11 times Adam Richman took on spicy food on Man v. Food

Adam Richman's Travel Channel show Man v. Food raised the bar when it comes to food challenges — both by making people rethink how much a single person can eat, as well as the fact that there are far too many restaurant food challenges in the United States.

The show is well-known for its gut-busting servings, but some of the best on-air moments were when Richman took on spicy food. Many times, these fiery challenges came in the form of wings slathered in a sweat-inducing sauce made from too many hot chili peppers to count. Other times Richman took on bowls of tongue numbingly spicy soup.

Richman had a pretty good record when it came to pitting man versus the spiciest dishes served at restaurants. He only lost once — though, admittedly, he was pushed to the limits many times. It takes understanding exactly how many rounds of spicy dishes Richman put his body through to fully respect the way he handles the heat.

From chicken wings to habanero fritters and everything in between, these are the times that Richman took on spicy food on Man v Food.

1. Adam Richman v. the Fire in Your Hole Challenge

Of all the spicy food challenges that Richman faced over his time on Man v. Food, he only failed one: the Fire in Your Hole Challenge at Munchies 420 Cafe in Sarasota, Florida. In terms of size, it was a comparably meager challenge. Richman only had to eat ten wings in 20 minutes without anything to drink but water. The catch was that those wings were covered in a mind-numbing mix of habanero and cayenne peppers, plus hot sauce, plus chili powder, plus crushed pepper flakes, and, the real kicker, ghost chili extract.

"What happens is your nose swells, your mucus passages swell in your nose, and your throat swells," Richman told Mike Chen of Strictly Dumpling. "So it was like I can't breathe, my tears burn, they are pretty intense... That was agony... I don't want to feel the way I did that day."

As if the challenge wasn't hard enough already, the odds were even more stacked against Richman than the many others who had failed before him. According to Food Beast, the chef put an entire bottle of ghost chili extract on Richman's batch. 

Still, judging from other people who've taken the challenge, there's a good chance he might have failed regardless. One person on Reddit who attempted the challenge made it through seven and a half wings and then "promptly went outside and blew chunks" after "breathing hurt" and tears were rolling down their cheeks.

2. Adam Richman's conquering of the Atomic Hot Wings Challenge

At Quaker Steak and Lube in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Richman took on six Atomic Wings. Chef Robert Shay brought out the wings and, as is de rigueur for these types of spice challenges, Richman had to first sign a waiver he called a "hold harmless and indemnification agreement" — a smart move for the restaurant considering just how spicy the sauce on these wings is.

On the show, Richman notes that the typical spicy wings at Quaker Steak and Lube taste like they're around 740 Scoville Units (a jalapeno, for comparison, ranges between 2,500 and 8,000 Scoville Units). The Atomic Wings come in at a whopping 150,00 Scoville Units. There was no time limit, and Richman had a basket of Saltine-like crackers next to him on the table and a crowd of people cheering behind him. Still, speed was Richman's friend so that the heat wouldn't stack up against him.

Richman said that he had to finish fast "because like hot acid rain, tears were falling." He added that the "first bite exploded in my mouth like a flavored fire cracker," and that any part of his face that a wing touched burned his skin. It was, in his description, "like the seventh circle of hell." Richman conquered this challenge  — sweating profusely throughout — and grabbed a cracker as soon as he finished. At least he got a bumper sticker and his picture on the wall.

3. Adam Richman devoured the Spicy P'hall Challenge

One of the spicy challenges that Richman took on that wasn't based around chicken wings was the Spicy P'hall Challenge at Brick Lane Curry House in New York City. The restaurant serves English-Indian food and is inspired by the curry houses on London's Brick Lane. It's also one of the only places in the United States to serve p'hall, which is a curry that's all heat that was first created in the United Kingdom. The restaurant describes it as "an excruciatingly hot curry, more pain and sweat than flavor."

In the episode, Richman went into the kitchen to see how the curry is made before submitting his body to the challenge. He noted that the curry packs in more than 60 times the heat of a jalapeno. Case in point: Everyone in the kitchen while the curry was being made had to wear a mask — when Richman took his off he said it felt "like swallowing a porcupine." The chef also noted that it was so spicy that one person who took on the curry started bleeding from his nose.

The challenge pitted a 16-ounce bowl of p'hall against Richman. There was no time limit, and he had tall glasses of milk and mango lassi on hand. Despite saying that "right off the bat it's too hot to handle" on his first bite, Richman made it through the entire bowl and earned a free beer, a photo, and a certificate of completion.

4. Red Hot Ramen Challenge tested Adam Richman's pain endurance levels

A steaming bowl of ramen on a cold winter day can warm anyone up in all the right ways. A bowl of the Red Hot Ramen Challenge from Orochon Ramen in Los Angeles, however, does a little more than that, as Richman found out.

As Richman noted on the show before taking it on alongside two compatriots, some 20,000 people have attempted the challenge, and only a few hundred have succeeded. The goal is to finish a bowl of spiced-up ramen — broth and all — in 30 minutes or less. Richman's game plan was simple: slurp down all of the noodles and sprouts first, and then dump all of the lava hot broth down his throat.

Around halfway through, a child watching helpfully suggests that the sweating and crying Richman "should drink some milk." Richman doesn't go for it. Instead, he looks at the broth, which is all that's left, and remarks that it's "What separates the men from the boys and the interior stomach lining from the rest of my stomach."

In the end, Richman gets it finished with a little time to spare. Though, he wonders, "did I actually only win the battle and will the ramen win the war? Tonight, in the restroom I'll know the answer to that question."

5. The Hellfire Wing Challenge brought the fire to Adam Richman

In San Jose, California, Smoke Eaters restaurant has what it calls the Hellfire Challenge, an event the restaurant notes "has humbled even the bravest hot wing lovers." As proof, Smoke Eaters has a photo of Richman on its website that's signed: "It's even worse than it looks!"

It certainly appeared that way in the episode. Just before showing the challenge itself, a teaser shows him pacing behind the Smoke Eaters post-challenge, and declaring that he's "in the worst physical pain I've ever encountered." As to be expected, based on the rules of the challenge: each challenger has to finish one12-wing order of the Hellfire wings (which have more than 6 ounces of habanero chilis) in 10 minutes or less with no other food or drink. Also, there's no napkins, and after eating the wings challengers have to lick their fingers clean and sustain a five minute waiting period. There's a reason why out of the more than 9,000 people who've tried it, only 20 percent have succeeded.

Richman downed the wings, and commented that the sauce increasingly burned his hands as it couldn't be wiped off. The worst part, however, was licking his fingers and waiting as the crowd taunted him with napkins he wasn't allowed to use. "Milk, beer, not even the glorious wave of victory could extinguish the hellfire," Richman said. He later added that, after completing it, "the biggest prize at Smoke Eaters is the ice machine."

6. Adam Richman took on the Stupid Wings Challenge

The name "Stupid Wings Challenge" isn't exactly the most inspiring for your average wing lover, but for Richman and Man v. Food, it's exactly the type of challenge the show was built for. In season three, with more than a few spicy food challenges notched into his belt, Richman took on the Stupid Wings Challenge at Caliente in Richmond, Virginia.

Caliente has since changed its name to Sheppard Street Tavern, but the Stupid Wings remain — and so do the rules. Challengers have half an hour to eat a platter of Stupid Wings without any other food or drink. They also only have one napkin, and "must keep the wings down for the duration of your visit," otherwise there may be "a clean-up fee." One other rule that made this one so hard for Richman and all of the other people who give it a go: "No silverware. You must pick up the wings and eat them as nature intended."

The restaurant notes that around 10 percent of challengers finish the wing, while approximately 30 to 40 percent throw up (the trash can behind the alley is the only place upchuckers won't be charged a cleaning fee). Richman was one of the 10 percent, though it wasn't easy. When promoting the episode, Richman tweeted out: "Richmond, VA episode tonight! One of the hardest d**n challenges in all three seasons. I can promise y'all a great, great episode."

7. The Bushido Seppuku Challenge set Adam Richman's mouth on fire

Richman headed to Charleston, South Carolina for the Bushido Seppuku Challenge at the Japanese restaurant Bushido. The rules were simple: eat ten spicy tuna sushi hand rolls without throwing up or taking a sip of a drink or a bite of another type of food. The sushi restaurant's rolls also had to be eaten in order, with each one getting increasingly spicier.

In the description for the Man v. Food segment, the Travel Channel notes that, at the time Richman undertook the challenge, only six people finished out of 475 challengers. That made Richman the seventh. That low number of successful attempts is for good reason. The eighth roll is filled with a whole habanero (which Richman compared to about 40 jalapenos), and that while the "previous rolls slowly built to an inferno inside me, number eight feels like an atomic explosion."

After Richman finished number nine, he signaled for the last one ("signaled" because he admits his mouth was too hot to physically ask for the last one to be brought his way). In the end, Richman finished all 10 hand rolls in 16 minutes and 25 seconds — faster than any other successful challenger. "I devoured the last molten morsel," Richman said in the episode. "Although it's hotter than hades it tastes like victory."

8. Adam Richman didn't back down from the Ludicrous Wings Challenge

Richman took on yet another uber-spicy wing challenge at Chicken or the Egg in Beach Haven, New Jersey. This one, called the Ludicrous Wings Challenge, required Richman to finish 12 jumbo breaded wings covered in the restaurant's "Ludicrous hot sauce" in 15 minutes. Unlike some of the other spicy food challenges that Richman has taken on, Chicken or the Egg didn't put any rules on how the wings had to be eaten or limitations on water or other drinks to cool down with mid-challenge.

It was clear that Richman knew his way around a spicy challenge before getting started. He donned gloves and spent the first half of his allotted time tearing all of the meat off of the bone so he didn't get spicy sauce all over his face. Richman's tactics worked, and he polished off the wings relatively easily compared to some of the other spicy challenges. That doesn't mean it was a total cakewalk. The son of the Jersey Shore restaurant's owner, Torr Cohen, told The Press of Atlantic City, "I've tried it, but it's terrible. It's not even necessary."

Owner Mark Cohen had his doubts from the start. He told the paper that he let Richman use gloves and rip the meat off first because "I was just so convinced he wasn't going to be able to do it, we let him do whatever."

9. The Four Horsemen Challenge tested Adam Richman

Whereas hot wings can be downed in a relatively quick period of time, a burger is a different story. That's part of what makes the Four Horsemen Challenge from Chunky's Burgers in San Antonio, Texas, so difficult.

The burger has jalapeno, serrano, and ghost peppers inside, and is topped with a habanero sauce (the fourth horseman). Challengers have to sign a waiver before embarking on a spice journey that few have ridden to the finish. Per the challenge rules, challengers have 25 minutes to eat the burger without milk or going to the bathroom (if the occasion arises, the restaurant provides a "chuck bucket," and there's a $20 cleaning fee if it's missed). Then there's a five minute waiting period to let all that heat soak in before claiming victory.

Richman called the burger "the spiciest outlaw I've ever faced" on the episode. He was given gloves to prevent spice burns on his skin, and he cut it into fourths to better be able to tackle the burger. Difficulties started on bite number one.

"One bite in and the four chilis on the four horsemen burger are already a million times hotter than I anticipated," Richman said before prevailing in the end. "It's more than spicy, it's diabolical."

10. The Great Balls of Fire Challenge was almost too much

The pirate-themed Salvador Molly's in Portland, Oregon, takes its fritters to the max for its Great Balls of Fire Challenge. It consists of eating five habanero fritters and a serving of the restaurant's habanero salsa. In all, as Richman points out in the episode, a full batch of batter and salsa contains more than 10 pounds of habaneros. Yes, pounds.

At first, things seemed to be going well for Richman, and he says that "it's hot, but it's totally pleasurable." It only took two fritters for the heat to start building up — especially with the addition of the salsa, which Richman doled out onto each fritter to keep from having to down the salsa by itself. About halfway through, Richman leaned on a favorite line of his when it comes to describing spicy food: "Not going to lie, I feel like I swallowed a porcupine."

Richman ended up completing the challenge, and he's not alone. The restaurant long hosted an annual round of the challenge with proceeds going to the Oregon Energy Fund to pay for the heating bill for families in need. Today, you can order the mix for delivery to make the habanero fritters at home for less than $10. Just be warned that it's not easy. Richman told Mike Chen of Strictly Dumpling that he felt like he was "kicked on the inside of a stomach by a mule" after the challenge.

11. Adam Richman set a new record with the Firebrand Chili Challenge

While many of the challenges that Richman took on during his tenure on Man v. Food were above and beyond, the Firebrand Chili Challenge stands out as one where going above and beyond was necessary. Held at The Chili Parlor in Springfield, Illinois, the challenge pits a bowl of Joe Roger's famous Firebrand Chili against the eater. The official challenge specified eating just one bowl of the chili, but that was too tame for Richman.

"No one has been able to eat more than four bowls of Firebrand," owner Rose Hamilton told the State Register-Journal. "(Richman) will try to break the record."

Each bowl is between three-quarters of a pound and a pound, and Hamilton noted that she has to cover her nose when she pours it because of the spice level. The heat comes from spices that are cooked into the meat itself, and it's somewhat of a local legend in the area. The Chili Parlor was opened by Joe Rogers on New Years Eve 1945 and brought in a loyal customer base with its original chili recipe.

Richman was able to easily handle the challenge and set a new record for the number of bowls completed. It was a lot of spicy meat, to say the least.