Texas is full of legends — larger-than-life stories about people who accomplished unusual challenges. So it’s not surprising that you can find a challenge to eat 72 ounces worth of steak (and the sides that come with it) or that there’s a great story behind how the challenge got started. The Big Texan Steak Ranch opened in its original Route 66 location in Amarillo in 1960. The story goes that founder Bob (RJ) Lee noticed how many cowboys were coming in from nearby stockyards, especially on Friday nights after they got paid.
The cowboys were friendly competitors during these dinners, trying to out do each other with how much they could eat. So one Friday night in 1962 Lee pulled tables together and sat all the cowboys there and gave them this challenge: Who could eat the most one pound steaks in an hour? The cowboys had to pony up $5 to enter the challenge, but whoever won got to keep the whole entry fee.
And this is where the legend comes in. According to The Big Texan:
“One of the eaters took the lead by swallowing two steaks in ten minutes. Next, he politely requested a salad and a shrimp cocktail be served with his third steak. He consumed the extras, then this soft spoken giant called for his fourth steak and asked for a baked potato and a bread roll. He wasted little time on devouring those items and called for his fifth steak.”
At the end of the hour, this cowboy had eaten 72 ounces of steak plus all the sides. Clearly the winner, Bob Lee not only awarded him the prize money, but also declared that anyone else who could eat that whole steak dinner in the same amount of time would get it for free.
The 72-ounce steak challenge still stands at The Big Texan Steak Ranch, now co-owned by Bobby and Danny Lee and located in Amarillo on I-40 where it cuts through the panhandle of Texas.
You can find the Hall of Fame listing the people who ate the whole thing. (And read the comments for gems like: “Bring me a strawberry short cake. (He ate that too)” and “He then ordered a piece of pie & a Lone Star Longneck.”
The 72 oz steak has been featured on The Travel Channel’s Man vs Food, where host Adam Richman completed the challenge. And in 2015, competitive eater Molly Schuyler ate three of the entire meals in 20 minutes, demolishing the challenge. She finished the first meal in 4 minutes, 18 seconds.
The Big Texan, which was named the #1 Steakhouse in Texas by the Texas Country Reporter in 2013, opened the Big Texan Brewery in 2011 featuring beers like Texas Red Amber Ale, Pecan Porter, and Rattlesnake IPA. There’s also The Big Texan Motel with a Texas-shaped swimming pool next to The Big Texan Steak Ranch, where you can stay in Old West style.