Michelle Lesco downed 40 chicken wings, mildly spicy, at the east-side Native Grill & Wings on Tuesday night.
It took her just over 2 minutes.
She is hoping she can keep up that pace and some more Saturday for the World Wing-Eating Championships, hosted by Native Grill & Wings during the Arizona Sports Fan Expo at Scottsdale’s WestWorld.
She’ll have 10 minutes to try to beat the world’s best when it comes to wings: Joey “Jaws” Chestnut. He holds the world record with a personal best 7.61 pounds of wings downed in 12 minutes.
“I think I will place in the prize money if something doesn’t go horribly wrong,” said Lesco, a petite 115-pound Vail District schoolteacher who’s ranked No. 8 in the world of competitive eating.
She has stiff competition for the $5,000 grand prize; in all, $10,000 will be doled out with the bulk of it — $8,800 — going to the top three finishers.
“It’s going to be a hard-fought battle for first through third because Joey’s going to be there, who is really great at wings. Adrian Morgan is going to be there, who is amazing at wings as well. Miki Sudo is going to be there; she’s really good at wings, too,” Lesco said the day after her 40-wing trial run. “Those are going to be my top three challengers. … If I get lower than fourth, I’m going to be mad at myself.”
Lesco is no stranger to competing with either Chestnut or Sudo. The trio went bone-to-bone in the 2013 Chicago RibMania competition. Lesco finished second after putting away 2.62 pounds of ribs in six minutes, beating Chestnut (just over 2.5 pounds) but falling short of Sudo’s 2.9 pounds, according to DNAinfo.com, a Chicago news website.
Lesco has a plan: “It’s all about getting the meat off the bone in the most efficient manner,” she said.
“They’re all going to be the flat part of the wings, not the drums, so generally you grab it tight and do a slight twist and pull the meat off at the other end,” she explained. “Once you break that opposite section of the bone, the meat will slide right off of it. Generally you try to clean-pull it off with a slight break of the bones.”
Her other strategies:
Don’t choke: “With wings it’s not that hard to swallow the meat, for the most part. Everything’s a choking hazard, especially when you have potential bone slivers breaking in there. But for the most part it slides down fast.”
Don’t drink: “For people who are going to their water every couple of minutes, they are wasting time that they could be spending on ripping wings apart and getting more down. My strategy tends to be to limit water intake unless you need it to swallow. Otherwise you’re taking up capacity and taking up time.”
This is Lesco’s fifth season as a competitive eater. Among her accomplishments were downing 158 wings in 12 minutes in the 2013 U.S. Professional Wing Eating Championship in Buffalo, New York; and finishing third in the women’s division of last summer’s famed Nathan’s Famous hot-dog-eating championship after downing 27 hot dogs with buns.
“I used to call this a hobby, but now I’m filing income taxes on it,” Lesco said, noting that she won $10,000 in prize money last year.