Nathan's Famous July 4 Hot Dog Contest: Can Joey Chestnut Defend His Mustard-Yellow Belt?

On July 4, the celebration of red, white and blue, the true color of glory may be mustard-yellow.

The mustard-yellow belt is up for grabs once again in Coney Island, N.Y., cradle of the American amusement industry, site of the annual Nathan's Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest.

The battle for stomach superiority has been waged every year since 1916.

Last year, Joey Chestnut defeated a field of 18 other eaters by consuming 68 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes.

Chestnut Relishes Hot Dog RecordPlay

It remains to be seen whether Chestnut's main rival, former champion and 2009 runner-up Takeru Kobayashi, will participate. Kobayashi is locked in a contract dispute with Major League Eating.

"Nathan's wants him and he wants to be there, but he's got to be part of the league," said MLE's George Shea. "It would be like Tom Brady saying, 'Why can't I go to the Super Bowl just because I don't want to be part of the NFL?'"

The speculation over Kobayashi's participation adds an element of drama to a contest built on digestion. Competitive eaters scarf everything from grilled cheese to pig's feet. The hot dog, however, is the premier ingredient.

"If Kobayashi doesn't show, there will other challengers," Chestnut said. "I'm just going out there to get a new record and eat as many hot dogs as I can."

Chestnut's 68 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes is the record to beat -- all while avoiding the pitfall that disqualifies competitive eaters: a so-called reversal of fortune.

"We call it 'urges contrary to swallowing,'" said Crazy Legs Conte, a contestant. "There are fans, probably the people who watch NASCAR for the crashes or figure skating for the falls, who love to see a reversal."

Spectators in the front row, consider yourself forewarned.

Hot Dogs: Behind the Casing

Hot dogs are made from small cubes of meat that are trimmed from large carcasses and roasts.

The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, yes there is such a thing, says in 2009 consumers spent more than $1.6 billion on hot dogs and sausages in U.S. supermarkets.

"It's about a third of all Americans who are going to have a hot dog on a regular basis," said Harry Balzer, vice president of the research firm NPD Group.