Reporter Saphara Harrell competed in the Hot Mama Salsa hot wing contest at the Oregon State Fair Friday. Lollipops are used to counteract the heat from the peppers. (courtesy/Aaron Bree)

Friday marked my first-ever hot wing eating contest, but it’s far from the first time I’ve tried the spicy stuff.

I regularly submit myself to the hottest thing on the menu and am somewhat of a masochist when it comes to spicy food.

Let me start off by saying I didn’t win this contest at the Oregon State Fair, though I set out to.


The challenge was to eat 10 hot wings at a progressively hotter level. It was the only hot wing competition at the fair. Hot Mama Salsa sponsored the event and provided many of the wing sauces.

It started out easy enough: some chili wings, harissa-flavored ones and fermented kimchi wings.

Eight contestants had one minute to eat all the chicken off the bone before moving to the next round.

Hot Mama Salsa owner Nikki Guerrero was serious about this rule. She checked plates to make sure all of the chicken was gone.

By wing five, two teenage girls next to me tapped out, leaving me the last woman standing.  

The audience cheered as they left the stage and contest organizers allowed two audience members to participate in their stead. The audience goaded Allan, who didn’t make the original 8-person cutoff, on stage.

Then the habanero wings started to come out. Tolerable at first, but then the heat started to build.

Guerrero brought out the ninth wing, or what she called a 10-minute friend.

But the real lingerer wouldn’t come until wing 10.

Guerrero said she made the sauce, a blend of carolina reaper and scorpion pepper, special for the event. In 2017, Guinness World Records declared the reaper the hottest chili pepper in the world.

For the final wing, contestants had to eat as quickly as possible, then stand up.

The air was tense as people twitched their fingers near the red, plastic plates. A blue ribbon was on the line. People were hoping someone would throw up.

I tried my best to consume a wing in one bite. Rather than slow myself down by chewing, I just swallowed and shot up.

It was close, but I came in second.

A woman approached me after it was over to let me know she thought I should have won, stoic as I was.

It wasn’t until I was walking out of the building rubbing ice across my face that I realized how brazen I had been. Those peppers were HOT.

The 10-minute friend turned into a 20-minute friend and I started rubbing a lollipop across my face because someone, somewhere said sugar helped.

It didn’t.

After a half hour the sharp pain had subsided, and I recovered enough to attempt the next challenge – where to find the best fried Oreo.

Friday’s contest is far from the only competition at the fair.

There are pie eating contests Saturday Aug. 24, Tuesday Aug. 27, and Monday Sept. 2 at 6 p.m. A cookie eating contest Monday Aug. 26 at 4 p.m. and a Gerry Frank chocolate layer cake contest at 2 p.m. Sunday Sept. 1. More info about the contests and how to sign up are on the Oregon State Fair website.

The fair runs until Sept. 2. Tickets cost $1 to $8 and can be purchased online. The fair opens at 10 a.m. and closes at 11 p.m. on weekends and 10 p.m. on weekdays. 2330 17th St. N.E.

Parking is cash only and costs $5.

Have a tip? Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250 or [email protected]