You might think that it’s a cliché that everything’s bigger in Texas, but whoever came up with the slogan probably got their inspiration at the Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo. The “big” in Big Texan refers to their infamous 72-ounce (2.2 kg) steak, the biggest in Texas and, who knows, maybe the rest of the country — and one of the ‘biggest’ reasons visitors travel to the western ranch.
The Big Texan Steak Ranch was the creation of a man who just couldn’t find a decent place to eat. Bob Lee craved a steak dinner when he came to Amarillo in 1959. Apparently, it was a really large craving to result in the creation of a six-pound dinner, but, nonetheless, it was a craving that he just couldn’t satisfy.
Lee thought that if he was living in the midst of a land known for raising cattle he should be able to find a decent steak dinner in an authentic western setting. Unfortunately, there was no such restaurant. So Lee opened his own. He called it the Big Texan and, perhaps in a way of righting the injustice, offered the biggest steak in Texas.
But how did Lee decide that the steak should be 72 ounces? He found a cowboy with a torrential appetite, fed him until he was full, and calculated how much he had eaten, which was exactly 72 ounces. Lee began a promotional campaign that offered the steak meal for free to anybody who could eat it in an hour. The promotion continues to this day, but nowadays, you’ve got to be able to put away more than just a huge steak. To earn the free meal, contestants must eat the entire 72-ounce steak, plus a shrimp cocktail, baked potato, salad and dinner roll.
Make no mistake about it; this is truly a contest that is taken seriously. The mere mortals with monstrous appetites who attempt the challenge are sat at a table on an elevated platform in the middle of the restaurant. A large timer behind them counts down the minutes and seconds they have to complete their meal while an emcee often provides commentary.
Dining guests are even able to come up and speak with the contestant during his meal, but they might get more than they bargained for. In an effort to force down an incredible amount of food, many of the diners end up getting visibly sick.
How many people have eyes much bigger than their stomachs? Over 56,000 people have attempted the meal, but only 14 percent — roughly 7,800 people — have ever walked away with a coveted T-shirt proclaiming that they ate the monster dinner in under an hour. Only a handful of women try each year, but half of them are successful.
The youngest successful diner was an 11-year-old boy, while the oldest was a spunky 69-year-old grandmother. What about the people who don’t rise to the challenge? Well, they still have to pay for their US$ 52 meal and they’ll likely feel very ill for a while.
Though the restaurant is primarily known for its mega-steak, it does have much more to offer its patrons who have a little more common sense. Lauded with awards from restaurant associations and the Texas Beef Council, the Big Texan has a large menu of traditional Texan offerings and some untraditional ones, such as an appetizer of Diamondback Rattlesnake. Diners are even serenaded each night by the Big Texan House Band.
The restaurant, bursting at the seams with decorations of animal heads and cowboy paraphernalia, also offers a Cowboy Poet’s breakfast, a Campfire Breakfast program with Native American history lessons, and the Big Texan Opry, modeled after the weekly Saturday night country music radio program that broadcasts live in Nashville, Tennessee. The Amarillo version showcases amateurs from the surrounding five U.S. states with talents in country-western, gospel music and country dancing.
Whether or not you try your hand at the super-sized steak, you’ll be glad to have a place to lay your head after a heavy Texas meal. The Big Texan has thought of that, too, and created a motel adjacent to the restaurant that resembles a main street in an Old West town. Fifty-four rooms are decorated in a western theme, with swinging parlor doors, western murals and even bed linens that carry on the theme.
Specialty rooms have Texas-size beds, of course, and Jacuzzi tubs. For the truly amorous in Amarillo, the Honeymoon Suite is complete with furniture and a bed made of antlers and twisted branches. During the sweltering summer months, the Texas-shaped swimming pool is mighty popular with all guests.
After a visit to the Big Texan Steak Ranch, you’ll leave a firm believer that, as far as steak is concerned, it is bigger and better in Texas.
If You Go
Big Texan Steak Ranch