The Night Merwin Barrientos Ate a 26x26 In-N-Out Hamburger

But he won't do it again . . .

"Merwin won't do it anymore," my sister Alejandrina told me last week. "If he eats a 26x26 again, Merwin thinks he'll die."

Earlier this year, 20-year-old Anaheim resident Merwin Barrientos ate a 26x26 at In-N-Out Burger: 26 hamburger patties glued together with 26 slices of American cheese. I didn't believe Alejandrina until she produced pictures and videotape of a curly-haired man-child grimacing as he chewed on something that looked like an orange log.

I told Alejandrina to ask Merwin if he could do it again for Weeklyreaders—but Barrientos refused, and not for the health reasons my sister cited. "I already ate it—I don't need to prove anything anymore," he said in a tone that mountaineers must use after scaling Everest. "It's like the Casa García burrito—I don't need to eat that anymore, either."

Mmmm, gooey blood
Mmmm, gooey blood

(The Casa García burrito is a five-pound mass of tortilla, rice and beans that the same-named Anaheim restaurant offers for free to anyone who can eat it in one sitting. Barrientos finished it while a senior at Anaheim High School.)

Barrientos got the idea for eating the 26x26 after watching an Internet video of a man finishing a 20x20 at In-N-Out, the Southern California hamburger institution legendary for preparing virtually any hamburger on the spot. A friend challenged him to match the anonymous man, and Barrientos agreed. After working the late shift at the Anaheim Convention Center and eating a light lunch, Barrientos and six other friends visited the Fullerton In-N-Out at midnight.

"We got there thinking I was going to eat a 20x20, and my friends would pay for it," Barrientos said. After ordering the 20x20, Barrientos asked the cashier what the location's record was. Years ago, the cashier responded, a man ate a 25x25.

Barrientos didn't blink. "I'll take a drink and a 26x26," he said. The cashier didn't blink. He told the cook to change Barrientos' order. "That's disgusting," the cook responded as he began stacking patties in columns of four.

Seven minutes later, the cashier handed Barrientos a 26x26 on a cardboard tray and wished him luck. Barrientos thinks it weighed about three pounds.

Barrientos first placed five patties into hamburger buns and ate it as he would a regular 5x5. Then he stacked four patties together sans buns. Then three. "I like to pace myself," he says. "You only have a certain amount of time until your stomach tells your brain it's full. That's why lot of people eat fast, but then they don't have any stamina. Me, I pace myself so I have no feeling of fullness."

His friends hooted and hollered and snapped shots until Barrientos told them to stop: they were distracting him. "When I'm eating, I'm in the zone," Barrientos says. "I don't feel full or hungry, I don't feel anything."

Admonished, his friends ate their own dinners. This was around patty No. 10. At patty No. 15, the friends finished their burgers and stared at Barrientos in silence. By patty twenty, Barrientos began smothering the patties in ketchup to mask their flavor, which now tasted like "gooey blood."

Asked why he didn't stop, Barrientos scoffed. "Everyone was there! I couldn't just stop it then!"

Around patty No. 21, the In-N-Out manager approached Barrientos and told him it was closing time. Barrientos' friends pleaded that he allow Barrientos to remain until the 26x26 was gone, but the manager refused. The friends then asked if Barrientos could at least receive a gift certificate or hat for his feat; the manager offered free fries.

Around 2 in the morning, at one of the outside tables, Barrientos finally finished. He posed with the box that once held the 26x26. More pictures. Barrientos then visited a friend's house, where he quickly fell asleep. He awoke the next day, feeling "a little bit heavier" but otherwise fine.

Barrientos hasn't told his parents about the 26x26 because they would "freak out." But other than experiencing a rapid heartbeat for two weeks afterward and "passing more crap than usual," Barrientos didn't notice any major physical changes. "I've always been able to eat a lot," admitted the burly Barrientos. "It's just one of the things I'm good at. It's my only natural talent."

Nevertheless, he doesn't plan on joining the competitive-eating circuit: he's just a Cal Poly Pomona computer science major who really, really likes to eat. "I'm sure I'll try something else soon," he says. "I hear there's a 96-ounce steak in Texas . . . "