If your appetite is circus-sized, you likely already know about The Big Texan, where steaks max out at seventy-two ounces. That’s right: a four and a half pound hunk of grilled sirloin, accompanied by a salad, baked potato, and dinner roll. If you can clean your plate of everything but fat and gristle within one hour, you get your meal for free. Plus, you get your name inscribed on The Big Texan Honor Roll along with the several thousand carnivores who have successfully ingested the large hunk of beef since the free-meal offer began in 1960. In April, 2015, a woman named Molly Schuyler of Bellevue, Nebraska, set a record by polishing off three entire dinners in less than 20 minutes. (Ms. Schuyler, who weighs 124 pounds, has also eaten 363 wings in 30 minutes. A Siberian tiger once ate the steak in 90 seconds.) If you do take the challenge but cannot finish it all, you pay $72 for the dinner.
A while back we arrived in Amarillo ready to eat meat. The waitress explained that anyone who picks up the seventy-two-ounce gauntlet must sit at a table on a stage in the center of the restaurant, where an illuminated scoreboard clock counts down the minutes. As you eat, you are scrutinized by the management, which makes sure you don’t share the meal and that you consume every bite except the inedible parts (of which the restaurant staff are the final arbiters). Daunted by the prospect of becoming a floor show, we demurred and ordered a mere eighteen-ounce Lone Star sirloin, a twenty-two ounce T-bone, and a slab of prime rib with a cup of “au jus,” which the waitress referred to as “Oh, Jaws Sauce”! The meat was preceded by an order of “Texas hors d’oeuvres” that included rattlesnake chunks, calf fries (testicles), buffalo meatballs, and Texas caviar (black-eyed peas).
Despite the patent goofiness of this place, the steaks are quite delicious, and we’ll return to The Big Texan any time we’re traveling through the panhandle and feeling in need of a red-meat protein fix. It is a big barn of a restaurant where beer is sold by the bucket (but there’s a four-drink limit just to keep the dining room civil), and where you can wile away the time by having a picture of yourself taken next to a stuffed bear or browse a gift shop that sells everything from steak seasoning to mounted Longhorns and Route 66 souvenirs.
As many times as we have passed through Amarillo we have never stopped at The Big Texan, although we have poked fun at it over the years. This place is noted for being the home of the 72-ounce steak, which is yours free if you can eat it in one hour. On this trip, we were approaching The Big Texan just about lunch time and decided to give it a try. The dining room is huge and has a place reserved, front and center, for those attempting the 72-ounce steak challenge. No one was giving it a go while we there.
Kay ordered the chicken fried steak, which is good. The meat is tender and the gravy flavorful and light. Our salads were good, with fresh ingredients and a decent dressing. Whenever I get near the South, I am always tempted by catfish if it is on the menu. This is a time when I should have resisted that siren call. I ordered the catfish fillets and thought them almost as good as Mrs. Paul’s fish sticks. It was undoubtedly a mistake not to order what the place is known for–steak.
Even so, this place is a kick and very hospitable to those traveling with children. Little buckaroos get straw cowboy hats. It’s a bit like the boardwalk–shooting gallery and candy counter–all under one roof.