Saying Joey “Jaws” Chestnut can eat a lot of turkey is an understatement. In 2014, the California-born eater, who currently holds 43 world records in eating everything from deep fried asparagus to pork roll sandwiches, set a new bar: he ate 9.35 pounds of turkey, off the bone, in 10 minutes. That’s 60 percent of a bird you can barely fit in your oven, all by himself, in the time it takes to get your great uncle Ernie to remember who you are.
To eat more than your family, friends and distant relatives whom you only see once a year, adhere to Chestnut’s Thanksgiving battle plan below. And remember, it’s not just about the turkey. (But it mostly is.)
1Train with turkey. If you’re serious about eating a lot of turkey, Chestnut says, you train by eating turkey. It builds tolerance. By the time Thanksgiving rolls around, your mouth and throat muscles will be well trained to handle the excessive chewing required. Chestnut suggests using a rotisserie to cook your practice birds, and injecting them with garlic and butter to make them moist and easier to chew. It also tastes better.
2Go out the night before. “I’m a big fan of Red Wednesday, where you paint the town red before Thanksgiving — you go out drinking,” says Chestnut. In his mind, drinking alcohol the night before isn’t a bad thing. It keeps the body loose; drinking a lot of liquid stretches out the stomach. “There’s lots of shots, lots of Jameson, and a good amount of beer,” says Chestnut. “It’s tradition for me. The day before Thanksgiving I’m getting pretty plastered.” Remember, a little hangover is nothing a true champion can’t overcome.
3Wake up and drink water. Don’t eat. “I’ll wake up at around 8 o’clock and the first thing I’ll do is drink about a gallon of water,” says Chestnut, “then some coffee, just to get those liquids moving through my body.” Drinking water keeps the stomach loose and prepares it to stretch quickly. Sometimes he’ll drink a half gallon of milk along with the water. The milk prevents the stomach from digesting the water as quickly. It also helps stretch out the stomach. By 4 p.m. (dinner time), the body will have digested everything and it’ll be in prime condition to, as Chestnut calls it, “slaughter the bird.”
4Start with unfamiliar food. If you don’t gorge yourself on everything at the table, you’re cheating. The foods you don’t like or don’t eat often should be your first targets. If you’re not a big fan of cranberry sauce, Chestnut says, eat that first. Or if there’s “some kind of weird corn pudding,” eat that. The foods that you’re going to eat a lot of — turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes — should be eaten in the middle and end of the meal. “Don’t try to go back to the foods you’re not used to when you’re full,” says Chestnut, “because then you’ll get nauseous.”
5Eat the dark meat before the white. The different types of turkey meat can be tricky, says Chestnut. The dark meat — because it’s fattier and naturally more moist — is going to be easier to swallow, so you’ll be able to plow through more of it early on. The tougher, drier white breast meat is going to tire your mouth out. The skin is also “tricky,” Chestnut says — it’s also chewy. Chestnut suggests using gravy with both to soften up the meat and make it easier to swallow. Drinking a lot of water also helps.
6Power through the pain barrier. Every time you get a plate, Chestnut suggests that you should eat it the same way as you did the first one. “Keep track of number of bites, chews, swallows, and don’t forget to breathe,” says Chestnut. You want to eat with purpose, but not too fast so that you get winded. “And remember everything you’re feeling is a feeling. If you’re feeling full, it’s just a feeling — ignore it. Just know that this is the one day of the year that you can do it.” Football and a comatose nap are just a few more bites away.