The Best of Utah issue may almost be off the stands at this point, but before it's gone I thought I'd share this reporter's experience researching the Wing Coop's Eleven Challenge for this year's Best of Utah. Not as a light hearted account but as a cautionary tale for all you spicy food lovers.
When Bill Frost assigned me to cover a chicken-wing eating challenge for the Best of Utah reader’s pick, awarded to the Wing Coop for Best Man vs. Food Challenge, I was ecstatic. Chicken wings are my jam, you understand? I’ve always been fairly confident I could eat my own body weight in chicken wings. So I was in for a very rude awakening after I paid for the challenge to find that this was actually aspicy challenge.
Don’t get me wrong, I am a fan of the heat, it’s just that I was expecting more of a quantity-type gustatory challenge. Hoping for it actually. I savored the idea of putting away a shit-ton of wings, and receiving some minor praise for it. Instead I was brought a simple plate of 11 wings, to be finished in 11 minutes without the benefit of water or cool dipping sauces.
I suppose I didn’t realize until I picked up the first wing and just felt heat radiating off of it, that I was in trouble. After one bite I realized the secret ingredient was pepper spray in these wings. Damn wings! They are evil little things the color of blood and with a terrifyingly potent spice—it’s a basket of shock and awe. Words can hardly describe the punishment these little demon wings from hell will wreak upon you. But it is fair to say the pain of this spice is a cumulative effect that builds with each bite. Here’s a breakdown
Wing 1: You finish this first wing and a realization sets in that this is going to hurt.
Wings 2-3: At this point you notice the first symptoms of habanero shocks: profuse sweating and tears pouring from your face—soon to be shooting from your face.
Wings 4-5: A strange tingling sensation actually begins to radiate up your arms like your about to have a chicken-wing induced stroke—because you are.
Wings 6-7: The weeping of your eyes becomes unbearable to the point that it’s best simply to close your eyes for the remainder of the challenge. Uncontrollable yelps overtake you, as the Eleven spice begins to possess your soul. Speaking in tongues soon follows.
Wings 8-9: A strange paranoia sets in. Why is everyone looking at me? Don’t you have anything better to do buddy? I’m trying to finish my damn wings over here! Get a job you stinking loser!
Wings 9-11: A dream-like trance settles in and you realize you’re in the homestretch. You’ve developed a rhythm. Take big bites and strip the flesh from the bones in four bites or less, chew once and swallow. With the last wing, the only challenge left is to not vomit fire while there are still minutes left in the challenge.
I finished in about 8 minutes. A respectable time indeed, except I still had to wait three minutes before I could have any water. This is where the challenge enters it’s most trying phase. You might think that having bested the wings in 11 minutes that you’ve won, but in fact, it has only just begun. For at least in my experience this was an 11 hour challenge.
Having returned home to down near a gallon of milk, a handful of Tums and a half dozen ice cream sandwiches, I felt as if I was finally on the mend. But with a strange tingling in my hands continued for hours afterwards, I decided before going to bed that a shower might be a good idea to cleanse the last remaining spices from my hands.
A mistake! Oh, lord what a mistake! Perhaps it was just the hot water, but for whatever reason the shower seemed to bring back the pain and localize it all in my hands. Returning to bed I soon found the chili oil left on my palms and fingers sizzling my hands like some awful chemical burn.
For the better part of an hour, I tossed and turned until I desperately looked up some home remedies online to try and sooth my burning hands. For the better part of the night I was up dousing my hands in milk, vegetable oil, beer and even liquid detergent. At one point I decided perhaps if I could fill latex gloves with vegetable oil I might be able to actually sleep. This was about 2:30 a.m.
I decided to drive to the grocery store, only to find that my car’s battery was dead. No worries, it was a fine chilly night for a walk. After I returned from the grocery store and found that my plan to make oil gloves didn’t work at all, I realized it was time for plan B. I had noticed in walking outside that the cold night air had numbed the pain in my hands to being near tolerable. So, at about 3 a.m. that fateful night I bundled up in my finest hobo coat and a poncho, grabbed a pillow and went to sleep in my car.
In such a sad state I tossed and turned in a fitful sleep until a little after 4 a.m. Around this time my hands seemed to have cooled off and I went back inside to sleep a few more hours. I survived. And as they tell me, 75 percent of the people who attempt the challenge, don’t finish. I understand why.
It’s a pyrrhic victory if there ever was one. Besides the in-the-moment shock of doing the challenge, I never would have guessed the hours of middle-of-the-night agony the wings would bring to me. Sure, as you might have guessed I was also shitting brimstone for the entirety of the day following, but that was nothing compared to the pain my hands felt.
Just beware you would be wing-challengers. Wear protection! Goggles, gloves a full body suit if you need to. Just be ready, these wings are not for the weak of heart…or stomach…or colon for that matter.