Route 66 has plenty of sites and novelties that capture the interest and imagination of everyone on the road. Texas, which hosts 66 in the panhandle, has it’s fair share: The midpoint café, the U-drop Inn, the Cadillac ranch. But there is one that combines nostalgia, the Texas spirit, and the American Dream.
The Big Texan Steak Ranch.
Off 66 and I-40, the Big Texan Steak Ranch is advertised far and wide on I 40 “Free 72oz Steak” and in very fine print ‘if eaten in 1 hour.”
I have passed the Big Texan several times in my life, and decided to take on the challenge.
You’ll fight the I-40 traffic, and probably loop around once or twice before you’re on the right side of the road. The Steakhouse is huge, hosting a restaurant, bar, arcade, and gift shop. Tourists and travelers alike stop for a picture, a steak, and if they are up for it- a free dinner.
Walking in, you wonder if it’s just a dressed up Texan version of Carolina’s ‘South of the Border.’ But don’t let the lights and signs fool you. The hostess greeted me, and I told her I’d like to try the 72 oz steak.
“Yea, I thought I’d try it out.”
“Okay, take a seat, and we’ll have someone get it ready for you.”
I take a seat at the bar, and the waiter brings me some paperwork.
“Sir, you need to sign a waiver.”
A waiver? How many lives has the steak taken in a delicious protein induced battle. Man vs Steak.
I sign away my rights to put ’72 ounce steak’ as a preexisting condition for my health insurance, and I wait for my steak to be cooked.Usually, I would get my steaks rare, but I was advised to get it medium, because five pounds of rare steak would make the jaw muscles reach muscle failure.
I ask the bartender for a beer.
“Aren’t you trying the steak challenge?”
“Oh you’re right. I’ll have a light beer then.”
Here’s some free advice- If you are attempting a food challenge, don’t drink beer before the challenge.
I get my beer, and a college aged guy takes the seat next to me. He’s from Connecticut and heading to California, 50 bucks to his name, and planned on eating a free steak today.
I explained that it’s a 72 ounce steak.
I said that’s about five pounds.
‘Yea, but I’m hungry.’
I then told him that he needs to also eat a salad, shrimp cocktail, a bun, and a baked potato.
‘Wait, what?! The sign only said the steak! I can’t do all of that!’
Before I could explain the folly of his ways, and how negotiating with Texans over steak challenges is a bad idea, the bartender grabbed my shoulder and said it’s time.
In the middle of the steakhouse, right next to the kitchen, there’s a stage with a table and chairs, and timers set at sixty minutes.
‘Okay Jon, take a seat. Your steak is almost ready.’
He hands me a plastic blue boot. ‘That’s your water.’
He then points at a bucket next to my seat ‘That’s for vomit, just in case.’
I look around me, and I’m surrounded by tourist, ready for a show.
The steak comes out. In my entire life, I have never seen a piece of meat that big, unless it was on a living and breathing cow.
You get one free bite to make sure it is prepared as you order
1. Big Steak. Check.
2. Medium Rare. Check
3. Smells delicious. Check.
4. A bunch of people watching me eat a 72 dollar steak. Check.
I cut a piece off and eat it. It was damn good. Hell, it better be, for the next hour this steak and I are gonna have more contact with each other than a sorority sister at a halloween party.
‘CAN I HAVE YOUR ATTENTION!’ the host yells, bringing the restaurant to nothing more than whispers and the frantic movement of the kitchen. ‘Jon, from New Jersey, is going to attempt the 72 ounce steak challenge. He must complete the meal and all the fixins’ in less than an hour. You are more than welcome to take pictures, but please do not touch Jon or the food, or he will be disqualified. Now let’s give him a round of applause and cheer him on!’
The steakhouse erupted with applause and cheer. People from all over the country and from different corners of the world are enjoying their meals, and now they get to watch some guy from New Jersey attempt to eat five pounds of cow.
My fork and knife in hand
I haven’t ate in 12 hours, I’m so damn hungry’
And I eat.
I start with the steak, and slowly throw in some salad and shrimp. I’m feeling good. I got this. Hell, I’m an American! Eating and taking on challenges I see on billboards is second nature.
I start eating. People come up and take pictures. I smile, cut a huge slab of meat, and throw it in my mouth. Give the people a show.
15 minutes pass, and the salad plate is empty. I’m eaten about 20 ounces of steak and feeling good. Two Japanese college aged women come up to the table. ‘Hey Jon! We’re from New York, and we are rooting for you! We know you can do it!’ I thank the ladies, and wish them the best on their trip across the country. The irony of two Japanese women getting so involved in a food completion is not lost on me at the time.
At 30 minutes, Ive eaten over half of the steak. The shrimp cocktail is gone, and so is the bread. The baked potato is still on the table. And I don’t want to eat it. The steak is still delicious, but at this point my jaw is sore, and my stomach is telling me to be ‘not so American.’
at 40 minutes, each bit is smaller. I take a bite out of the baked potato, just so I can make some headway. But my stomach can’t take anymore, and I really don’t want to use that bucket.
at 46 minutes, I tell the host that i’m done. He’s seen this plenty of times, and instead of pushing me to eat more and blow chunks of beef and fixins’ all over the table, he grabs my steak and weighs it.
He comes back with a T shirt “I tried to eat the 72 ounce steak” with a huge steak and a little cowboy on the front. A great consolation prize.
‘You ate 47 ounces’ he tells me. ‘That’s not half bad. I think the next time you stop buy, you’ll be able to finish it all.’
I tell the host that I had fun, and I’ll be back. As I stand, belt unbuckled and the top button of my jeans undone, I take a bow, and everyone in the steakhouse cheers.
As I walk off stage, I feel oddly American. Sure, overeating is American, steak is American, food challenges are American and religiously followed by Asians. But the idea that some guy can ride up on his motorcycle to a steakhouse and attempt to eat his way to a free meal with a cheering crowd on Route 66? Well, it might not get more American than that.
The next day I was at Cadillac Ranch, and a few bikers stopped me and asked ‘Hey, weren’t you that guy that tried to eat that steak?! How much of it did you eat?!’
I told them 47 ounces, and that I haven’t had a bowel movement yet.
And the guy that I met at the bar that only had 50 bucks to his name from Connecticut? Apparently, he finished the meal in 40 minutes. A free steak. And he got to keep his gas money.
God Bless America.
Address: 7701 Interstate 40 Access Rd, Amarillo, TX 79118
Phone: (806) 372-6000