My Lunch Date With Stone Cold Steve Austin and His Mom’s Frito Pie

Steve Austin has broken out the fine china for a demonstration. Holding up a translucent bowl, he says to me over Zoom, “I have this dingy piece of clear Tupperware, so I can take you through the process.” From there, the magic begins: the chips, his wife’s homemade chili, some bagged cheddar cheese, and his secret ingredient, onions. You might think that’s a simple recipe, but no, no. Watching Stone Cold Steve Austin—the man who co-opted the Biblical passage about everlasting life and turned it into the WWE catchphrase, “I just whooped your ass”—make Frito pie is art.

Though Austin hasn’t consistently been in the ring since 2003, he’s whooping different kinds of ass. He’s become the every-man of hosts since 2011, most recently heading up the series Straight Up Steve Austin and the podcast The Steve Austin Show. He worked meticulously with El Segundo Brewing to create Broken Skull IPA. And this Sunday, he’s the subject of the A&E documentary Biography: Stone Cold Steve Austin. But on this Zoom, he’s the king of the Frito pie.

Well, prince. This is his mom’s recipe. And while his camo Broken Skull hat and the large hog statuette in his screen background might suggest he takes no shit off anyone, it’s clear that his mom is an exception.

When I asked Austin for a recipe—one that really means something to him and sums him up as a person—to make before our interview, I expected the Texan might toss me some Texas barbecue that required a complicated rub. But what he came with is the perfect representation of the man himself: a comfort food that utilizes one of Texas’s greatest commodities, baked in the sweet arms of cheese and corn chips. Straightforward, and as complicated or simple as you like. Just like Austin himself, it’s approachable. If you don’t have a time-tested Texas chili recipe, fear not. The man knows a can of Hormel—yes, this is a pro-canned chili story—can get the job done.

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Over a bowl of Frito pie and a couple of afternoon beers, Austin opened up about being in the ring with the greats, leaving the WWE on his own terms, and all the things he’s been doing since.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.


Justin Kirkland: Let’s jump into this Frito pie. Growing up in Tennessee, we had this place called Petros that made these, so we always called it Petros.

I wondered where that accent was from. I said, “Dude ain’t from New York City.”

steve austin frito pie

Elaine Chung

Man, I couldn’t shake it!

Why should you? You know, that’s funny, because back in the day, [WWE CEO] Vince McMahon didn’t really want to use [commentator] Jim Ross, because he thought he had a regional-sounding accent, you know, Jim being from Oklahoma. Also, when I went to WWE way back in the day, my Texas accent completely turned him off, because he couldn’t identify with it. Finally, we ended up coming up with the Stone Cold thing, and everything turned out roses. But his initial response to my accent was not great.

I am the guy that both my parents raised, and they did a hell of a job with five kids. I just believe that what you see with me is exactly what you get. I’m not trying to pretend to be anything that I’m not, and that bleeds over into everything. You want me to walk you through this recipe?

Absolutely. I’m going to eat while you do it.

You start off with a batch of chili [with] ground beef. Right here, I’m using 93/7, but 85/15, anything that you want to use. And I don’t like a real heavy chili, so something that’s just kind of a little bit lighter base. There’s some green chilies, and there’s some tomatoes, whatever. My wife just made this. It’s my mother’s recipe, and it was handed down to my wife, so she doesn’t really measure anything, she just makes it.

Add the Fritos and the cheese. These guys aren’t the most healthy thing for you, but it’s a damn good snack, and when you combine all these ingredients, what a meal. Then, if you want, you can top it off with a little bit of onions that we diced up. And just to show what a sophisticated guy I am from South Texas, a little salt and pepper always goes good on something. This is Maldon salt, so this is those heavy, bigger crystals.

I like to let it sit for maybe about a minute or two, but for these purposes, I’m going to go ahead and take a bite. This is Frito pie, straight from Texas. Half the people I’ve talked to have never heard of this.

I wasn’t able to grab a Broken Skull IPA, but I did bring a beer along, because who eats with Steve Austin without a beer?

I got one here. We started this, 2015, as a batching project, and my agent was good friends with Rob Croxall, the owner of El Segundo Brewing Company. They’re kind of known for their IPAs. We liked each other, and we decided to take a stab at it and collaborate on an IPA together. This is not a beer that I just slapped my name on to try to get in the beer business. We collaborated over a table of about 12 or 15 beers, and as we kept drinking these beers, he had a notepad, and I would describe to him what I liked about each different beer. I like something that hits kind of mid-palate, not too up front. I don’t want it to be overly bitter, and I don’t want it to last too long. I want it to finish smooth. And using Cascade, Citra, and Chinook hops, this beer was born, and this was the first batch we brewed.

He poured me a glass of that beer, and I said, “Man, that’s a good fucking beer.” And I said, “Hold on.” I took another sip, and I said, “That’s a good fucking beer.”

To be honest, I’m surprised you didn’t have a beer out before now. It’s kind of your thing.

I was supposed to be in the beer business about 15 or 20 years ago, when I was really at the peak of my career with WWE. Genesee Brewing was working on a formula for us, and we were getting really close to packaging. And WWE had some creative ideas I didn’t agree with, and I kind of said, “Hey, man, f— you, I’m out of here,” and there was a rift between myself and the company for about six or eight months. When I came back, Jim Ross, one of my best friends, sent a card to me and said, “Hey, man, if you ever want to talk, give me a call.” And I called him right away. I made a bad decision, is what I did. No, I didn’t make a bad decision, I handled it in the wrong fashion.

All these years later, after drinking light beers for 30 years of my life, I started looking at all these craft beers and thinking, What is this all about, this different level of beer-making?

steve austin frito pie
Steve Austin, walking through the steps for the perfect Frito pie via Zoom.

Screenshot

I have an IPA here too, which seems to go pretty well with Frito pie. But what I love about this recipe is that you put “or canned chili” in the instructions. I think a lot of people get intimidated that they can’t cook, because they think everything has to be fancy.

The fact of the matter is, man, sometimes we’re not in South Texas. I’ll take off 1,500 miles and get down to the Broken Skull Ranch, and when I open up the pantry—I don’t really make chili, my wife does it. So, hey, man, if all you’ve got is a can of Wolf Brand, or Gebhardt, or whatever, crack open a can of chili. You can do the same thing.

You ain’t got to get all fancy and like, going to a five-star restaurant, because you’re never going to find Frito pie at a five-star restaurant. This is one of those comfort foods. I don’t know who invented it, where it came from. I just know that my mom cooked it for us forever, and it’s still a part of my life. I love the dish, and I can’t believe that half of America or the world has never heard of Frito pie, because you should, in your life, experience a good batch.

What’s funny about this recipe is that it reminds me of when I was younger—my cousin did amateur wrestling at these armories, and I’d work the concession booth, and the smell takes me right back.

Dude, in the state of Texas, I don’t know how many National Guard armories we went to, but we went to a bunch of them, and my younger brother Kevin was my biggest supporter. He had driven all the way to Dallas, Texas. I’d just finished playing football at North Texas in Denton, which is 30 miles away. I was a nobody. I was a jabroni. And so, my brother came down, and I was going to get him seated in the world-famous Sportatorium. And the Sportatorium is an old-ass building. Elvis Presley played there. George Jones played there. Anybody that was in the country music scene or rock and roll scene played in the Sportatorium. It smelled like stale piss, beer, popcorn, and hot dogs, and it was just this magnificent shit hole of a building, and they ended up tearing it down, but what atmosphere, and what an intimate setting that was.

I brought my brother in. It was nine in the morning. I think the show was going to start at 10, maybe 10:30. I’m walking him down to show him where he’s going to sit, and the guy running the concession stands, with all the popcorn and the hot dogs and stuff, because there was two of us—he didn’t recognize me, because I was a nobody—he goes, “Two beers?” I can’t drink because I’m about to work. And my brother goes, “Hell, yeah!” So, he bought the two beers off the guy, 9 in the morning, and started drinking, and then we started the show pretty much thereafter. Lots of fond memories from little billings like that.

Through all your years, who’s your favorite person you’ve shared the ring with?

Man, there were so many. Bret “the Hitman” Hart kind of really made Stone Cold, because when he came back from an injury in ’96, he picked me to be his opponent. When we wrestled in WrestleMania 13, we actually did it a double turn. I went in as the bad guy, he went in as the good guy, and by the time the match was over, he was the bad guy, I was the good guy. As far as realism, there’s probably no one better making professional wrestling look like a real sport.

With the Rock, I had this electric chemistry, where he brought out the best in me, and I brought out the best in him. And Mick Foley, same thing, a guy that never phoned it in. But when you look back at that roster that we had, I mean, damn near everybody’s in the Hall of Fame, or they’re going to be in the Hall of Fame.

You left WWE at the peak of your career. Why say goodbye then?

The reason I got out of the wrestling business was because in ’97, when I got pile-drived, I was a transient quadriplegic for about 60 seconds in front of 20,000 people on the Pay-Per-View. I was able to come back from that, but I bruised my spinal cord, so some neurological damage. Finally, just all of that started catching up to me, and I decided, you know what? I need to probably get out of here before I really do permanent damage. I retired at 38.

Damn.

Think about that, 38. That’s so many matches left in me, so much more money on the table, so many more stories to tell and fans to entertain. It took me a long time to come to grips with that. I got in this with the sole mission of being a professional wrestler. I wanted to be on top of the card, because that’s where you get all the attention, that’s where you make the most money. At anything you do in life, you want to be at the highest level, right? But I didn’t have a plan B when I got in, and I didn’t have an exit strategy when I got out.

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I read recently about the UFC showing interest in psychedelics to help fighters cope with injuries. I know WWE faces similar injuries. What do you make of that?

Man, I think, speaking for myself, when I got dropped on my head, I got concussed. I mean, I might have had maybe one or two, three concussions tops. If anybody’s going to swing a chair at me, I was going to put my hands up, obviously. Guys who just stuck their head out and just took that chair, I mean, that’s not the smartest thing to do. A lot of guys did it. I’m not judging them. I had my style. But if you come out of the business with a whole bunch of concussions, I always think that you’re kind of doing something wrong.

But to go back to your question, there are certainly guys that come out of the business a little bit worse for the wear, and I’ve suffered some injuries like that, but I don’t know about the use of psychedelic drugs. I’m not into THC or marijuana or stuff like that. I don’t know if that would help anybody. If it would, whatever works for you, then more power to you.

I also have to ask you about hunting, because I know you do a lot of it.

I have a mule deer tag and an antelope tag here in Nevada this year, and I’m hoping this year I’ll have time to go to South Texas, because I have many friends down there.

the rock and stone cold steve austin star in wwf smackdown
The Rock and Steve Austin star in WWF Smackdown.

I’m sorry… antelope? I don’t want to sound stupid, but… there’s not antelope in the U.S.?

Yeah, dude. And the thing about the antelope is one of their nicknames would be “speed goat,” because they’re so fucking fast. I think they’re the second-fastest land animal, behind the cheetah, of course. But man, they can haul ass. This is my last story, but I was on my first antelope hunt. My brother-in-law, who was the guide, who’s one of the best guides in Nevada, and his buddy set up these chairs and these tripods and these spotting scopes, and they’re just looking. And I’m standing here with my thumb up my ass. I finally said to him, “Dude, what the fuck we doing?” He goes, “Well, we’re looking three to five miles out. You just look 1,000 yards in.” After you spot it, then you make your stalk, and that’s a three-to-five-mile stalk, where you drive within 1,000 yards, or however it is, and then you hike in. So, it’s hunting on steroids.

My final question was going to be: “Why Frito pie,” but I feel like you’ve answered it, so I’ll adapt. Your wife is going to kill you for putting chili in her Tupperware, so how do you get that stain out?

If you get your water real hot and scrub it with your detergent, then you hit it with a little bit of Clorox in there, the stuff to clean up your cabinets, that will get that chili stain out of there. That’s our little secret.


Justin Kirkland is a writer for Esquire, where he focuses on entertainment, television, and pop culture.

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