Feast Your Eyes on Iowa’s Wildest Food Challenges

Eating competitions are a distinctly American pastime, and no state does the food-filled frenzy better than Iowa. After all, the Midwestern state is home to the Iowa State Fair, one of the largest and most attended fairs in the country with more than 1 million annual attendees from near and far, who flock to the fairgrounds to feast on pork legs, funnel cakes, pancake tacos (not a typo) and s’mores-filled campfire cones. And that’s not even touching on the whole food-on-a-stick category, which infamously includes the likes of apple pie, bacon-wrapped riblets, cheesecake, deep-fried brownies and PB&Js.

The state fair is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Iowa’s insatiable appetite. It should come as no surprise that the land of the quintessential state fair is also the land of the wildest over-the-top food challenges, which have become a spectacle in their own right. From a mighty sandwich challenge in Des Moines to a hamburger throw-down n Waterloo, these are the craziest food challenges in Iowa.

The Wing Challenge at Big Ed’s Firehouse, New Hampton

If you think scarfing down 12 wings sounds easy, just wait until you feel the heat. This one isn’t so much about quantity as it is about tolerance for pain. And maybe masochism. Here, eaters have 10 minutes to eat the restaurant’s “Spontaneous Combustion” wings. As the name suggests, they’re blazing hot, and to make matters more terrifying, challengers must stay in their seat and not drink anything during the challenge.

The Adam Emmenecker Challenge at Jethro’s BBQ, Des Moines


The fact that Adam Richman from Travel Channel’s Man vs. Food attempted this challenge and failed should clue you in to the fact that this meaty binge isn’t for the faint of heart. Named after Drake University basketball star Adam Emmenecker, who apparently had an absurd appetite, the challenge for diners is to polish off a pork tenderloin and buffalo chicken tenders with white cheddar sauce, fried cheese curds, Texas brisket, applewood-smoked bacon, a cheeseburger, spicy pickle and a pound of fries, all in 15 minutes. It’s hard to imagine that task even being physically possible, but it’s sure entertaining to witness the attempts.

Killosal Sandwich at B&B Grocery, Meat & Deli, Des Moines

Compared to the Adam Emmenecker challenge, this one seems almost dainty. It’s a combination of a mere four sandwiches, to be consumed in under 20 minutes. The sandwich combo features four cheeseburgers, a heap of veggies, deli meats and a pork tenderloin. When it’s all stuffed together into a veritable skyscraper of food, it earns the aptly dubbed nickname, the “Killosal Sandwich.”

28,890 Challenge at Screaming Eagle, Waterloo

On the plus side, this is one challenge that actually includes salad, so it’s basically healthy for you. Until you consider that it’s actually just a side salad served with three loaded hamburgers, an order of fries and a half order of onion rings. You’ve also got plenty of time to clean your plate; finish it all in 45 minutes and you’ll get a T-shirt, your photo on the wall and your next meal free.

Airbus Burger at The Airliner Bar, Iowa City

This one is actually quite straightforward: simply eat a pound of ground beef, four strips of bacon, four slices of cheese and three onion rings, all stacked on a ciabatta roll and served with a large order of fries. All that in less than 30 minutes to consider yourself a winner.

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