Thursday was National cheeseburger Day and to celebrate the Landmark Inn in downtown Marquette has created the Ghost Fire Burger Challenge. The burger is served at the Northland Pub inside the hotel.

To really get into the challenge, we were able to talk with Landmark Inn Kitchen Manager and creator of the burger Ryan Carstens about the challenge.

Before trying the burger, a waiver had to be signed that included the rules for the challenge. Competitors had to finish the burger, fries and pickle within the 20 minute time limit, no drinks were allowed besides water and they must sit at their location until the 20 minutes were up. If all rules were completed, the customer would receive a t-shirt and a free appetizer at the Pub.

I was the first person to try the burger. Marquette Social Scene has covered eating challenges in the past, as I am still the record holder for most tacos eaten at Dia de los Tacos.

However, no prior knowledge could have properly prepared challengers for the difficulty of the pretzel bun. Pretzel buns from bistros to fast food are the “hip thing” for burgers this year. This bun was thick, chewy, textured, toasted with ghost chile-infused butter and drenched in the ghost sauce. It was also bigger than the burger by about 3/4-inch on all sides.

In eating challenges where speed is important, belching is often required to help empty the stomach of any air so more food can fit. More importantly though, as a competitor hurries to eat, more air is breathed in through the mouth and swallowed, causing discomfort that could make or break them. Belching — or just breathing out through the mouth — is not pleasant in a spicy challenge. Not only is the taste terrible, but the dry spices in the food will interact with the gasses leaving your body, leaving a more intense burn than standard eating. As the body reacts to the spiciness, the sinuses are effected and often disrupts nasal breathing, furthering the breathing through the mouth.

Since drinks besides water were banned, I warmed up with a half a pint of Guinness, in hopes to keep the stomach a little calmer before attacking the spicy burger. I then took a couple pictures, hit social media and Carstens prepared to time the event. The other patrons of the bar started to realize the challenge was on and got some refreshments before starting.

Instead of taking it as one big sandwich, I deconstructed the burger. Taking everything apart allowed me to use different techniques on different ingredients to eat them faster or easier, while also looking at the big picture. For example, the pickle was left for last. In a spicy challenge, the last thing I want is to have the heat empowered by a vinegar-based vegetable. I stayed away from the bun and fries as the starches would fill up my stomach and slow me down.

So I started with the patty. All beef and stuffed with habanero, it was thicker than expected. It was still easily dispatched in a little more than three minutes.IMG_20140918_142528

The toppings were next. Two slices of pepper jack cheese, four slices of candied jalapeno bacon and diced pickled habanero. I rolled up the habanero into the first two pieces of bacon and ate it one bite. The second two pieces of bacon went with the cheese and the toppings were dispatched in less than a minute.

The spices were now effecting my sinuses and I needed to clear my nose. This took about a minute to complete, but I was able to organize the rest of the plate in the meantime.

I rolled up the bottom half of the bun and started dunking it in a small glass of water. This is a pretty famous technique seen from Man vs Food to the Coney Island Hot Dog Eating Championships, that allows the bread to soak up a little water to make it easier — and safer — to eat. It was reasonably effective and finished the bottom bun around the halfway point.

The heat continued to flare up as the buns hid pockets of the ghost sauce. To stop the heat, I had a few of the french fries not covered too much in the cheese sauce. It helped with the taste and the heat, but the constant chewing of the top of the pretzel bun was taking its toll.

The top of the bun contained a thick crust where the air touched it, while the parts that were in the pan were thinner. Just like a muffin, the top was lumpy and dense. It was so thick that the water-dunking technique had no effect on the top bun. I started ripping the bun apart into tiny pieces just to make progress. The top part of the bun took nine of the 20 minutes and the whole bun took 13 minutes to eat.

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My jaw was pretty tired and the dense bun was sitting uneasily on my stomach; I unfortunately did not train well enough for this. But I pushed through to get the fries completed. Carstens announced there was one minute left and the kitchen-style timer went off about 15 seconds later.

IMG_20140918_144854I was short by five fries and the pickle from completing the challenge. It was disappointing to be so close and still fail. The crowd and staff still applauded the effort as I finished the last few items. Since I did complete the challenge, I was awarded the t-shirt, but did not receive the free appetizer as a prize.

Since Thursday, two people have completed the challenge in the time limit. Two others have tried it and failed to finish.

If you think you can handle it, burgers are still available at the Landmark Inn and are available during lunch hours. Good luck and let us know how you did.

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