It would be safe to say that humans have been having eating contests for as long as we've been eating; we're a competitive lot. If something is edible, you can bet that someone somewhere has tried to eat more of it than their friends, from informal affairs like seeing who can eat the most mashed potatoes during Thanksgiving to pie-eating contests at state fairs to the highly produced Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest.

It's not clear who was the first restaurateur to take notice of this phenomenon and use it to bring in new business, but whoever he was, that was pure genius. The formula for success is simple: offer a massively sized portion of one of your popular dishes and offer to give back its cost to anyone who can eat it in one sitting. Most mortals fail spectacularly when faced with such gargantuan portions of food, usually laughing all the while doing it. And even when someone does step up and polish off the mountain of food, you benefit from a wave of positive word-of-mouth marketing and maybe get a photo in the local paper. It's good marketing.

In recent years, as competitive eating has become a "thing," the number of people who can stomach huge meals has increased, leading to a bit of an arms race in the world of novelty food-eating challenges. Some newer contests require teams of people to eat together towards their goal while others just get crazy with their portion sizes. Still others tack away from requiring large amounts of food to be eaten in favor of insanely spicy foods.

We ate through a lot of restaurant websites to put together this list of intense food-consumption restaurant challenges.

Bon appétit!

The Vermonster at Ben & Jerry's

Photo: Phoosh/Flickr

The Vermonster

You'll find the Vermonster, a literal bucket of ice cream, at any Ben & Jerry's scoop shop. Eat the entire thing, all 20 scoops of ice cream, four bananas, four ladles of hot fudge, three chocolate chip cookies, one brownie, 10 scoops of walnuts, two scoops each of four toppings of your choice, and a thick layer of whip cream, and you get refunded its price, around $35. The Vermonster runs just over 14,000 calories total, or about a week's worth of food. Very few people can even get close to finishing one by themselves. Here's a video of one guy doing it a record time of 7:00.

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The Inferno Soup Challenge

Photo: Allykiro/ YouTube

Inferno Soup Challenge at Nitally's Thai-Mex Cuisine

You know that a food challenge is something to be respected when the top prize for completing it — $800 — has yet to be won. Such is the case of the Inferno Soup Challenge at Nitally's Thai-Mex Cuisine in St. Petersburg, Fla. Challengers have a half hour to finish 48 ounces of super spicy soup. And when I say super spicy soup, I mean really damn spicy super spicy soup. The inferno bowl is made with 12 different kinds of hot peppers, including the infamous ghost chili. The spicy components of all l2 of those chillies flow together to form a meta brew of fire that has, so far, defeated everyone who has stepped up to try.

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Big Mamma's & Papa's Pizzeria 54 Inch Pizza Challenge

Photo: Big Mama's & Papa's Pizzeria

Big Mama's & Papa's Pizzeria 54-Inch Pizza Challenge

California-based Big Mama's & Papa's Pizzeria likes to think big. Their entry, the 54-inch square pizza challenge, requires a team of six to eat more than 20 square feet of pizza within two hours. That is a huge amount of pizza to pound, and so far the challenge has defeated all who have tried, including this team of professional eaters from Wreckless Eating. Even the ringers got beat down by this massive pie.

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The Ghost Wing Challenge

Photo: Skippy62able/YouTube

Ghost Wings challenge

If it sounds like the Girvan Grill's Ghost Wing Challenge — eat 10 wings in 15 minutes without eating anything else or wiping your hands or face — sounds too easy to be true, it's because it is. Those 10 easy little wings come coated in hot sauce backed up by ghost chilies, a fiercely spicy chili that was only recently toppled as the world's hottest pepper. Eat all 10 wings in less than 15 minutes, and you'll earn yourself back the cost of wings, a T-shirt, and a spot on the grill's Wall of Flame.

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The Olympus Burger

Photo: Bryan Betz/YouTube

The Mount Olympus burger challenge at Clinton Station Diner

The Clinton Station Diner in Clinton, N.J., actually has a tiered system of food challenges. Down a three-pound burger by yourself in less than two hours, and it's yours for free. Finish a seven-pound burger in three hours by yourself or in half the time with a friend, and again, it's yours for free.

Those looking for a real challenge sign up for the Mount. Olympus, a staggering 50-pound hamburger that needs to be finished by a team of five in less than three hours. That's an average of 10 pounds of hamburger per person.

Here's what it looks like to have a 50-pound hamburger dropped off at your table, with apologies to Jimmy Buffet.

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The Terminator Breakfast Challenge

Photo: Shelby's Restaurant

Terminator breakfast challenge

The Terminator breakfast challenge starts off with a 24-inch pancake. That alone would scare off most mere mortals. But then add to that four eggs, a pound of bacon, six sausage patties, two pounds of potatoes, and four pieces of toast. In all, you're looking at around eight pounds of food. Finish it all in one sitting, and it's yours for free. Hundreds of people have tried; none yet have succeeded. Rumor has it that the pancake requires a gallon of batter to make. You can find the Terminator at Shelby's restaurant in Deerfield Beach, Fla.

Hungry for less gluttony? Check out these articles here on MNN:

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Shea Gunther is a podcaster, writer, and entrepreneur living in Portland, Maine. He hosts the popular podcast "Marijuana Today Daily" and was a founder of Renewable Choice Energy, the country's leading provider of wind credits and Green Options. He plays a lot of ultimate frisbee and loves bad jokes.

6 food-gorging restaurant challenges
Think you have what it takes to belly up to the bar and take on these crazy food challenges?