It’s not just prairie oysters in scarce supply on the menu, though.
Salad is nowhere to be seen.
In Texas, meat reigns supreme. And I don’t mean the average-sized steak you would expect in a London pub.
There’s a saying the locals are proud of: “We do it bigger in Texas”. When it comes to steak, they’re bang on the money.
Topping the menu at Indian Cliffs Ranch is the cowboy steak — a prime two pounds (almost 1kg) of blood-red tender beef.
I like a juicy slab of steak as much as the next bloke, but my stomach starts to churn at the thought of trying to digest that much flesh, especially as my ‘starter’ of fire-grilled spicy sausage and beef brisket (tender slow-roasted beef) was enough to feed a family.
Not far behind the cowboy steak (in terms of sheer volume and ability to inspire awe) is the cowgirl — 1½ pounds (almost 700g) of T-bone that even Homer Simpson would struggle to finish.
Rounding out the menu are, yep, you guessed it, more steaks: the 10oz (280g) rib eye; a sirloin; a New York cut; and — the one I opt for, which turns out to be quite possibly the best steak I’ve ever eaten — a 10oz filet mignon you really could cut with a butter knife.
“There’s a significant portion of Texans who think high-class dining means steak,” my tour guide, Mike Davidson, tells me over dinner.
He’s been a guide in these parts most of his life — and loves meat and a good barbecue as much as the next Texan. “If you live in west Texas, every public event — wedding, meeting, conference, you name it — serves barbecue,” he says.
After that first prize steak in El Paso, I decide my usual salmon-and-salad diet is on hold. Instead, I’m on a quest to find the best steak in Texas.
The next day brings highway solitude as we head through the desert vastness from El Paso to the ranching and artistic commune of Marfa.
Lunch is at the Adobe Moon BBQ, where the only options on the menu are beef brisket, sausage, pork spareribs or whole roast chicken.
My bowels rumble — I’m not sure whether in fear of more meat, or anticipation.
I opt for half a chicken and a serving of brisket.
By the end of a week spent road tripping through America’s second largest state — with stops for quad biking among giant cacti in the Chisos Mountains, rafting down the Rio Grande river, hiking in the spectacular Big Bend National Park and rounding up cattle City Slickers-style — I’ve eaten pepper-crusted elk medallions, buffalo rib eye rubbed in spices, and glazed quail at the swanky cowboy-themed Gage Hotel in Marathon.
I’ve managed to stomach beef tenderloin — with seconds (the chef insisted!) — at Cibolo Creek Ranch near Marfa, followed by waffles with slabs of bacon back for breakfast the next morning.
And I’ve indulged in a dozen more meals that would make most dietitians break out in a cold sweat.
A week after arriving back in the UK I got an email from my travel buddy: “I’ve been looking at my stomach every morning since returning from Texas, and I’m glad to report I no longer appear to be in the early stages of pregnancy,” he wrote.
“That said, soup and salad don’t quite have the same impact as a medium-rare 18oz cowboy steak in a restaurant in the dusty Texas plains.”
And he was right.
My usual salmon and salad just didn’t have the same attraction.
A slab of prime Texan beef, on the other hand, sounded damn delicious — though minus the prairie oysters, of course.
» Trevor Paddenburg travelled with Texas Tourism (020-7978 5233; www.traveltex.com). For more information on Big Bend Country visit www.visitbigbend.com.
Eat like a local
Burgers and fast food might be the US stereotype, but most states have their own signature dish.
The chicken-fried steak is an institution in Houston, Texas. It’s a flattened beef steak dipped in batter, deep fried, then drowned in white gravy.
You can’t beat a New York-style wood-fired pizza from under Brooklyn Bridge.
The rocky coast yields loads of seafood. The most popular dish is clams — steamed, fried or uncooked, which are served at ‘raw bars’.
Cajun flavours rule supreme. Don’t miss out on gumbo (shellfish stew) or jambalaya, a delicious rice dish with shrimp.
Southern cooking is all about the barbecue. Slow roasted and rubbed with spices, the meat of choice in North Carolina is pulled pork. Sensational (in small doses)!
Seattle is the home of Starbucks and you’ll find one on every street corner. Oysters and wild king salmon are also specialities here.
Restaurants serving eggs,tacos and enchiladas drowned in spicy red and green chilli sauces are a dime a dozen here.
The best of texas
It’s a super-sized state so start planning now to fit everything in.
City Slicker style
Go on a horse-back cattle drive on the outskirts of El Paso, Texas’ Mexican border town, at the Rio Grande Valley Ranch.
Quad bike past disused mine shafts in the desert around Terlingua, a town of free thinkers, frontiersmen and refugees from modern society who have set up shop in a remote part of the US.
In the night sky
Get up close with buffalo on the sprawling 30,000-acre Cibolo Creek Ranch near Marfa, then go star gazing under the crystal-clear night skies.
Tackle the Rio Grande river — with Mexico on one bank and US on the other — and raft through Santa Elena Canyon with the Far Flung Outdoor Centre in Terlingua.
A trek on the wild side
Big Bend National Park is home to amazing scenery and offers hikers some of the most spectacular and desolate trails in Texas. The ‘Lost Mine trail’ in the Chisos Mountains is worth ticking off.
Boozing with cowboys
Hit the booze in downtown Alpine with its classic bars packed with cowboys and thick Texan accents.
The music capital of Texas, Austin’s nightlife is the stuff of legends … and hangovers.
This railroad town turned artistic enclave is famous for the Marfa Lights — unexplained lights which appear on the horizon at dusk.
If you can forget about meat for two seconds, a quick look over the landscape reveals loads of cacti and agave plants — and they’re useful for a lot more than making tequila, the locals’ favourite drop.
The pads and fruit of this cactus are diced, sauteed and cooked with eggs. The bulbous purple fruit is also used for jam, wine and margarita mix.
This plant is top notch when it comes to making quality tequila.
A hallucinogenic found in the south Texas desert, traditionally used by native American Indians and college kids looking for a hell of a high.
Avoid the sharp spines to pick the delicious fruits that taste like tart strawberries.
This cactus is boiled to extract its wax, which is used to make cosmetics as well as chocolates like M&Ms — it’s the candelilla that makes them ‘melt in your mouth, not in your hand’.
Crush the leaves of this bush and rub on a cut to coagulate the blood. Handy with so many spiky cacti around!