Think about quintessential Texas cuisine. What comes to mind? Barbecue? Chili? Tex-Mex? How about chicken fried steak? Its roots are fuzzy, but most food historians agree, this iconic dish was born and bred in the Lone Star State.
Oct. 26 is Chicken Fried Steak Day in Texas – an official state holiday created in 2011 thanks to a pair of passionate Dallasites.
Jeffrey Yarbrough works in public relations in Dallas and is a former president of the Texas Restaurant Association. He believed chicken fried steak deserved a day all to itself given its popularity and its place in Texas history.
“I was seeing a lot of the national holidays. There was National Mango Day. There was National Pecan Day; there was national Hamburger Day, Avocado Day – my gosh,” he said. “But there wasn’t a Chicken Fried Steak Day.”
So Yarbrough went to the Texas Department of Agriculture: “And they said, ‘Well, Yarbrough, that’s a great idea. Why don’t you do that and let’s figure out how we can collect fees and set up a marketing budget for it.’ And I was like, ‘No, I just want someone to bless this and say it’s a holiday. Somebody just give me a holiday!’”
His contacts at the agriculture department said naming holidays wasn’t exactly within their purview as a government agency – and they ultimately turned him away.
“So I drove across [Austin] and I went to the Texas Beef Council. They couldn’t do it,” Yarbrough said. “And I left Austin frustrated.”
On the drive back up to Dallas, Yarbrough stopped in Temple to meet with freshman state Rep. Ralph Sheffield, who was also in the restaurant biz at the time and owned longtime Temple hangout Las Casas Restaurant.
“And he said, ‘I think I can walk that straight up the Hill.’” Yarbrough recounted. “About a month later, literally a TV crew and Rep. Sheffield come busting through the door and he’s got the scroll of the proclamation for Chicken Fried Steak Day, and I’m like ‘Oh my god, it happened; it really happened!’”
And in May 2011, during the 82nd Legislative Session, Texas House Resolution 1419 went into effect, and Oct. 26 was legally declared Texas Chicken Fried Steak Day.
Jimmy Baldwin is a singer-songwriter, who also works in advertising in Dallas. He became a sort of partner in crime throughout this process as a result of his resounding love for the deep-fried slab of beef.
“It’s a staple, and it’s been a part of our state since the German immigrants started coming here, and then it got into the cowboy culture and the chuck wagons and the cattle trails, so it’s like this part of Texas history was neglected.”
He said Yarbrough really helped give this iconic food its due.
“Chicken fried steak is just yum,” Baldwin said. “The gravy is all over, the breaded, the meat, it’s all the staples of Texas life all in one dish.”
“You could have chicken fried steak for breakfast, which can be pan-fried, but then you could go out for lunch or dinner and get it deep-fried and it would be a whole different dish," Yarbrough chimed in.
They both agreed: chicken fried steak is perfect for every meal – so much so, he felt compelled to write an ode to it.
Watch the music video for 'Peace, Love & Chicken Fried Steak'
“You know, there was all this war and hate going on, and if everyone would just sit down with each other and have a chicken fried steak and talk together, we could clear up a lot of things and be about peace and love and chicken fried steak,” he said. “I turned that into a song and got a call from Jeffrey and he said, ‘We just got this Chicken Fried Steak Day. You’ve got to come perform for us.’”
“Peace, Love & Chicken Fried Steak,” struck such a chord with Texans, that it’s also recently been brought into official state business. During the 2017 Texas special legislative session, the song was named the official song of the official Chicken Fried Steak Day of Texas.
"There's the 'Star-Spangled Banner,'" Baldwin said. "And then there's 'Peace, Love & Chicken Fried Steak.'"
Want to celebrate Chicken Fried Steak Day?
Here are some spots across North Texas.
- AllGood Cafe (Dallas)
- Babe's Chicken Dinner House (various locations)
- Bubba's Cooks Country (Dallas)
- Buttons (Fort Worth)
- Cartwright's Ranch House (Denton)
- Ellen's Southern Kitchen (Dallas)
- Fred's Texas Cafe (Fort Worth)
- Lucky's Cafe (Dallas)
- Lucile's Stateside Bistro (Fort Worth)
- Mama's Daughter Diner (various locations)
- Norma's Cafe (various locations)
- Ozona Grill and Bar (Dallas)