Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest 2021 Prize Money Payout and Winners

Mandatory Credit: Photo by JUSTIN LANE/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock (12193787d)Competitive eater Joey Chestnut holds up a plate of hot dogs during a weigh-in ceremony for competitive eaters taking part in this year's 2021 Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest in New York, New York, USA, 02 July 2021.
JUSTIN LANE/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock / JUSTIN LANE/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Joey Chestnut broke his own world record yet again to become the 2021 Nathan’s Famous International Hot Dog Eating Contest champion, winning his 14th Mustard Belt after consuming 76 hot dogs and buns (HDBs) in a thrilling 10 minutes. Last year he set the record with 75 HDBs.

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The greatest competitive eater of all time, Chestnut — a.k.a.: Jaws — has been crowned Nathan’s champion every year but one since the era of Takeru Kobayashi in 2006. Michelle Lesco won the women’s division with 30 3/4 HDB, a stellar victory, but one that she earned without having to face the Joey Chestnut of the women’s division. Miki Sudo — who scarfed down 48.5 HDBs in 2020 to break the world record and win her seventh straight title — sat this year out because she’s due to give birth at the end of the month.

Chestnut can relish his victory, which he earned by beating No. 2 Geoffrey Esper by 26 dogs. The real loser, however, was ESPN, whose efforts did not cut the mustard. The network’s feed cut out several times, leaving frustrated audiences wondering if their TVs were on the fritz during some of the event’s most dramatic moments.

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Take a break from your barbecue to learn more about the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest’s competitors, their net worths and career earnings, and fun Nathan’s hot dog stats to share with your friends over the grill.

2021 Contest Winners

Here are the 2021 hot dog eating contest winners:

Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest 2021 Winners
Men’s Division
Rank Name Prize HDBs Consumed in 10 min.
First Place Joey Chestnut $10,000 and the Nathan’s Mustard Belt 76
Second Place Geoffrey Esper $5,000 50
Third Place Nicholas Wehry $2,500 44
Fourth Place Darron Breeden $1,500 43
Fifth Place Gideon Oji $1,000 37.75
Women’s Division
Rank Name Prize HDBs Consumed in 10 min.
First Place Michelle Lesco $10,000 and the Nathan’s Pink Belt 30.75
Second Place Sarah Rodriguez $5,000 24
Third Place Larell Marie Mele $2,500 18.25
Fourth Place Kathryn Prettyman $1,500 16
Fifth Place Sophia DeVita $1,000 15
Rankings according to Major League Eating as of July 4, 2021.

Prize Money and Purse Payouts

Major League Eating (MLE) — the organization that oversees professional eating contests — began paying cash prizes to top finishers in 2007. In 2021, the total prize money is $40,000: The men’s division winners get $20,000, and the women’s division winners get $20,000. Among those two groups, the $20,000 is broken down five ways according to how competitors place.

The Nathan’s hot dog eating contest winners get paid the following amounts:

  • First place: $10,000
  • Second place: $5,000
  • Third place: $2,500
  • Fourth place: $1,500
  • Fifth place: $1,000

Additionally, the men’s champion is awarded the bejeweled mustard belt, and the women’s champion is awarded a bejeweled pink belt.

In normal years, tens of thousands of spectators flood Coney Island to watch the spectacle unfold, just as they have since the world’s most famous eating contest was first recorded in 1972 — the true original was held in 1916. In 2020, however, the pandemic changed all that and Chestnut broke the record without a live audience there to cheer him on. Even so, last year’s contest stood out as one of the first live events of any kind to take place after the lockdowns of spring 2020, making it a truly historic event even without two world records.

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What Top Competitors Make

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Not just anyone can enter this eating contest. Contestants must compete in one of at least 10 qualifying events held from March to June in various cities across the U.S. to earn a chance at the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest prize money.

A handful of eaters have dominated the Nathan’s Hot Dog Contest in recent years, with reigning champion Joey Chestnut claiming 14 of the last 15 titles in the men’s division — the lone blemish was a loss to Matt Stonie in 2015. And Chestnut’s streak started when he broke a run of six straight titles for Takeru Kobayashi, a legendary pioneer of the sport, from 2001-2006.

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Joey Chestnut’s Net Worth

Joey “Jaws” Chestnut surprised no one by cruising to his 14th Mustard Belt in 15 years, extending a stretch of dominance that has defined his sport for over a decade. He might have surprised some, though, by consuming 76 HDBs for the new record.

Chestnut is the greatest competitive eater in history without any rival, holding 46 different world records across 46 different disciplines, including downing:

  • 14.5 pounds of burritos in 2016
  • 141 hard-boiled eggs in 2013
  • 47 grilled cheese sandwiches in 2006

The California native and former construction manager has dominated the competition at Nathan’s Famous 4th of July Hot Dog Eating Contest, having won every single year he has entered, save for finishing second in 2015 by a mere two HDBs.

Joey Chestnut’s net worth is $2 million according to Celebrity Net Worth.

Joey Chestnut Has His Own Condiment Business

In many ways, Joey Chestnut is the sport of competitive eating. Like Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, and Wayne Gretzky in their heydeys, he’s the one name everyone knows even if they know nothing else about the sport — and now he’s branching out.

He launched a line of condiments in 2018. The Joey Chestnut Select product line includes Chestnut’s Firecracker Mustard, Boardwalk Coney Sauce and Deli-Style Mustard.

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Michelle Lesco’s Winnings

The No. 2 female eater in the world, Michelle “Cardboard Shell” Lesco has ranked in the top four of the Nathan’s contest every single year since 2011, including three second-place finishes — but 2021 was her year. She is now the defending champion of the most important event in her sport.

Lesco, who hails from Tucson, Ariz., is also a well-known humanitarian, working as the senior manager of youth services at the Volunteer Center of Southern Arizona and helping to fund wells in the Central African Republic and Ethiopia.

She has now won $31,000 over the years from her efforts at Nathan’s.

Fun Facts and Eating Contest Stats

  • 1 million-plus: The number of hot dogs that Nathan’s Famous has donated to New York food banks over the last 10 years.
  • $4.99: The price of a Nathan’s hot dog — vegan or regular — at its flagship restaurant in Brooklyn.
  • $0.05: The original cost of a Nathan’s hot dog on Coney Island in 1916, allowing Nathan Handwerker to undercut the competition that was selling their dogs for $0.10.
  • $379.24: The cost of the 76 HDBs that Joey Chestnut consumed to set the world record on July 4, 2020. However, back in 1916, he wouldn’t have needed to break a $5 bill — 76 hot dogs would have cost just $3.80.
  • 41: The length in feet of Chestnut’s 76 hot dogs. Each Nathan’s hot dog is between 6.5 and 7 inches long, with a 6-inch bun.
  • 103: The number of times the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest has been held since 2016, with the 1941 edition canceled to protest the war in Europe and the 1971 contest not held to protest the war in Vietnam.
  • 1971: The likely real year the first Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest was held. Although Nathan’s and several publications will list the 1916 start date as fact, there are no records prior to 1971, and famed PR man Mortimer Matz has claimed that he and Max Rosey invented the contest from whole cloth and fabricated the history as a selling point.
  • More than 500 million: The number of hot dogs that Nathan’s has sold since its launch.
  • 50,000: The number of outlets selling Nathan’s Famous products, which are found in all 50 states and 10 countries.
  • 21,750: The number of calories Joey Chestnut consumed in 10 min. by eating a record-setting 75 HDBs in 2020, according to Bleacher Report.

Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest History

Legend has it that the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest began in 1916 as a way for four immigrant men to determine who among them was the most patriotic. The winner was Jim Mullen, who ate 13 hot dogs, according to author Jason Fagone in his book “Horsemen of the Esophagus: Competitive Eatings and the Big Fat American Dream.” Of course, if you believe the claims of famed PR guru Mortimer Matz, that’s all an elaborate fiction that he and Max Rosey fabricated to give the event more character when they first started holding it in the early 1970s, according to the New York Times.

The contest is currently governed by Major League Eating and held at Nathan’s Famous flagship restaurant in Coney Island in the New York borough of Brooklyn. If you do believe the stories about the earlier start date, 2018 would have been the 100th occasion that the competition has been held since 1916 — the contest was (hypothetically) canceled in protest in 1941 and 1971.

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Andrew Lisa contributed to the reporting for this article. 

Last update: July 5, 2021

About the Author

Joel Anderson is a business and finance writer with over a decade of experience writing about the wide world of finance. Based in Los Angeles, he specializes in writing about the financial markets, stocks, macroeconomic concepts and focuses on helping make complex financial concepts digestible for the retail investor.

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