Brandon Holcomb suffered for his third-place finish in the Fiery Punishment eating contest.

Mikey's Late Night Slice / Instagram

How Mikey’s Late Night Slice Created the ‘World’s Hottest Pizza’

For the recent Fiery Punishment challenge, the Columbus chain recruited five "brave souls with an iron gut and something to prove."

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with fresh quotes from Mikey’s Late Night Slice co-owner Jason Biundo, new photos and the names of the Fiery Punishment contest’s winner and runners-up.

If the devil himself made a pizza, it would probably taste a lot like the Fiery Death pie. You wouldn’t think that would be a good thing, but for the owners of Mikey’s Late Night Slice (LNS) in Columbus, Ohio, it’s a marketing godsend.

Touted as “the hottest pizza in the world,” the Fiery Death boasts fresh ghost, scorpion and reaper peppers plus Mikey’s housemade Puree Scorpion Pepper Pizza Sauce. “It’s not for the faint of heart,” the owners have warned—more than once, in fact, because the pie debuted in 2011 and, for some reason, customers keep asking for it.

Sometimes it runs as a special, other times as the featured pizza in a hellish eating challenge called the Fiery Punishment. For 2023, LNS owners Mike Sborro, Jason Biundo and Bryce Ungerott rekindled the challenge, and LNS put out a call for “six brave souls with an iron gut and something to prove.” They ended up with five—good enough!—and the competition took place at the brand’s South 4th Street location in Columbus on October 26.

The winner, Chad Springs, “crushed the challenge” in two minutes and 41 seconds, “probably the fastest time we’ve ever seen,” the company said. In exchange for at least a full week of indigestion, Springs took home a $200 LNS gift certificate, concert tickets and LNS swag. Tracy McAdams won second place, and Brandon Holcomb came in third.

This photo shows the contest winner, with short dark hair, glasses and a black t-shirt, eating pizza.
Chad Springs, winner of the Fiery Punishment eating contest (Mikey’s Late Night Slice)

With the Fiery Punishment competition over, slices of the Fiery Death pizza continued to be offered through October 31 at the South 4th Street store. The LNS brand has four additional locations and a food truck in Columbus and one store in Cincinnati.

The Fiery Death pizza murders customers’ precious taste buds, so why does LNS keep offering it? “Well, I’ll be honest. Part of it is because I must be some kind of sadist,” Biundo jokes. “But, also, I’m proud of how this thing has gained a life of its own in the 10-plus years since we first started it. Folks ask about it all year long. When it finally comes around, people travel from all over to feel the burn. I often wind up on the local news and get to watch the newscasters burn live on camera.”

But the pie isn’t as awful as it sounds. “I’m also proud of the fact that even the folks who can take the heat will be sure to compliment the flavor and the quality,” Biundo adds. “I didn’t just create the hottest pizza on Earth. I made sure that, underneath the flames, it was as tasty as anything else we put out there.”

As Biundo told PMQ in 2019, the Fiery Death pizza “was literally created on a dare from one of our Facebook followers.”

This photo shows the Fiery Death pizza topped with various hot peppers
Mikey’s Late Night Slice / Instagram

“It turned out that masochists would come out of the woodwork to meet the challenge or, worse, casually enjoy it somehow. Each time a new ‘hottest pepper on Earth’ was declared, we’d add it to the mix and run the special again. It started with ghosts. Then we added scorpions. Then Carolina reapers. The reapers alone, the hottest in the mix, are about 2 million on the Scoville Scale. To put that into perspective, a jalapeño pepper is somewhere around 4 thousand.”

For the next iteration, Biundo would make the world’s hottest pizza even hotter if he could. “The heat level is about the same as it’s been for five years or so ago, when the reaper pepper took the title as the hottest pepper in the world. Pepper X is out there now, as the hottest. But it’s not commercially available yet. Once I can get my hands on some of those seeds, we’re taking it up a few notches.”