Why The 'Kobayashi Shake' Revolutionized The Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest

Before Joey Chestnut held the record for most hot dogs eaten, there was Takeru Kobayashi. When he debuted in the Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest in 2001, the event was more of a boardwalk gimmick than an intense competition. The young newcomer — just 23 years old at the time — revolutionized the sport when he doubled the previous record of 25.5 dogs, eating 50 in just 10 minutes. 

This feat sounds like one of the myths swirling around the Nathan's Famous contest, but it truly did happen. Spectators, announcers, and contestants were awestruck as the young man devoured dog after dog, using a technique that come to be known as the Kobayashi shake. The method begins with pulling two hot dogs out of each of their buns. While Kobayashi starts eating both franks — which he can finish in about four to five big bites — he dunks the buns in the provided cup of water. Once he swallows the hot dogs, he squishes the soaked bread into his mouth. 

Then, the shake comes in. Kobayashi jumps up and down a few times and then leans forward as he does a little shimmy. The idea is to help the food settle and create more space in his stomach. This innovation changed the perception of what was even possible in competitive eating. Others began pushing themselves to consume more food, and within five years, contestants were coming close to Kobayashi's 50-dog record.

What else does Takeru Kobayashi do to win eating competitions?

On the Kobayashi shake, Takeru Kobayashi told The Daily Beast, "I'm always fine-tuning it — although sometimes, it's just completely new things that I'm doing. You just don't see it. I've never done it the same in any year." In addition to constantly adjusting his strategy, Kobayashi trains to increase the capacity of his stomach before a contest. It takes about two months for him to get competition-ready.

Kobayashi's preparation involves eating progressively larger portions of food to stretch his stomach, as well as intense exercise to make sure he loses all the weight he gains over time. He explains that any extraneous body fat can constrict the space in his stomach, which he obviously needs during a contest. He knows that he's ready is when he can down three gallons of water in a minute and half. He has applied this training to help him scarf down not just hot dogs, but wings, lobster rolls, cow brains, tacos, burgers, pizza, meatballs, bratwurst, and grilled cheese sandwiches.

While Kobayashi is undoubtedly a legend in the sport of competitive eating, his skills haven't always been enough to keep his place in contests. It turns out that the politics of eating competitions can be more temperamental than a human stomach stuffed with 50 hot dogs.

Takeru Kobayashi's career has had ups and downs

Takeru Kobayashi held the Nathan's Famous championship from 2001 to 2006. In 2007, Joey Chestnut edged out Kobayashi's record of 63 hot dogs by eating 66, and the former champ came in second place behind Chestnut in 2008 and 2009. In 2010, Chestnut won yet again, but Kobayashi didn't even compete.

According to Buzzfeed, Major League Eating (MLE) — the organization behind the famed contest — offered Kobayashi $40,000 to appear at two Nathan's Famous contests, with the opportunity to be paid $100,000 if he won. The MLE demanded exclusivity, meaning Kobayashi's earning potential was limited to events organized by the company. Kobayashi wanted control over his own career, and even offered to appear at one event with no pay in exchange for being a free agent, but the MLE declined. 

At the 2010 Nathan's Famous contest, Kobayashi was arrested when he jumped on stage wearing a shirt reading "Free Kobi" (Kobi being his nickname). In 2024, rival Joey Chestnut was also banned from the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest over similar exclusivity disputes. Kobayashi's subsequent career proved challenging, given the MLE's power in competitive eating, but he still holds the records for contests featuring cow brains (17.7 pounds in 15 minutes), rice balls (20 pounds in 30 minutes), and lobster rolls (41 rolls in 10 minutes). In May 2024, the 46-year-old announced that he was retiring, citing health concerns and a desire to shift his focus in life.