My Quaker Steak and Lube Challenge

By Dan Kaplan

My mouth feels like the inside of a volcano.

I am crying, sweating and shivering all at once.

I am simultaneously feeling every sensation I have felt since birth.

I’ve just finished a plate of Quaker Steak and Lube’s Triple Atomic hot wings. Five of them, to be exact.

Apparently they’re not allowed to give out more than five in one sitting.

These are wings so hot, you get a T-shirt and your name on the wall if you finish them; so utterly, devastatingly spicy that you have to sign a waiver before they bring your order out.

To put this in perspective, Quaker Steak and Lube uses the Scoville spicy heat scale on its menu to entice customers to their hottest wing varieties (or perhaps to scare them away). According to the menu, any sauce listed with a value of more than 30,000 Scoville units is considered “insane.” The Triple Atomic wing sauce – made with ghost chili peppers – is rated at 500,000.

This is my story.

***

I order my five wings and a pint of Guinness; the latter intended to numb my nerves before the challenge, and my mouth after. As we wait, I’m surprisingly calm. I’ve been more nervous before final exams.

But then it hits me. As we sign our waivers, I tense up a bit. When our waitress brings out the six servings of bleu cheese dressing and three orders of celery, my breathing gets a bit heavier.

And then the wings come out.

My roommate digs in immediately, plowing through his order as if on deadline. I sit back and observe for a bit. I give the wings a little sniff and discover that, unfortunately, you can’t smell spiciness. After half a minute, I dig in.

The first bite is shockingly…tame. I taste the meat more than the spicy assault I’d expected. But my second bite starts the disaster. I start to hiccup. Repeatedly. This is not going well.

The spices begin to strike in full force by the second wing. I feel a burning sensation on both the inside of my mouth and my lips. I keep going, but start stopping every other bite for water, Guinness, or even celery and bleu cheese – both of which I normally hate but have now become my saviors.

At this point, there’s no turning back. If you eat two Triple Atomic wings, you’ll most likely eat all five; even if you stop after two, the damage has already been done. Your mouth already feels like it’s been doused in gasoline and set aflame. If you’re going to suffer through that, you may as well go for broke and knock them all out.

So I do.

After the third wing, the sweat starts to accumulate and the tears begin to fall. I am downing entire glasses of water between wings. My roommate has finished all five of his wings before I’ve even made it through my third. He is inhuman. Wing number four eventually goes down, but with considerably more effort than the previous ones required. I contemplate calling it quits right there.

But I see our waitress approaching and push through it. The last wing goes down in three bites, the last of which takes an excruciating amount of time as I try to separate the wing bones to access the meat in the middle. But in the end, I conquer. The waitress inspects my plate, and I’ve passed.

My test is far from over.

***

I spend the next 20 minutes stewing. I drink what feels like two gallons of water but which, in reality, is just a pitcher-full. I munch on celery; I take occasional sips of my Guinness, which I don’t even end up finishing. I grunt occasionally for no reason at all.

This has taken a lot out of me.

As the rest of our party sits and enjoys their normal meals, my roommate and I begin to recover. We go to take our pictures by Quaker Steak’s “Wall of Flame,” collect our T-shirts and leave. I take a deep breath of fresh air when I step out; this does absolutely nothing to cool my mouth. Damn.

But in the car ride back, my temperature begins to return to normal. The ability to talk slowly returns to me, and doesn’t even cause much pain in my mouth.

I sit back, arms folded across my chest, feeling satisfied.

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