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Ribfest: World Record Shattered at RibMania

By Patty Wetli | Saturday, June 9, 2012

RibMania champ Tim "Gravy" Brown. Credit: Patty Wetli

The golden rule of any competitive eating contest: Don’t run out of food. Which is why the start of Friday night’s RibMania was delayed, the contest put on hold to call in reserve ribs from Corner 41. The precaution proved more than necessary, when, at the end of the eight-minute challenge, it was revealed that the North Side’s very own Tim “Gravy” Brown had packed away 7.8 pounds of baby backs, obliterating the previous record.

Let’s stop to reflect on that achievement for a moment. Seven point eight pounds in eight minutes–that’s nearly a pound a minute. We bow, Gravy Brown, to the power of your jaw and gastric juices.

To put Brown’s victory in context: Two-time defending RibMania champ Pat “Deep Dish” Bertoletti, the heavy favorite, finished a distant second with 5.6 pounds, which still bested the record he posted last year of 5.24 pounds.

In fact, to the casual observer, the contest appeared Bertoletti’s to lose. He attacked the ribs with a sawing motion, cheeks stuffed chipmunk-style, hand over mouth and head tilted back to shove more meat down his gullet. Brown, by contrast, was deceptively calm, bobbing along to his headphones.

“Their stomachs are expanding like the universe,” called out emcee Sam Barclay, who travels the Major League Eating circuit. “It’s not pretty but it is beautiful.” Looking at Jason “Crazy Legs” Conti, with sauce and other juices dripping from his beard, “beautiful” wasn’t exactly a word that sprung to mind. It didn’t help that a number of the competitors were swigging a red-tinged liquid that left the plastic tarp-covered stage looking like a bloodied battlefield.

In the end, to borrow from the entertainingly hyperbolic Barclay, Brown put on “clinic in what to do with ribs.”

“The ribs were real easy to eat, they just fell off the bone,” said the victor, who’s ranked eighth by MLE/the International Federation of Competitive Eating, which officially sanctions RibMania.

Tim "Gravy" Brown (l) and Pat "Deep Dish" Bertoletti. Credit: Patty Wetli

Third place went to Crazy Legs, a RibMania newcomer, who put down 5.4 pounds, also topping the previous record. And for the first time in its three-year history, RibMania awarded a fourth-place prize, snagged by Ben Taylor who earned $200 for the privilege of eating 3.88 pounds of ribs. (Brown received $1,500 for his efforts, $600 went to second place and $300 to third.) The remaining six gentlemen, we presume, minimally walked away with their bellies full.

Paul “The Douche” Zwiercan, who came out tops in Thursday night’s amateur contest, won the crowd over with his outlandish antics, including tearing off his shirt a la “The Hulk,” though he never posed a serious threat to the leaders.

Brown, for his part, was far more subdued. Moments after being crowned the champ, he hadn’t quite digested the magnitude of his achievement, much less his food. “It’s bittersweet,” he said of the win. “I’m up here with my buddies.” Not only are he and Bertoletti close friends but they’re also business partners in the food truck Glutton Force Five, debuting at Ribfest. That should make for a nicely awkward weekend.

Of course, the question everyone wants to know is: How does a guy get to the point where he’s capable of eating a pound of ribs a minute?

“There’s a certain something you’ve got to have,” said Brown. “I’d say 20 percent is born skill.” If you’re the type of person who’s constantly finishing up the scraps left on other people’s plates, you might be a competitive eater.

Training–and there is training involved–ironically involves more water than food. “You don’t want to become a fat ass,” Brown explained, and the water helps mimic the bloating but not the calories of eating, say, 40+ PB&J sandwiches in a handful of minutes.

The contest behind him and a world record to his name, Brown wasn’t quite ready to party. “I’m gonna go work the truck for three days and then I’m going to go into a coma for two days. And then I’ll think about how to celebrate.”

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