Who knew downing a six-pound hamburger in just under three hours could be someone’s claim to fame? Kate Stelnick, freshman early education major, certainly never dreamed it would be hers.
Weighing in at only 115 pounds, Stelnick showed just how deceiving appearances can be when she was the first person to ever win a Pennsylvania pub’s long-standing challenge to eat a six-pound burger topped with five pounds of fixings. If that’s too much food for thought, imagine 24 Burger King Whoppers.
After seeing the colossal burger advertised on the Food Network, Stelnick, a Princeton native, was so convinced she could eat it that she urged three friends from the College to join her for the five-hour drive to Denny’s Beer Barrel Pub in Clearfield, Pa.
“I told my friends to not let me give up,” she said. True to their word, fellow freshmen Catherine Flannery and Randy Reali, along with junior Erik Cheng, cheered her on through the end, which was just six minutes before time was up. “They joke that there’s a fat kid living inside me,” she said.
Stelnick’s feat earned her guest spots on “Good Morning America,” “The Tony Danza Show” and radio shows across the country, not to mention a slew of other enticing offers, and made her the subject of many Internet blog postings. A Google search of her name turns up over 10,000 Web sites touting her achievement – a few even have marriage proposals.
“It’s unbelievable,” Stelnick said. “I like all the attention, but honestly, enough is enough. All I did was eat a hamburger.”
Kate Stelnick is the kind of 18-year-old not afraid to take on a challenge as daring as skydiving or as crazy as a burger-eating competition. And once she sets her mind to it, there’s no turning back. That’s why she wouldn’t let hundreds of miles, her parents’ disapproval (she didn’t tell them about the trip) or doubtful onlookers in the pub stand between her and her goal.
Fourteen hours before her stunt, Stelnick fasted to ensure a big appetite when she reached Denny’s. She also napped on the drive there, but other than that, no training went into her preparation. Upon arrival, she walked into the pub wearing her baggiest clothes, a pair of sweatpants and an oversized navy T-shirt, but not even this outfit could disguise her slender frame. So when the Denny’s crew took Stelnick’s order for the six-pounder, they figured this blonde would be yet another to overestimate her appetite and pay $23.95 for a burger she couldn’t finish.
“She came in and ordered it and we thought there was no way she could do it because she’s a small girl,” Kristy Turner, a Denny’s waitress, said. “We were shocked when she did.”
Turner said that about two or three of the giant burgers are ordered per week, and the owner of Denny’s, Dennis Liegey, estimates serving 750 of them since he started the challenge in 1998.
The burger takes 45 minutes to cook and is topped with what adds up to a large onion, two whole tomatoes, a half-head of lettuce, 1 _ pounds of cheese and a cup each of mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard, relish and banana peppers, with some pickles on top.
To understand just how difficult it is to down a burger of this size in three hours, realize that the fourth-ranked competitive eater in the world, Eric “Badlands” Booker, failed to do it in all his three tries. Booker, a 36-year-old New Yorker, weighs 420 pounds and has devoured 49 glazed donuts and 15 burritos each in eight minutes as well as two pounds of chocolate candy bars in six. On his official website, he refers to Stelnick as “Jersey’s own 100-pound burger specialist.”
When her burger was served, the Denny’s staff set the three hour timer and Stelnick dug right in, alternating between eating the burger meat and toppings without ever taking so much as a bathroom break.
“The last 20 minutes, I wanted to give up,” Stelnick said. Her friends, however, kept her motivated just as they’d promised. Flannery, her floor mate, said, “We talked to her the whole time. She didn’t look sick, but after three hours, I can’t even imagine how cold and nasty the meat was.”
After stuffing the last bite into her mouth at the two-hour-and-54-minute mark, she no doubt enjoyed the sweet taste of victory as the pub erupted into cheers. At last, she had disproved all the passersby who said she’d never make it. As a reward, Denny’s picked up the bill for Stelnick and her friends and gave her a free T-shirt. She headed home thinking it was a done deal. Little did she know, it was just the beginning.
Last week, the first back from winter break, Stelnick was caught in a whirlwind of unexpected media attention that culminated in her appearances on “Good Morning America” and “The Tony Danza Show” Friday morning.
Dressed in jeans and a black sweater that, in revealing some midriff, showed her figure was still intact, Stelnick laughed alongside Diane Sawyer and Charles Gibson, who challenged petite weathergirl Marisol Castro to eat the same six-pound burger in the studio. Castro took the easy way out, as the show’s “burger cam” revealed her giving away pieces of the burger to the live audience when she was off the air.
Later, Stelnick headed over to Tony Danza’s studio and was the opening guest on his show. “Well, listen, don’t make this a habit because you look great,” Danza told her after he’d pulled her from the audience. “It’s probably not the best thing for you,” he said. “I’m having a hard time saying congratulations.”
“GMA was fun, but Tony Danza was awesome,” Stelnick said. “I absolutely love him.”
Obviously, Stelnick knew that appearing on TV and the cover of The Trenton Times and being mentioned all over the Internet meant there was no keeping her feat a secret from her parents as she’d originally intended.
“They were mad at first, but now they’re excited,” she said.
And who wouldn’t be when even Guinness World Records and Ripley’s Believe It or Not! have contacted Stelnick, wanting to add her burger binge to their list of the greatest oddities known to man.
As Stelnick weighs the offers pouring in though, her parents need not worry about her. Stelnick is heeding Danza’s advice: she doesn’t plan on doing any more competitive eating, unless she ever needs to defend her record. She already turned down an all-expenses paid trip to Las Vegas to compete in a nine-pound burger eating contest last Saturday that gave away $9,000 in prize money. Who won? None other than Sonya Thomas, another woman weighing just over 100 pounds, who gulped it down in 48 minutes and 10 seconds.
Stelnick’s planning to satisfy her need for excitement by obtaining her skydiving certification. “And I’m sure more crazy things will come up,” she said. “I’m spontaneous beyond belief.”
Nevertheless, Stelnick hasn’t lost her appetite for hamburgers. And although she calls the past week both “fun and frustrating,” mentioning how some people made her accomplishment “too big of a burden,” she has no regrets. “If I did it again, I would not give out my number so easily and also turn down more interviews and requests.”
“I had fun though…and am a better person for it, I guess,” she said. Not to mention a legend in the competitive eating world.