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Published September 06, 2013, 12:17 PM

VIDEO: French Fry Feed draws a crowd but fails to break its own record

The goal seems almost absurd. Last year at the annual French Fry Feed patrons polished off 5,010 pounds of fries. But the company supplying the fries brought back their secret weapon this year: A custom fryer made specifically for the occasion.

By: John Hageman, Grand Forks Herald

The goal seems almost absurd.

In 2011, patrons of the annual French Fry Feed Thursday, part of the week-long festivities leading up to the Potato Bowl football game Saturday, polished off 5,010 pounds of fries. That record stood after last year’s somewhat stormy get-together left the starchy side dish soggy with rainwater instead of ketchup.

But the company supplying the fries brought back their secret weapon this year: A custom fryer made specifically for the occasion. The propane-powered steel monstrosity was modified this year, which added a foot at each end, according to Scott Lund, the quality assurance manager at the J.R. Simplot Co.

“So we increased its size, which allows us to put more fries in,” Lund said. “We made some changes to the system overall, so we’re getting a little more heat into it, which allows us to put more pounds into the fryer.”

But even with the increased frying power, they only served 4,860 pounds, about 150 short of the record.

Let’s do the math to see what setting a new record will take.

Consider each pallet has about 45 cases on them, and each case has 30 pounds of fries. Lund said their goal was to get through a pallet every hour, with the ultimate goal of four pallets worth of fries consumed by the end of the night, more than enough to break the record.

Thursday’s process required manpower to attempt the 2.5-ton record. About 20 people worked the fryer, with some sweating on the back of a pickup while opening up bag after bag of sliced spuds to feed into the machine. About 45 to 47 seconds later, according to Lund, the fries would land in white plastic tubs ready to be served to the droves of people lined up at the red and white tent.

Rita Myers and her daughter Samantha were among those who lined up for a plate of fries, as they do every year.

“It’s kind of a tradition for us,” Samantha Myers said.

To beat the record, Lund estimated that about 10,000 people like the Myers would need to consume a serving of fries, which amounts to about a half of a pound.

And consider this math: One pound in three minutes. That’s the amount of fries Eben Rohling crammed into his stomach during the fry-eating contest, good enough to win. That landed him tickets to Saturday’s football game, an autographed football from the University of North Dakota squad and $100 to use at Hugo’s.

And in one more example of potato-themed math, he and his fellow fraternity members agreed to divide the latter prize.

“It’s sort of a commonwealth deal,” Rohling said.

Upcoming Potato Bowl events:

Hugo’s Potato Bowl 10k Run & Tater Tot Trot starts today with registration at 4 p.m. at the Riverside Park Warming House. Registration is $30 for the 10k run and $12 for the Tater Tot Trot, ages 17 and under, with a maximum of $25 per family. The Tater Tot Trot starts at 5:30 p.m. and the 10k starts at 6 p.m. Don’t forget to find Potato Bowl Pete. The proceeds from the race go to help fight hunger in the greater Grand Forks area.

The KEM Shrine Potato Bowl Parade takes place Saturday at 10:30 a.m. The route starts behind the YMCA and goes to DeMers Avenue and heads east over the river into East Grand Forks. It continues to Fourth Street Northwest and ends in the Riverwalk Centre parking lot. A map can be found at potatobowl.org/parade.

The 48th annual Potato Bowl Football Game starts with tailgating at 2 p.m. Kick off time for the game against SDSU is 6 p.m. at the Alerus Center. This is the last chance to find Potato Bowl Pete. For ticket information call (877) 917-4689.