Six minutes. That’s how much time firefighter Joe Fabianski will have to eat about nine pounds of hot wings Wednesday night.
He’s done it before. In fact, he won the first wings-eating competition between the Chicago Police Department and the Chicago Fire Department in 2010. Then in 2011, he didn’t make it to the final round, and police officer Brendan McCormack won.
This year, he’s coming back for his title. And the not-so-secret weapon, for him and other competitive eaters, is lettuce.
“I’m eating lots of lettuce. I’ll eat big salads because there’s a high water content,” he explained. “You get used to having some high volume going in in a short amount of time.”
The annual first responders' wings-eating showdown, entering its third year after taking a hiatus last spring during the city’s NATO Summit, has straightforward rules. There are three rounds, which each last for two minutes. The two competitors from each team who can eat a bucket of wings the fastest advance to the next round.
Then, after gobbling a second bucket of chicken, the top finisher from each side goes into the third round for a face-off. All the food will be donated by Dick's Last Resort, which is hosting the competition, and all the money raised from the $25 buffet tickets will go to the Starlight Children's Foundation, which supports sick children.
No one has ever finished an entire bucket of chicken equal to a pound in the final round, according to Jason Baumann, one of the organizers, so the winner is determined after the judges weigh the remains. This year’s judges include City Clerk Susana Mendoza and Illinois Apellate Judge Joy Cunningham.
To make it to the final round, Fabianski, 36, of Jefferson Park, has several strategies.
“They call it ‘chipmunking.’ You have to get everything in your mouth before the two minutes end,” he said. “I try to do it with one rip of every bone. I hold it down with my teeth and do it in one pull.”
But Fabianski’s fearlessness in the face of three pounds of chicken wings doesn’t extend to another competition altogether, which involves eating twenty-five super-spicy hot wings in quick succession, over five rounds.
“I don’t do heat,” he said. “A good friend of mine from Engine 66 does, and I think he's a little bit out of his mind.”
Baumann said that in the past, only one person was able to make it to round five.
The winning team gets a trophy, and the lingering taste of victory.
“It's a bucket of wings. It's completely disgusting,” Baumann cautioned, “and they're going at it full force.”
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