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University Chicken's 911 Challenge

by Michael Chu
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On Friday, Alex James, from my group at work, took on a challenge that no one thought he could handle. Near Santa Clara University, a small restaurant that specializes in hot & spicy chicken wings hosts a food eating contest that only involves twelve wings (wingettes and drumettes counted as two separate wings). The 911 Challenge at University Chicken doesn't sound so bad, but Alex definitely met his match... and prevailed.

The wings sold at University Chicken range in hotness on a scale from Mild and Traditional to Global Thermonuclear. Beyond this scale are the special wings prepared specifically for the 911 Challenge. The rules are quite specific:
  1. Nothing to drink before or during the contest.
  2. No napkins at anytime during challenge including the 5 minute period after eating them.
  3. Must lick clean any sauce on hands before 5 minute timer starts
  4. Must eat the chicken off and to the bone (Manager must approve)
  5. Participant has 10 minutes to eat 12 Wings. Once finished must wait an additional 5 minutes to win a T-shirt
  6. Must sign release form

Alex ordered his 911 Challenge and waited peacefully while the wings were being prepared.

When the wings arrived, they were a dark brown - almost black - color. The coating on the wings was more paste than sauce. They definitely looked completely unappetizing to me. With the clock starting when Alex sat down, he wolfed down the first wing quickly and without effort.

At first, Alex didn't show any visible reactions to the spiciness of the wings, and I thought it would be an easy contest. However, after his second wing, he began to hiccough. His body was informing him that he was eating very spicy food (as if his burning fingers, numb lips, and fiery mouth weren't enough warning alarms).

After four wings, Alex slowed down. He mumbled something about the wings not being very appetizing (I think he said they were "disgusting"). A layer of sweat was coating his forehead and his body had stopped hiccoughing.

At a rate of about one a minute, Alex steadily made his way through the first ten wings. The last two proved difficult, but at the nine-minute mark, in a demonstration of willpower overcoming the self-preservation instincts of his body, Alex quickly removed the meat from the bones, chewed, and swallowed.

With less than one minute remaining, Alex quickly sucked the clumps of spicy paste off his fingers and forced himself to swallow the subsequent ball of black gunk.

The five minutes of waiting were excruciating as Alex willed his body to keep the food down. During this time he could not drink anything, nor could he use a napkin.

As soon as five minutes were up, a cheer erupted from our party and the sounds of clapping from the patrons of the restaurant followed Alex to the bathroom where he disappeared for quite some time.

Alex received a free T-shirt and posted his picture up on the Wall of Fame.

Later in the day, back at work, a couple of Alex's fingers were still numb from holding the hot wings and his stomach would not stop bothering him. Physically, he was exhausted and drained. He also mentioned that the challenge cost him $11 and the cost of the wings was not reimbursed by University Chicken as we had earlier believed (we had forgotten to ask).

For my lunch meal, I ordered a charbroiled chicken burger. The chicken was tough and overcooked with the edges tasting bitter from being burnt. I put down as much of the sandwich as I could (because I've got to eat) and left half for the trashcan. Since University Chicken is known for their chicken wings, I tried a drummette and a wingette from my coworker?s nearly untouched stash of Traditional style wings. The wings were fairly spicy, but lacked depth of flavor. The wings themselves were deep fried way too long. The meat was dry and oily and some parts felt like I was shredding chicken jerky. All in all, I don't think University Chicken is famous for their wings because they're good, but because of their gimmicks - a clever naming system and a challenge that chile hounds can't resist.

After lunch, I spoke to a few other people who have eaten at University Chicken before and it seems that we may have received a poorly prepared batch of chicken. Another coworker, also by the name of Alex, confirms that usually the wings are juicy and not dry (as I experienced them), but they do have a history of inconsistency in the hotness of their sauces (thermonuclear one day may be milder than traditional on other days, etc.).

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Written by Michael Chu
Published on October 17, 2005 at 07:18 AM
19 comments on University Chicken's 911 Challenge:(Post a comment)

On October 17, 2005 at 02:26 PM, Michael Chu said...
A few additional notes should be made about this article.

I puposefully did not provide a fully detailed account of exactly what happened to Alex's body as we watched him consume those wings. For that reason, it may seem to be a fairly mild experience. Trust in the knowledge that he did not look pleasant and it was clear that he was not only in physical pain and discomfort but had lost control of some of his body including motor control. His face had puffed up and his lips were disformed and discolored from the sauce/paste. I refrained from photographing during the more intense moments of his experience.

If Alex wishes, he may post his thoughts as comments to this article, but that's up to him.

Also, I've heard that University Chicken used to be part of the Cluck U franchise, but apparently this is no longer the case. Cluck U has many location on the East Coast and our experience at University Chicken may not reflect that of Cluck U.

On October 18, 2005 at 08:29 AM, an anonymous reader said...
Subject: Eaten there...had better wings
I live in Sunnyvale and visited ChickenU on a coworker's suggestion. I'm from the South and know what Wings are supposed to taste like. And Chicken-U's are not Wings. They are cooked peices of chicken with some spicy sauce on top....but they are not Wings (yes, with a capital W). We asked for mild and a received plain, slimy, greasy plate of chicken...if I wanted that, I would have eaten at KFC. ;-)

On October 19, 2005 at 05:01 AM, Kripto (guest) said...
Subject: 911 Challenge
I also did the 911 challenge and Im sure my photo is on the wall there.. though I haven't been back to check..

That was by far the hottest thing I have ever had!

That night, my firehead burned from the capsaicin(sp?) coming through my skin as well as it burned when I peed :) (No, I don't have an STD!) :)

I honestly don't think I would ever do that challenge again, though, I still love very hot food.

There is a pub in San Mateo that has a Habanero Hamburger that kicks butt, and, if you like hot food that tastes good, check it out. Its the only English Style pub in the area.

On October 19, 2005 at 01:13 PM, Paz said...
Wow! Congrats to Alex.


On October 20, 2005 at 03:48 AM, an anonymous reader said...
haha i live about 5 min from cluck u. ive been at the safeway next door a few times and seen someone race down the aisle to get a half gallon of milk to chug after rocking the challenge. congrats!

On October 21, 2005 at 04:18 PM, an anonymous reader said...
Subject: strategy
So what would be a good strategy to prepare for the 911 challenge? Maybe you can eat some bread before you go to the restaurant so that it can absorb the spicines? Does milk help? You can coat your stomach with milk beforehand. For sure, the worst strategy is to eat them on an empty stomach.

On October 23, 2005 at 02:23 AM, oyo said...
putting on chap stick is a good idea. since you can't do anything after you finish them for a set amount of time, i'd not eat anything for a while and then throw them down quickly close to the deadline.

On October 25, 2005 at 12:36 PM, Mike (guest) said...
Subject: How we keep warm in Buffalo...
If you want to talk about Wings, you need to know the history:

There's more to a good Wing than just heat.

On November 01, 2005 at 04:52 PM, an anonymous reader said...
Subject: Chicken Wings
Whenever I hear about chicken wings I always think of some of my father's stories. He grew up fair impoverished, and jokes that he didn't realize that chicken's had anything other then wings and necks until he was 12.

Apparently back in those days, poor people (like my father's family) would buy chicken wings as a cheap source of meat that no one else wanted. My father gushes about how well my grandmother could batter and cook them up such that it was a delicious meal.

My hat is off to the marketing genius who transformed this unwanted part of the chicken to one of the most lucrative parts by creating the "pub wing crazy"!


On November 02, 2005 at 01:31 PM, an anonymous reader said...
My hat is off to the marketing genius who transformed this unwanted part of the chicken to one of the most lucrative parts by creating the "pub wing crazy"!

Been happening for some centuries already - creative and poor cooks turn formerly discarded bits of food into "proud classics" - scottish Haggis, brazilian Fejoada, and a bunch of other plates are made of parts of the animal that the rich used to discard.

Cool how creativity and need creates some of the best dishes... it must have taken some guts to eat snails, shellfish, pig's feet, etc. ;)

On November 02, 2005 at 07:39 PM, KT (guest) said...
Subject: Wings
I'm a BW3's (Buffalo Wild Wings) fan myself :)
They even have a few locations in Buffalo, so if the locals (um, myself among others) like it, it has to be good huh? I think the chain originated in Florida by two homesick college guys.

Personally though, a good wing needs to have flavor as well as heat. I often joke that if I'm not crying and my face isn't red, it isn't hot enough, which is for the most part true. But honestly, if the sauce is just heat and no flavor, the wings are just awful. I can't even imagine eating something as unpalatable as overfried and overheated wings!

On January 25, 2006 at 01:38 PM, Brian (guest) said...
Subject: Went to SCU, seen the vomitting
I graduated from Santa Clara in 98 and during our education the Cluck U opened. I have seen more people vomit exiting that place than I care to remember.

My buddy used to always say that he would bulk up on the chap stick and coat the inside of his mouth with petroleum jelly to help the burn factor. I still think once it hits your stomach that you're in trouble.

Good times... that place used to sell pitchers of beer way cheap. The breast bites meal is actually a good deal and tasty but I stay right around atomic level spiciness.

Go broncos!

On February 03, 2006 at 10:45 AM, ldyvic said...
I know I am boring but...... :-0
I like to taste more meat then sauce and spicies.

Oh As for restaurants known for chicken wings, growing up in Florida and all, I must say. GO HOOTER's :-)

On June 18, 2006 at 07:42 PM, an anonymous reader said...
Subject: Re: University chicken
I have tried many o' chicken wings...from the old days of BW3s (when it first formed and was a lot better than now)...wingstop as well as Cluck-U (or now University Chicken).

For those of you who have not enjoyed their chicken wings, I strongly urge you to go back there and try the Devil Bites. These are essentially boneless breast tenders dipped in the wing sauces, but I assure you that you have never had these kinds of shapes or cuts of chicken. They are surprisingly very meaty and big and the batter remains rather crispy even after being dipped in the sauces. They are by far the best thing I've had there...easily surpassing the wings (as much as I love wings).

On Thursday's they have a "bite night" special. I think it costs $1 per devil bite. Definitely recommend you give them another try and NO, I don't work there. I've been going there for years.

As for spiciness, I was going there before they introduced the 911 challenge and I was proud to say I had survived all the levels of spice. Then once they introduced 911, I was pissed because its a level I haven't done and I don't think I want to go there. Global thermonuclear instantly ceased my conversations with friends after eating...I can't imagine what 911 would do.

On July 01, 2006 at 09:36 PM, an anonymous reader said...
I live in Florida and Hooter's has the worst wings on the planet. They are only good for the Hooter girls and the cold beer.

I tend to stay away from any kind of chain when I want good wings. The smaller places tend to have more flavorful sauces as well as the heat I crave.

My fave is the extra hot with garlic. I love the way the garlic makes my lips tingle after I have downed a dozen or so of them.

On December 07, 2006 at 10:37 PM, ian (guest) said...
Subject: 911 challenge, anchor bar, etc.
Today I completed the fabled 911 Challenge. I've also eaten at the famous Anchor Bar in Buffalo, New York.

The challenge was exactly as this article described -- an almost unappetizing amount of dark-red sauce, lightheadedness, the wolfing down of remaining wings when the time was about to run out, a friend's sprint to the Safeway next door for a half-gallon of milk, and the cheering of patrons afterward.

The worst parts of the challenge were the overload of sauce, the spice of the wings combined with high just-fried temperature, and the feeling of a sunburn around my mouth for the rest of the day. It was certainly a challenge, but I got a shirt :-)

I even ordered some of their breast strips afterward that, despite the reports in previous posts, were juicy, breaded & fried just right. I definitely plan on going back for some less-insane but tasty chicken.

The "Suicidal" sauce at the Anchor Bar is actually quite good and isn't unreasonably hot. You can even buy it in supermarkets nowadays near the Tabasco. I hear there's another bar in Buffalo that's even _better_ than Anchor.


On August 30, 2007 at 03:01 AM, an anonymous reader said...
i ate these godforsaken satan nuggets on an empty stomach and ended up hurling boiling hot magma puke until i couldn't gag anymore shortly after the challenge. the t-shirt was totally worth it though.

On March 24, 2009 at 12:53 AM, an anonymous reader said...
i tried to do that at the one in Chapel Hill NC with a buddy of mine. He's going into the special forces . . . i don't know i thought he'd be tough. we got to the last wing and he yelled "my effing throat is closing up." i didn't finish either.
i threw up twice on the floor next to the drink machine.
on our way back to my friend's car he somehow vomited 911 sauce into both of his eyes. he was blind. i knew this because he was running around screaming and tripped over the same curb at least 8 times. i continued to throw up for another 11 hours.


On February 06, 2011 at 12:41 AM, an anonymous reader said...
If it's been banned give me the recipe damnit. No more secrets! I want to know if these are hotter than mine!!!

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