Fancy getting your chops around a big, juicy piece of rump for free? Or do you lack the balls to give it a try? As KIM SMITH reports, you can find both in Texas.

It’s the biggest steak in Texas and it’s free, exclaims one billboard after another along Interstate 40 in Amarillo, Texas. Even those, like myself, who don’t go barmy over a juicy rump, would be intrigued by this offering of free food. After asking around about the restaurant offering the deal – The Big Texan – I discover it isn’t your stock-standard food joint. It’s legendary. As well-known as Monica Lewinsky’s affair with Bill Clinton and possibly just as savage.

But, if you want your steak for free at the Old West-inspired steak ranch you’ve really got to work for it and be quite ravenous. You see the catch is this: you must demolish the steak in one hour – and I’m talking 72 ounces (two kilograms) of prime Texas beef with a side of a shrimp cocktail salad, baked potato and dinner roll. If you pull up short, which is likely – of the 37,000 people who have tried about 7000 have succeeded – you have to pay as much in American dollars as the steak is in ounces, for the privilege of trying.

As with most cuffo offerings, there is more than one catch. In taking on the challenge, you become a source of entertainment for fellow diners as the rules stipulate you must be prepared to stuff your face on an elevated stage, set up at the front of the restaurant. If you get sick, the contest is over and the judges hold the gavel to what is fat and gristle, hence what is edible or not. On the bright side, you can order the steak to be cooked any way you want and sample it, before you say game on.

So, if you own an appetite that often leads to declarations of being so hungry you could eat a cow, this is the place to put your money where your mouth is. It’s also the very notion expressed by a starving cowboy, when he walked into the restaurant in 1960 and what got Big Texan founder RJ Lee brain’s ticking. When Lee overheard the cowboy’s prevision, he decided to see just how hungry the fellow was by providing him with an offer of all the steak he could eat. He managed 62 ounces, so Lee added another ten to the mix and the invite of a free feed if you could knock it over in the hour, was born.

While I was there – struggling to put away a modest ten ounces – three American steak-lovers took to the stage. In between my dainty bites, I approached their wolf down to inspect their progress.

Don’t ask me why I am doing this,” a healthy-looking lad from California said.

“Why are you doing this?”

“Because he’s doing it [pointing to his friend munching next to him] and we were dared.”

Behind them, a red digital clock is counting down and a constant stream of food is being churned out from the open grill.

After half an hour, no man looks to be in a position to clear his plate and one of them puts his cutlery down in defeat. It’s hard to believe Frank Pastore, a professional pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds, cracked through it in nine and a half minutes in 1987.

When the final siren sounds, the remaining two still haven’t finished their dinner, but have made impressive dents nonetheless and receive a round of applause. Good on them for having the balls to give it a go.

Speaking of bollocks, I unknowingly ate a couple while I was at this very restaurant. When my friendly Texan guide Jutta ordered a couple of serves of ‘calf fries’ for the table, I thought nothing of it – or their origin. Mid-bite through my third ‘chicken wing’ when I was told they were calf’s testicles, I nearly upchucked. Needless to say, I put the balls down and moved them as far away as possible. It was a balls-up that left me feeling very ill and unable to comment when those around me asked if I enjoyed them prior to knowing what they were, aka the horrifying truth.

They are an American delicacy,” Jutta said.

After taking a closer look at the menu, I discovered that ‘calf fries’ are also known as ‘mountain oysters’ and their description “if you think it’s seafood, go with the shrimp” perhaps could have given me the hint I needed to steer clear.

Facts about the 72 ounce steak
• The oldest person to eat the steak was a 69-year-old grandmother.
• The youngest person to eat the steak was an 11-year-old boy.
• Klondike Bill, a professional wrestler, consumed two of the dinners in the one hour time limit in the 1960s.
• The Big Texan Steak Ranch serves the meat from about 10,000 head of cattle every year (one steer that weighs about 1200 to 1400 pounds, produces about 400 pounds of meat).
• The Big Texan puts about 208,000 pounds of meat on plates each year.
• Carlene and Richard Lefevre, a couple from Nevada, have eaten the steak dinner at least ten times since their first attempt in 1995. Both of them usually finish it in less than 30 minutes.”