!

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Hi, I'm Val. I spent most of my 20s in a standstill, unable to pick which path in life I wanted to take. I wanted the nomadic life of a traveler but also wanted the husband, the condo, and the kitten. Unable to decide which life I wanted more, I did nothing. When I turned 30 I’d had enough of putting my life on hold and decided to start “choosing my figs.” So, I quit my job, bought a one-way ticket to Europe, and traveled for three years. Now I'm back in Chicago, decorating my apartment in all the teal, petting my cats, and planning my next adventure.

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