When traveling towards Amarillo, TX, as you get closer you will notice the abundance of billboards advertising a “free” 72 oz steak or a 72 oz Steak Challenge at a restaurant within the town. As the town is best known for, these billboards belong to The Big Texan Steak Ranch & Brewery located at 7701 I-40 East, Amarillo, TX 79118.
The Big Texan Steak Ranch & Brewery was founded and established in 1960 by R. J. Lee. It was originally on Route 66 in the building of what used to be Underwood’s Bar-B-Q. Lee had hopes of opening an eye-catching and memorable scene for travelers along America’s Mother Road to see. This dream came into fruition when Lee opened his steakhouse featuring a subversive experience in western cowboy culture. As visitors would arrive on scene, they could expect to be welcomed by riders on horseback.
While there aren’t regularly real-live horses and riders at The Big Texan today, you can still visit to see a good amount of the authentic pieces that decorated the walls of the original building. After Route 66 had been bypassed by the 1970s, The Big Texan opened up shop at the place it sits today. This was also after Mr. Lee decided to purchase a 7 acre plot of land along what is now Interstate 40 and open up a bar, which would soon become The Big Texan.
With the steakhouse being in high demand, the new building featured a banquet hall with a capacity of 300 and a gift shop. The musicians who would walk about the premises playing for patrons made it feel as if it was the same as before. Unfortunately, Mr. Lee suffered a major loss when a fire broke out in the newly constructed building only five short years later. That banquet hall came in handy when it didn’t succumb to the flames and was used as the main hall while the building underwent even more construction.
The Big Texan was a major hit. Travelers from all over would make sure to stop for the experience. While the overall theme and feel of the restaurant was probably more than enough to attract all these different people, The Big Texan can probably attribute most of its fame to The 72 oz Steak Challenge. Not only did celebrities like Klondike Bill, a famous wrestler in the 60s and 70s, come to the steakhouse to complete the challenge, but he ate two full dinners within the time allotted. Contestants who choose to take on this challenge must fully consume a meal consisting of a baked potato, a shrimp cocktail, a salad, a dinner roll, and a giant heap of 72 oz worth of steak cooked to your liking.
Many have taken on this challenge and many have failed. With a success rate of 12%, it’s no surprise that eating more than one of these full meals would be difficult, but in 2016 a housewife by the name of Molly Schuyler gleefully ate not one, not two, but three of these complete dinners in under 20 minutes. The 128 pound woman was willing to eat a fourth, but the owners Bobby and Danny Lee, sons of R. J. Lee, thought it would be a poor decision on their part to allow it so they brought her to a halt. For reference, it took Adam Richman, host of the TV show “Man vs Food”, 25 minutes to finish one back in 2008.
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Map from The Big Texan Steak Ranch & Brewery to Lighthouse Funeral and Cremation Services
Map from The Big Texan Steak Ranch & Brewery to Amarillo Dragway