Rising to the ghost pepper challenge

By Jimmy Alford | Published Wednesday, April 3, 2013

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Sometimes you’re proud of doing something stupid.

Recently, I pretty much set myself on fire just to see if I could stand the heat.

The fire in this instance was more or less metaphorical. I say more or less because I could have sworn I was breathing flames as tears welled up in my eyes and rolled down my cheeks into my beard. I took the “Hell Burger” challenge at Rooster’s Bar and Grill on the Square last week and came out a winner (sorta) with a T-shirt and the knowledge that I withstood the incredible heat of ghost chili peppers.

Jimmy Alford

Jimmy Alford

Just so we are all clear on what a ghost chili pepper is, it is also called a naga bhut jolokia and originates in India. It was named in 2007 by the Guinness Book of World Records as the hottest pepper on Earth, before the Trinidad moruga scorpion pepper tied it.

For perspective, note that jalape os and Tabasco sauce register at about 2,500 to 5,000 on the Scoville Scale, the universal scale for measuring food heat.

The ghost pepper registers about 1,041,427 units – about 400 times more.

If we translate that into terms of size, that would be the difference between the Empire State Building and the width of a 42-inch flat screen TV.

Of course, I didn’t look any of this up before I decided to try the sauce for the first time.

When Rooster’s opened, the idea of a hot food challenge piqued the interest of several people here at the Messenger. Not that anyone wanted to do it, but the hypothetical scenarios started to fly along with copious amounts of giggling. Jokingly, I said I would try it … at least it was a joke at first. It would eventually become a quest that would require training and fearless determination. (Am I laying this on thick enough?)

Every time I saw it on the menu, it was like a button that said “Do not push.” Eventually, I couldn’t help myself.

The challenge is to eat three Hell Burgers, each laden with an ounce of Hell Sauce, and chips in under six minutes. Before you start, you have to sign a waiver.

Just the fact that you have to sign a waiver was really intriguing. My curiosity got the better of me.

I decided to go for it. Not the full challenge, because I knew I wasn’t ready for that. I would just sample the Hell Sauce.

I have never tasted something so hot in my life. The sensation is hard to describe. At first, I got the smoky, blackened flavor of the pepper, and it was pretty good, like a hatch chili pepper. That didn’t last long.

Did you ever bite into a pizza that was way too hot and the near-boiling cheese stuck to the roof of your mouth? It was kind of like that, but instead of cheese, it was lava made from molten ghost peppers.

I don’t believe Hell Sauce is the best name for it. They left off a few expletives.

I decided right then that I would have to ease myself into the challenge, or face utter defeat. And I will not be defeated by a fruit.

So over the next month, I tried it again and eventually ate a single Hell Burger. Each time, I survived what is akin to widespread internal chemical burns.

After all that, I can attest that it doesn’t get any less hot – your pain tolerance just increases.

Finally, I was ready and the date was set. On Thursday, March 28, 2013, I bellied up to the upstairs bar and said those fateful words “I’m doing the Hell Burger challenge.”

Waivers were signed, witnessed and stored. Two big glasses of whole milk were poured, and finally three Hell Burgers were before me on a steel plate (I assume steel is the only dinnerware that wouldn’t instantly dissolve when touched by Hell Sauce).

The clock was ready, and the challenge was on. I powered though the first slider with ease. That’s when the hiccups started.

People watching mistook took this as a sign of expulsion and quickly backed away, but I held my cookies and charged ahead.

Not only did I beat the challenge – I beat it in three minutes and 24 seconds.

So far, I am the first and only person in Wise County to have taken the challenge and come out victorious. I think this means one of two things:

1) most folks in Wise County are afraid to subject themselves to the heat, or

2) most folks in Wise County are a lot wiser than me.

The latter is more likely.

I was told that my photo and winning time would be displayed on a special wall in Rooster’s. But glory is not why I did it. I just wanted to know if I could stand the heat.

My fianc e has banned me from ever taking on another food challenge, and I plan to comply.

After all, I’m not stupid.

One Response to “Rising to the ghost pepper challenge”

  1. El Pulpo says:

    I can’t believe people always mention Tabasco Sauce anytime they are writing or talking about heat. Not only is it not hot, but it tastes too much like vinegar. I personally prefer Tapatio or Cholula.


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