The 12-minute, all-you-can-eat contest is part of today’s kickoff to the 23rd annual Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-Off, which is expected to draw nearly half a million attendees between now and Labor Day.
While some of America’s best eaters, including world No. 1 Joey Chestnut and second-ranked Pat “Deep Dish” Bertoletti, bring a glutton of experience to the contest, Koepke is going in on an empty stomach, both literally and figuratively.
Koepke, 52, has never competed in an eating contest, but “I’m a big guy and I love ribs,” he said.
Koepke has attended the rib cook-off for the past four years, dropping a hefty $200 or more at every outing.
He entered the eating competition this year hoping to place a respectable second, third or fourth.
Koepke said he thinks he will have to consume about five pounds of ribs to meet this goal.
“I doubt highly I will beat him,” Koepke said, referring to Chestnut, whose participation in the contest remains a game-time decision.
In preparation for the contest, Koepke said he has stuffed himself full in recent days in order to expand his stomach. But he cut back to just salad and small snacks Tuesday and will not eat anything today prior to the contest.
“Your brain is your biggest enemy in competitive eating,” Bertoletti, the 2009 rib eating champion, said of the challenges competitors face. “Your only limitations are your stomach capacity and the speed at which you can consume food.”
Koepke said he has enlisted the support of friends, family and co-workers to cheer him on today.
As for the aftermath, Koepke said he plans to take a day off from work Thursday in order to recover from all the eating.
Now ready for his competitive eating audition, Koepke needs just one more thing to get started.
“The local guy is going to have to come up with a nickname,” Bertoletti said. “It doesn’t necessarily have to be food-related, but it can be. The more obscure and less sense it makes, the better.”
When asked what nickname suits him, Koepeke said, “Gunner ... because I teach the Nevada concealed weapons training.”
Today, Koepeke will come armed only with his appetite.
The contest begins at 6 p.m. today on the main concert stage and will feature St. Louis style ribs that conform to the Major League Eating judging model, where ribs are weighed before and after competition to determine the exact amount eaten by each competitor. The winner will take home a $5,000 cash prize and the title of Best in the West Nugget Rib Eating World Champion.