Steak, corn, bread, salad. Just what the doctor ordered the day we rolled into Amarillo on our Route 66 road trip. You’ve seen the Big Texan Steakhouse on the Food Network, right? Man vs. Food. Or in travel books… “Home Of The Free 72 Oz. Steak!” We watched anxiously for signs of it off the interstate as we drove…
Quintessential Route 66. Fifty years old. Originally built on the real route, but when the interstate came through and business faltered, they up and moved it right back to the edge of traffic. You cannot miss it. Billboards won’t let you. The giant steer and mammoth cowboy boot beckon. And the sign is bigger than all get-out. Everything in Texas is big, but this place is hilariously big. And fun. And tasty. And accommodating. Owner, Bobby Lee, hung out with us – MUCH to the joy of Larry who, for decades, has used the Big Texan Steakhouse as a successful case study in marketing and advertising courses he’s taught at USC, CSUN, Pepperdine as well as seminars he’s conducted as far as Asia. Everybody loves the story.
This was the numero-uno stop on Larry’s Route 66 wish list. He couldn’t WAIT to ask Bobby (son of restaurant founder, Bob Lee) a zillion questions from promotions to outdoor boards to All Things Marketing. “We are in the carnival business,” Bobby told him. “The entertainment business. Best part of my job is not having a box around me. We can do any crazy thing we think of. And cowboys never go out of fashion.”
Bobby Lee is a natural marketer, comfortable and unassuming with a great eye for promotion. He knows what makes people feel good. He told us his brother, Danny, is the behind-the-scenes “geek,” a genius at meat procurement and computer smarts. The webcam pointed 24/7 at the steak-eating competition stage, Danny’s idea (go to the website to see it, so brilliant).
But I had my own set of questions. Food questions. Steak questions. My brain was shouting, “Shut UP, LARRY,” and I probably said something aloud to that effect judging by the Stink Eye Larry gave me. Oh well, we get over such bumps quickly in our marriage.
How did the place find it’s rhythm? It started with real cowboys and hearty chow. The restaurant was situated next to stockyards and good ol’ boys would come for dinner, big and dirty and famished. Route 66 was also traveled by hungry tourists who like steak. And it turned out, they REALLY liked to watch Real Cowboys eat. Daddy Bob, a visionary promoter, decided to make a BIGGER deal out of watching those boys eat. He introduced the challenge: eat an entire 72 ounce steak and side dishes within 60 minutes, it’s FREE. Yeee Haaa! To this day, the challenge endures, a real publicity machine. Eaters DO succeed… not often, but often enough to make it real for thousands over the years.
But I wanted to interview Bobby about steak. He was incredibly accommodating, despite being sleep-deprived from the previous night’s long drive back from another engagement, late, his teenaged boys did NOT stay awake as he drove, equally stressful watching out for deer on the road. Here, in a nutshell, is Bobby’s steak strategy:
- Just buy rib eye. Easiest choice to remember.
- The older the meat, the better. Aging makes it delicious.
- Don’t buy at a grocery store, go to a butcher.
- Grill on an open flame, low heat.
- Don’t mash it on the grill, that squeezes out the juices.
- Don’t puncture it with a fork. Use tongs.
- Don’t burn the damn thing.
- Cook it medium rare.
- No need to let it rest. “You want to eat it HOT.” Yessir, Bobby.
DON’T MISS this on a Route 66 Road Trip. When you arrive, any time of the day, I still recommend you eat a steak like we did at 3 in the afternoon.
The Big Texan Steakhouse, open 365 days a year, 7 AM to 10:30 PM, www.BigTexan.com