Background Anastomotic leak is an important cause of morbidity and mortality after esophagectomy. Few studies have targeted risk factors for the development of leak after esophagectomy. The purpose of this study is to use The Society of Thoracic Surgeons Database to identify variables associated with leak after esophagectomy. Methods The Society of Thoracic Surgeons Database was queried for patients treated with esophagectomy for esophageal cancer between 2001 and 2011. Univariate and multivariate analysis of variables associated with an increased risk anastomotic leak was performed. Results There were 7,595 esophagectomies, with 804 (10.6%) leaks. Thirty-day mortality and length of stay were higher for patients with anastomotic leak. Mortality in patients requiring surgical management was 11.6% (38 of 327) compared with 4.4% (20 of 458) in medically managed leaks (p < 0.001). The leak rate was higher in patients with cervical anastomosis compared with those with intrathoracic anastomoses, 12.3% versus 9.3%, respectively (p = 0.006). There was no difference in leak-associated mortality between the two approaches. Factors associated with leak on univariate analysis include obesity, heart failure, coronary disease, vascular disease, hypertension, steroids, diabetes, renal insufficiency, tobacco use, procedure duration greater than 5 hours, and type of procedure (p < 0.05). Multivariable regression analysis associated heart failure, hypertension, renal insufficiency, and type of procedure as risk factors for the development of leak (p < 0.05). Conclusions Anastomotic leak after esophagectomy is an important cause of postoperative mortality and increased length of stay. We have identified important risk factors for the development of esophageal anastomotic leak after esophagectomy. Further studies aimed at risk reduction are warranted. © 2013 by The Society of Thoracic Surgeons.