Amarillo’s iconic restaurant.
The huge yellow venue serves up a touristy ambiance, a notorious eating challenge, generous portions, and jovial good times—plus an on-site brewery that earns serious cred.
By Hope S. Philbrick
If you need proof that women have more self-awareness than men, look to The Big Texan.
The iconic restaurant of Amarillo, Texas is renowned for its long-standing challenge: Eat a 72-ounce steak meal in an hour or less and it’s free. A whole lot of food, the meal includes the big slab of beef as well as a shrimp cocktail, baked potato, salad, and roll with butter. (Winners must abide by established rules.)
Most folks snicker or gasp as they walk past an on-ice display of the offer on their way to the dining room where they’ll order more manageable servings. But an average of six people accept the challenge every day.
“We’ve had 130,000 attempts since 1960,” says Bobby Lee, who co-owns The Big Texan with his brother Danny. A total of 11,000 people have won; which comes out to about 8.5 percent.
When someone climbs the stage and sits down to eat, “you never know who is going to be able to do it,” says Bobby, though after all these years he can generally tell about 20 minutes into the challenge which way it will go. “Those who will fail turn a certain shade of green,” he laughs.
Here’s the kicker: Of those who attempt to win the eating challenge, only one in six men are able to do it, while half of all women who attempt the same challenge do win.
What’s more, a woman is the current record-holder: Molly Schuyler, who herself weighs 120 pounds, ate not one but three 72-ounce steak meals within 20 minutes on Sunday, April 19, 2015, setting a new world record.
The Big Texan stats seem to indicate that women know their own guts better than men.
But even folks with tiny appetites are welcome here.
“We feed half a million people a year,” says Bobby. “We have some second and third generation customers.” Dining at The Big Texan is a tradition as well as a convenient stop for road trippers.
“My dad started the restaurant in 1960,” says Bobby. “He had eight kids to feed.” The restaurant was first located on Route 66; when that route was officially closed in 1968, the restaurant was moved to its current spot off I-40 East in order to continue to lure drive-by traffic. It’s currently off Exit 74, but plans are underway to move a few miles along the interstate to an even more convenient exit within the next few years.
Bobby and Danny have retained much of what their father started, including the 72-ounce steak challenge. Dining at The Big Texan is “about the experience,” says Bobby. “Food, fun and crazy things. We put a lot into showmanship. It’s big and gaudy. For a lot of people, this is their only chance to see Texas. The restaurant was originally located near stockyards and cowboys gave the place its persona.”
The place does live up to Texas’ “bigger is better” reputation.
“We’re in the entertainment business,” says Bobby, pointing to the live musical performers, arcade games, shooting gallery, gift shop, rattle snake display, and other surprises. “But we take our food and service seriously. We age our beef, cut our own steaks, grind our own burger, and make everything from scratch.” Best-sellers include filets and ribeye. But don’t overlook the ribs; the recipe has been recently updated and, in a word, wow.
One change the brothers introduced to The Big Texan is its on-site brewery, which opened June 24, 2011. Draft magazine has dubbed it “one of the top ten places in the world to have a beer.”
“When we’re going full blast we make 2,000 gallons a month,” says brew master Tom Money, who got his start as a home brewer and today works in a small but colorful space. The beer menu changes seasonally (plus availability may vary with demand), but typically 12 different types of beer are available at any given time as the aim is to please varied palates. Standards include Pecan Porter, Rattlesnake IPA, Whoop Your Donkey Double IPA and Whiskey Barrel Stout.
In addition to ordering a beer with your meal or sipping one at the bar, growlers are sold on-site, a boon for locals: “As of now there are no other breweries within a 120-mile radius,” says Money.
With so many food and drink options on the bar and dining room menus, there’s no reason to leave hungry or thirsty.
“We know how to eat good,” says Danny.
True. But these Texans also know how to have fun, create memories, build business, and make even a first-time visitor feel like a member of the family.
A live webcam keeps an eye on the challengers’ table; click on over to see if anyone is making an attempt.
Watch Molly Schuyler set the world record on Sunday, April 19, 2015.
Get a free round-trip limo ride to the restaurant from any hotel, motel or RV Park in Amarillo. Call 806-342-LIMO.
The Big Texan is open 365 days a year from 7 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Odds of Encountering Children: Inevitable; head to the beer garden if you want the highest concentration of adults.
The Big Texan
7701 E. I-40
Amarillo TX 79118
– Photos © HSP Media LLC; brochure courtesy The Big Texan
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