Since its inception during the height of Greek civilization, the Olympic games give witness to athletic feats by incomparable contenders. Now the winter Olympics in Seoul are fully underway with every participating country cheering the race for Olympic gold.   

While not everyone has the athletic prowess to be an Olympic athlete, we do all eat.

In keeping with the Olympic tradition of spectacle as sport, we want to touch base on food challenges.  The culinary equivalent of athletes consuming olympic sized meals and monstrous feats at times in front of a crowd.  A hungry, maniacal crowd.

And what better food to challenge us than steak?

The Big Texan

The Big Texan Steak Ranch and Brewery in Amarillo, Texas is a steakhouse and tourist stop along interstate 40 on a historic leg of old Route 66.

It is also the home of one of the earliest known food challenges in the United States.  

Big Texan History

The Big Texan traces its origin back to 1960 as a one-stop destination for truckers and stockyard workers to cash their checks, eat a filling meal and indulge in an ice-cold beer.  

A historical look back at Amarillo's The Big Texan Restaurant with old cars and the big sign.
Photo - The Big Texan

One evening in 1962, founder RJ “Bob” Lee decided to pull some tables together in the center of the restaurant.  He was offering all-you-can-eat 1-pound steaks for just $5 a person.  Whoever could eat the most would win the entire entry fee bank.  Buzz quickly began to stir.

After one young worker consumed four and a half of these one pound steaks, a baked potato, shrimp cocktail and  roll in an hour, the legend was born.  From that day forward, anybody driving along what is now interstate 40 will see the giant sign advertising a “Free 72oz steak!” for those willing to take the challenge.  And finishing it in under an hour.

The 72oz Challenge

Inside The Big Texan - Photo: Billy Watson

Food challenges allow participants to take part in culinary contests well beyond the consumption of an ordinary meal.  

Some include eating hellishly spicy food, overly sweet desserts or more commonly a monstrous plate of food within an allotted time.  Such food challenges have been made famous on television shows like Man V. Food and some restaurants have become infamous for their lofty food challenges.

Of course, the 72 ounce Big Texan challenge has attracted many wishing to best the beast for the free meal and bragging rights.  

On record, The Big Texan notes that only one out of every six challengers can complete the task in under an hour. The remaining five must fork up the hefty $72 for the dinner.  Many athletes and competitive eaters have conquered the challenge in half the time!

BUT, before packing your bags and making the trek this Texas institution,is it worth it? Is the hype backed by quality food and good service?.  

The good news is we can tell you confidently that The Big Texan is more than worth your time.

So, how does it break down?

The Food

The first thing you need to know is that The Big Texan is a steakhouse.  Don’t let that deter you.  For those who do not like red meat, there are options for chicken, shrimp and salmon.  

To best start your meal, we HIGHLY recommend an order of the “Howlers” for $9.  These are freshly sliced jalapenos (seeds intact) breaded and deep fried.  The portion size is big enough share , and it should be noted that since these jalapeno slices are fresh, they are very spicy.  

Also take a careful note that if you are a seafood fan and are eyeing the “oysters” as an appetizer, you might want to reconsider.  The notorious Rocky Mountain Oysters” aren’t what you think.

The Steaks

The Big Texan takes tremendous pride in the steaks they cook; they are a labor of love.  

Each steak is dry aged and cooked to order making the wait a little longer than at regular chain restaurants.  The wait flies by thanks to the older guitarist roaming the dining area, guitar in hand, ready to sing any song you request.  Before long the steaks will be hot and ready at the table.

There’s an almost overwhelming number of steaks to choose from, ranging from petite sirloins to the olympic 72-ounce Big Texan.  

Even though our stomachs would not allow us to consume a 20-ounce steak on most days, we couldn’t help but notice the homage to Man V. Food on the menu.  It was a complete steak dinner and we opted for it.  

Eighteen ounces of steak at the Big Texan
Eighteen ounces of steak -
Photo: Billy Watson

The meal includes an 18-ounce boneless ribeye, a side salad, three shrimp, a baked potato and a roll.  The meal is only 25% of the Big Texan 72-ounce challenge and costs a quarter of the price as well, a bargain at $27.  

This is our recommendation for a hearty appetite.  If that seems too daunting, any of the smaller cuts are a good choice..

How was the steak?  It was enormous.  

So large it’s served on a separate plate accompanied by a whole jalapeno, blistered in the oven, with the sides pushed to their own plates.  The steak was as thick as a phone book.  Fears of a leathery hunk of meat are quickly dismissed thanks to the care taken during preparation.  The steak was incredibly tender and cooked perfectly.  

A word of advice: don't fear the fat.  Cut around it instead and leave the juices behind which enhance the meat with more flavor.

Even though we were offered dessert, our stomachs bulged with a small food baby and had to refuse.

Howlers. Fried jalapeno appetizer. Photo - The Big Texan

The Cost

Now that your mouth is watering, the question in the back of your mind is surely, “How much does it cost?”  

The Big Texan is a family owned and operated restaurant that takes great pride in serving high quality cuts of meat and made from scratch sides..  With that said, the prices are reflective of what you would expect at a mid-range steakhouse.  Everything together (appetizer, entrée, drink and tip), our meal at The Big Texan came under $45.  

It’s not the most affordable meal you will find but compared to similar steakhouse fare the Big Texan offers more with its history and atmosphere than anywhere else.  Plus, where else can you stare down a 72-ounce olympic sized steak and live to tell about it?

Have you or a friend tried The Big Texan 72oz steak challenge?  Tell us the story in the comments below!   

The Big Texan in Amarillo is open daily 7:30 am to 10:30 pm.  A limo service is available free of charge for patrons staying at nearby hotels. A reservation is required to use the limo service.  Seventy-two ounces of Texas steak?  We dare you.