There are as many training strategies as there are competitive eaters, but most of the methods involve a practice round or two. So what’s a prize gorger to do when a contest features a food that doesn’t come cheap?
“Get whatever you can afford,” professional food challenger Randy Santel advises potential Lowcountry Oyster Festival-eating contest entrants.
The Charleston Oyster Company this year is selling cluster oysters for $45 a bushel, which works out to about a quarter an oyster - a bargain compared to an all-beef hot dog. But the contest, part of the Jan. 29 festival, will offer up cups of pre-shucked oysters for chugging, so prospective competitors have to either prep their own training material or shell out for the jarred variety.
It’s worth it, said Santel, who tackled an oyster challenge at a Covington, La., restaurant for an episode of the Travel Channel’s “Man v. Food.” Since 2010, Santel has successfully completed more than 400 food challenges set forth by restaurants and bars, including a 10-pound pizza in Indiana, 5-pound burrito in Missouri and 18-scoop ice cream sundae in Chicago.
“Try a few different techniques,” he suggested. “Find out how to eat one the fastest without having to take a break in between, and then you’ll be able to do that throughout your event.”
The Lowcountry Oyster Festival oyster-eating contest is unusual in its emphasis on quantity. Typically, oyster events are considered suitable for beginners because they stress shucking form over stomach space.
“Most oyster competitions are very short, simply because of how expensive oysters are,” Santel said. “Oysters are a ‘technique food,’ and your speed depends on how fast and effective you are with your hands. Your stomach capacity typically does not matter.”
He adds that oysters are easy to swallow quickly, so jaw musculature and breath control – which are critical in other contests – are similarly irrelevant. A taste for oysters, though, could help.
Now in its 34th year, the Lowcountry Oyster Festival at Boone Hall Plantation in Mount Pleasant touts itself as the world’s largest oyster festival. In addition to the oyster-eating contest, the event includes an oyster-shucking contest, children’s activities and $12 oyster buckets. For more information, go to www.charlestonrestaurantassociation.com/lowcountry-oyster-festival.