How to Eat Fire

What you'll need:

  • Metal rod
  • Cotton
  • Lighter fluid
  • Matches
  • Willingness to insert flaming object into mouth
  1. Acquire the appropriate equipment. Turner and her friends would make their own fire sticks by wrapping wire hangers with cotton strands cut from a mop, but she recommends buying professional equipment at a juggling store, for safety reasons.
  2. Prepare the wick. First, dip the cotton into the lighter fluid. Then, shake to remove the excess. Turner emphasized the importance of getting rid of drips: you don't want lighter fluid dripping into your mouth.
  3. Light the wick and be prepared to move quickly. Turner advises executing the trick with care and speed to avoid getting burned. She says she and her friends never hurt themselves when working with fire, and that she never burned her mouth more than you might from eating a bowl of hot soup.
  4. Follow the physics of flame. "The strategy for eating fire is all centered around the simple scientific fact that fire burns upward," explains Turner. Tilt your head straight back, with your mouth pointing up.
  5. Lower the fire stick into your mouth while exhaling continuously (to avoid inhaling the flames). Don't let the fire touch any part of your body. Close your lips around the stick to seal off the air. Without air, the fire will go out. "Once you know how easy it is, it's sort of anti-climactic," Turner says. But that doesn't stop it from looking cool.
  6. Add dramatic effects. Though there are only a few seconds to work with the flame, it is possible to do tricks, such as letting the flame grow by re-opening the mouth briefly before closing it a final time. Now that Turner is working toward a master's degree in social science at the University of Chicago, she doesn't get much time to practice her fire tricks, though she says it was a thrilling hobby. "We felt like we were being slightly transgressive. We felt like we were cheating people because it was actually really easy, but got quite a level of reaction from spectators," she says.

Alexis Turner '01
Graduate student
Chicago, Illinois

As an undergraduate Alexis Turner '01 had several friends who practiced circus arts, including clowning, juggling, unicycle riding, sword swallowing, and fire eating. Turner was impressed by the fire performances and decided to learn, practicing behind Morrill House with her friends.

How to eat fire