Fresh off his second-place finish in the Nathan’s July 4 Hot Dog Eating Contest, Darron Breeden thanks Orange County for its support at Saturday’s Playin’ in the Park celebration.

Jeff Poole/Orange County Review

ORANGE — While many people enjoyed a hot dog or two at a July 4 cookout, Darron Breeden ate 50 hot dogs last week. That’s the most he’s ever eaten.

Only, it wasn’t enough. It’s not that he was still hungry. It’s just that the 10-minute window he had to eat those 50 hot dogs had closed and he still found himself on the outside looking in.

Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Contest Champion Joey Chestnut downed a record 71 hot dogs and buns in the annual July 4 competitive eating competition in Coney Island, New York, holding off the Orange County teacher, who finished in second place. It was Chestnut’s 12th title in the event.

“That’s the most I’ve ever eaten before,” Breeden said Saturday, sporting his competition jersey. “What Joey Chestnut did is amazing. Seventy-one.”

Breeden appeared on stage at the Orange County Parks and Recreation Playin’ in the Park Independence Day celebration and told the audience he appreciated the support of his hometown and hoped next year he might bring the coveted “mustard belt” home to Orange County.

“Tonight, we pay tribute to an Orange County icon,” parks and rec director Tim Moubray said before introducing the fit Hornet Tech teacher at Orange County High School. “Eaters may come and go, but this one is here to stay.”

Moubray then detailed Breeden’s recent competitive eating accomplishments, including the 47 hot dogs he ate in Norfolk at one of 16 regional competitions to qualify for Nathan’s national competition last week.

Breeden recently was crowned the raw oyster eating champion of the world, slurping 44 dozen in eight minutes at a competition in New Orleans, Louisiana, and the cheese curd eating champion, gulping more than five pounds of the “squeaky cheese” at an event in Wisconsin.

Breeden said he was particularly proud of the cheese curd title as Chestnut, the hot dog-downing champ, finished second.

Humble and humorous, Breeden proudly carried his second-place trophy that was half as tall as he is.

He said he’d been practicing for last week’s competition by “cooking up a batch of 60 hot dogs” and seeing how many he could eat in the allotted time: 50, it turns out.

Asked if he trains with the competition’s namesake frankfurters, Breeden admitted, “only this last time. Normally, I go to Sam’s Club and just get one of those big packs of hot dogs.”

He described the contest as “an all-you-can-eat buffet, except the only item on the buffet is hot dogs and you have 10 minutes to eat them.”

Like most contestants, he dunks the buns in water to help them go down easier, and the dogs are free of the condiments most of us prefer as toppings. It’s a good thing, too, since Breeden, who said he likes most food, doesn’t like raw onions.

Following the competition, Breeden said he felt “exhausted.”

“It’s really tiring,” he said. “I don’t normally eat like that.”

He said he doesn’t eat much for regular meals, and he enjoys working out, which helps him keep off the weight — an important consideration given he consumed more than 13,000 calories in the contest alone.

The 2007 OCHS graduate said one of his favorite foods to eat — competitive or otherwise — is barbecue, which sets up nicely for his next challenge, a rib-eating contest in Minneapolis on July 27.

Breeden received $5,000 for his second-place finish last week. A year ago, he finished third in the contest.

“The prize money is nice,” he said. “It’s not just about the bragging rights.”

Breeden got his start in volume eating during a stint teaching English in Japan.

“I always wanted to do one of those man vs. food challenges and ended up eating like five pounds of curried rice.”

After that, he started accepting restaurant-level challenges where proprietors stage publicity events to see who can eat the most of signature dishes. Success at that level led him to the head-to-head events.

When he’s not in the classroom or eating competitively, Breeden goes to the gym or enjoys playing piano or guitar. He also has a YouTube channel, “Darron Eats,” that illustrates his “appetite” for competitive eating.

However, Breeden was not eating hot dogs at the Playin’ in the Park celebration Saturday, though he said, “That would be a fun idea — to do a demonstration. Maybe for a charity event sometime.”

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