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On the Fourth, they speed ate ribs – and a mess of other food – for a good cause

Rib-eating contest at Midwood Smokehouse

Participants chowed down on barbecue ribs and other side dishes during a rib-eating contest to support Claire's Army, a local nonprofit fighting childhood cancer.
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Participants chowed down on barbecue ribs and other side dishes during a rib-eating contest to support Claire's Army, a local nonprofit fighting childhood cancer.

Nothing could shut up Brad Shell on Saturday – except a rack of 12 ribs, 7-ounce sides of baked beans, collard greens and potato salad, four pieces of Texas toast and a big hunk of watermelon.

Oh, and “Gentleman” Joe Menchetti, a competitive eater from Cheshire, Conn.

As Menchetti and a dozen other rib eaters sat quietly while servers at Midwood Smokehouse set food in front of each contestant at Saturday’s “Patriotic Food Eating Contest,” Shell couldn’t sit still.

He stood from a long picnic table and limbered up like a boxer preparing to go the distance. A friend massaged his “jowls.” “Whoa, let’s do this, boys! Let’s go, boys!” shouted Shell, owner of Charlotte’s Unknown Brewing Company. “Whoa, those are some good lookin’ ribs. Gotta get me some ribs and baked beans. Come on, beans. I want me some macaroni and cheese. Love it.

“Whoa, ain’t America great!”

Yet five minutes after Midwood owner Frank Scibelli sounded the whistle to start, it was over. And it was Menchetti who stood as the winner, precisely stripping each bone. He received $1,000 in gift cards from Midwood. Shell finished a respectable second.

Each contestant paid $25 to compete, and organizers sold raffle tickets to raise money for Claire’s Army, a Charlotte nonprofit that helps families with children undergoing cancer treatment. The charity is named for Claire Ratliff, a Charlotte girl who died of neuroblastoma cancer in January 2012.

Through the charity, Scibelli’s company provides meals to families in the hospital on Mondays and Wednesdays.

Saturday, Claire’s father, Kevin Ratliff, thanked all the contestants for “putting your stomachs on the line.”

I had finished my second rib and the word started trickling down the table that he had already finished the whole rack. So I decided I’d take my time and take the leftovers home for dinner tonight.

Laura Pruett, the lone female contestant

Menchetti seemed fine after wolfing down all that food. He’s a ringer. Since 2001, he’s competed in dozens of food-eating contests, including eight straight July Fourths at the famous Nathan’s International Hot Dog Eating Contest in Coney Island, N.Y.

Driving to Charlotte, he stopped in Ramsey, N.J., for a chicken wing-eating contest. He won that one, too, downing 34 wings in four minutes.

At the rib-eating contest, Menchetti said he felt confident until servers started bringing out all the sides and a “big hunk” of watermelon instead of a slice.

Nothing seemed to slow him down, even the collard greens, which he believes he had once before at a buffet. “Ideally, in case something doesn’t particularly taste good to you, you try not to taste anything,” he said. “You just let it slide down. I was very happy with this food. It all tasted great.”

Compared to Shell, his eating was mannerly, too – with a fork.

After awhile, in a game effort to pass Menchetti, Shell dispensed with his cutlery and ate with his hands. He watered down his toast and ate it with watermelon.

He finished about a minute behind Menchetti.

Scibelli gave Menchetti a minute after he finished to make sure everything stayed down. Throwing up was against the rules.

After the competition, Shell was in awe of the winner’s speed eating. “It was quick,” he said. “My friends were shouting, ‘Hurry up, Brad.’ And I was hurrying as fast as I could and this was cleaning my clock. It was fun – for a good cause. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go vomit.”

Laura Pruett, the only female contestant, was awed, too.

“I had finished my second rib and the word started trickling down the table that he had already finished the whole rack,” Pruett said. “So I decided I’d take my time and take the leftovers home for dinner tonight.”

Perlmutt: 704-358-5061

Help Claire’s Army

To read about Claire’s Army and to make a donation, visit http://clairesarmy.org. Or send a tax-deductible check to: Claire’s Army, P.O. Box 78571, Charlotte, N.C. 28271

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