Forget hot dogs. Joey Chestnut is here for the croqueta-eating contest

Joey Chestnut, center, pounded 70 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes at the Nathan's July 4th hot dog contest. But will that prepare him for eating as many croquetas as possible in eight minutes?Paul Martinka

Joey Chestnut has never seen a croqueta, much less tasted one, yet he’s going to try to eat more of Miami’s favorite finger foods in one sitting than any other human being alive.

Welcome to the world of competitive eating.

Chestnut will be one of several professional competitive eaters from Major League Eating (a real organization I totally did not make up) in town Sunday for El Croquetazo, a croqueta-eating contest during Carnaval Miami on Calle Ocho.

Finally, the croqueta gets called up to the big leagues.

One problem: The man the organization calls “the greatest eater in history” has never tried one. He tried to buy them frozen at four different grocery stores in San Jose but couldn’t find any.

“This is the first time I’m going into a contest not knowing what the flavor will be, so I’m a little nervous,” he said. “But they sound delicious.”

He went online to do some recon on his opponent, the humble croqueta. From what he gathered, croquetas are just like “a hush puppy with some ham mixed in there.”

Oh, Joey.

Soon enough Chestnut will learn about the delectable, poppable appetizers, ubiquitous at cafe ventanitas and Latin birthday parties. This event for professional eaters (contemplate that title for a second) builds on Miami’s annual ode to the croqueta, Croquetapalooza, which statred its own amateur croqueta-eating competition of its own. Sunday there will be a separate contest for Calle Ocho festival goers, joining local celebrities such as Miami city commissioner Frank Carollo.

But, really, what amateur can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Chestnut? He has eaten 182 chicken wings, 141 hard boiled eggs, 118 jalapeno poppers, 73.5 Nathan’s hot dogs (and buns!), 20 roast beef sandwiches…. The man is an eating machine.

On Tuesday, to get ready for his eight-minute brush with croqueta greatness, he “got in a really good stretch.” What does that mean to a competitive eater? Not yoga or pilates. He ate a 9-pound grilled chicken salad that amounted to about 4,000 calories.

“It was a really heavy salad,” he said.

He’s even been doing special jaw exercises “so I can chew longer, harder and faster.”

But the man does have his Kryptonite. Spicy foods and anything “with a lot of flavor” give him trouble. Bratwurst was a problem. And Korean kimchi? “My body was rejecting it after 30 seconds.”

And the croqueta does have home court advantage. Chestnut is going to have to face the South Beach Factor — the draw of all-night partying that takes its toll on out-of-town opponents the next day. Chestnut said that’s why he’s flying in two days early: Party on Friday, recover Saturday, attack croquetas Sunday.

“I’ve thought this through,” he said.

That’s what they all say, Joey. Maybe the croqueta stands a chance, after all.

El Croquetazo at Carnaval Miami

When: 5 p.m.

Where: At the corner of 8th Street and 14th Avenue

More information: carnavalmiami.com

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