The competitive food eating GOAT tackles a classic Jersey delicacy

"Competitive eating is the battleground upon which God and Lucifer wage war for men’s souls.”

Some pretty notable athletes have played inside the Trenton Thunder Ballpark in our state’s capital. Derek Jeter, Aaron Judge, Nomar Garciaparra, and A-Rod all either came up to the big leagues from Trenton or made rehab appearances with the Thunder. In the main concourse, there is a long list of Thunder players who made the Show; on the balcony of the stadium, above the luxury suites, there are banners of Jeter and Judge with the Thunder.

Maybe it’s time for the Thunder to add another athlete the honor roll. I’m talking about competitive eater Joey Chestnut.

Chestnut defended his title as Pork Roll Eating Champion of the World last weekend as he ate 45 pork roll sandwiches in 10 minutes during the sixth annual Case Pork Roll Eating Contest at Trenton Thunder Ballpark. 

After all, as Adam Moore, a competitive eating fan in attendance, says, “It’s more like Derek Jeter got to play baseball at the stadium that Joey Chestnut ate at.”

Activities at RiverFest. Credit: Kyle Nardine

The Pork Roll Eating contest is part of RiverFest, a festival held at Trenton Thunder Ballpark every fall. RiverFest is the brainchild of Trenton Thunder GM Jeff Hurley and his staff: “We were thinking of ways to get people to the ballpark on non-Thunder days” says Hurley. 

And while playing cornhole and golf on the Thunder’s playing field was a treat for fans, most people were there to see one of the most accomplished athletes in the world eat pork roll. 

“One of things we wanted to accomplish when we partnered with Major League Eating and Case Pork Rolls was to get Joey here,” says Hurley. 

Now, as a sports fan, I have gotten to see some pretty impressive athletes play over the years in person: Lebron, Megan Rapinoe, Alexander Ovechkin, Dirk Nowitzki, Tim Duncan, just to name a few. The Case’s Pork Roll eating contest was my first competitive eating competition I saw in person, and I was able to watch Joey Chestnut, the Greatest of All Time, in eating do it.

Much like other sports, it’s easy to be a Monday Morning Quarterback and say, “I can do what they do,” and with competitive eating it’s the same. Everyone in the world knows how to eat, and after all, how hard could it be? But eating a certain amount of food on a time limit isn’t easy, and the eaters have to practice like any other athlete would, but in different ways.

Thunder GM Jeff Hurley setting up the pork roll. Credit: Kyle Nardine

“I fast the night before so that way I’m ready to go into the competition and eat,” says Chestnut.

Competitive eating also requires the eaters to work out as well, including workout for their jaws.

Ricardo Corbucci, a competitive eater who made the trek from Brazil to compete in the pork roll eating contest, says that, “he drinks a lot of water before competitions,” and he exercises his jaw by using “rubber bands, and chewing a lot of gum.”

The Thunder also have their own preparations for the contest as well. Around 3 p.m., Hurley and his staff carry New Jersey’s signature dish from the dugout to the tables, where they would be soon devoured by the eaters. Cups of water are put on the table; key in helping the pork roll go down easy for the eaters. 

A couple minutes after the setup is complete, an older man with a suit and a top hat comes out, and the absurdity with a side of athleticism begins. 

Emcee George Shea. Credit: Kyle Nardine

George Shea is the man in the suit and the top hat, and he’s the emcee for Major League Eating. He’s most known for emceeing the Nathan’s Hot Dog eating contest at Coney Island every Fourth of July. 

Shea starts his spiel by announcing that “competitive eating is the battleground upon which God and Lucifer wage war for men’s souls.” And after that he gives some over-the-top introductions to add to the absurdity that is about to take place. 

The eaters that Shea introduces come from all different backgrounds, and places. One of the eaters is a U.S. government professor during the day; another eater, Rene Rovtar, is the superintendent for Montville Public Schools in Morris County. 

After the introductions by Shea comes another moment of surrealness: the actual contest. With this being my first eating competition, I wanted to soak in all the smells, sights and sounds I could.

I got more than I bargained for.

Everyday we eat food, and more often than not we watch other people eat food. We go out to lunch with our coworkers, we watch football over wings at the bar,  and we eat dinner with our families. Watching people eat food is nothing new, but watching people devour pork roll in a certain amount of time? That’s a new experience for me. 

The competition began, and the food started flying and sometimes coming out of the competitors’ mouths. And the man everyone came to see had a commanding lead after a couple minutes in. 

Chants of “JOEY” broke out at the ballpark, but even though Chestnut started out strong, he struggled during the middle of the competition, and it was a pretty close competition through it all.

The middle of the competition is where the pork roll hits the fan, and you can see it in the competitors’ faces. And Thunder GM Hurley was in the thick of it as he helped count the amount of pork roll eaten by the competitors.

Pork roll champ Joey Chestnut. Credit: Kyle Nardine

“It’s messy and a lot of fun,” says Hurley about being up close for the contest. “I wouldn’t wish it on everybody and it’s not easy on the tongue or stomach, but it was fun keeping score and it was a great competition.”

It was a battle between Chestnut, the number-six-ranked eater in the world Nick Wehry, and Brazil’s top competitive eater Ricardo Corbucci. 

There were a couple lead changes and it came down to Wehry and Chestnut during the final minutes, but ultimately Chestnut prevailed as he dug deep in his pork roll-filled stomach. 

“I hate losing,” says Chestnut, “so I had to dig deep.” Chestnut didn’t break his record of eating 61 pork roll sandwiches, which he accomplished in 2019, but he still won and finished with eating 45 pork roll sandwiches.

Even though eating 45 pork roll sandwiches probably satisfied Chestnut’s hunger, he wasn’t satisfied with his performance and is looking forward to next year already. 

“This year I didn’t practice like I should,” says Chestnut. “Hopefully next year they send me out some pork rolls for practice and next year I want to break the record.”

And though I lost my appetite for pork roll sandwiches for a while, I still recommend that New Jerseyans check out RiverFest next year. The pork roll contest is no more disgusting or stomach churning than watching a Jets game.