CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Fairmont will be serving up 55 dozen fresh pepperoni rolls to the world's hungriest eaters this weekend.
Joey Chestnut, the top eating competitor in the world, as well as No. 2 ranked Tim "Eater X" Janus and No. 3 ranked Sonya "The Black Widow" Thomas will go head to head at the West Virginia Three Rivers Festival.
It will be the third annual Pepperoni Roll Eating World Championship, and competitors will have 10 minutes to see who can consume the most soft bread stuffed with pepperoni.
"A world record was set the first year of the competition in 2011 by Pat Bertolleti, who ate 31.5 pepperoni rolls," said Mike Swearingen, president of the festival's board.
"Last year, he broke his own record by eating 33 pepperoni rolls in 10 minutes."
The 34th annual festival focuses on education for children, but in recent years it also has capitalized on Fairmont's claim to fame as the home of the pepperoni roll.
Giuseppe Argiro, who came from Italy in 1920 to work in a Clarksburg-area coal mine, invented the tasty snack sometime between 1927 and 1938, according to the state Division of Culture and History.
The home of the beloved snack - Country Club Bakery - will produce dozens upon dozens of rolls for the competition.
"Back when we first started doing this competition, we knew we had to have a commitment from a local bakery who could do this year after year," Swearingen said.
"Because there has been a world record, and anybody who challenges that record has to eat the same exact type of food - so we had to keep with one bakery consistently to manage that."
Chestnut took the competitive eating scene by storm when he beat six-time defending champion Takeru Kobayashi at the 92nd Annual Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest. He once put away 68 hotdogs and buns in 10 minutes.
He's never had a pepperoni roll.
"The festival is actually sending me over some pepperoni rolls so I can test them out before the competition," Chestnut said. "I'll have a little practice to learn the texture and consistency."
He already has a strategy in mind.
"Dunking them in water helps soften them faster," he said. "There's no way your body can produce enough saliva.
"It's not pretty. It makes them taste funny, but I can get over the weird taste of the soggy roll.
"I love to eat - the first couple of minutes, I love it. I just get to eat like a madman. The first couple of minutes are always easy, but the last couple - I'm full and the taste is bothering me. If the water is really ruining the taste, I'll dunk less."
Chestnut also has conquered two gallons of chili, 47 grilled cheese sandwiches, 390 shrimp wontons and 102 tamales.
"It's just all about finding a rhythm when you're doing the same thing over and over again. You have to control your breathing like a marathon runner - once they get their stride, it's easier. I ignore feeling full and get into that rhythm and keep pushing."
Janus is ranked just behind Chestnut and has an advantage: He's been in this competition twice before and finished just behind Bertoletti each year - with 27 pepperoni rolls the first year and 25.5 the last.
With Bertoletti no longer on the roster for Major League Eating - the authority in competitive eating that supplies the competitors - Janus' chances may increase.