Bite force is a key performance trait of the feeding system, but maximal in vivo bite force has been measured in few large mammals. The alternative, modelling of bite force from anatomy, cannot be validated without in vivo measurements. To overcome existing limitations of ethics, safety and animal well-being, we propose a semi-automated method to obtain voluntary maximum bite forces from large mammals using bite plates that automatically dispense a food reward if an incrementally increasing threshold force value is reached. We validated our method using two Malayan sun bears, two Andean spectacled bears and a lioness. We show that voluntary bite force measurement using positive reinforcement is a non-invasive and reliable method to record maximum voluntary bite force performance in large mammals. Our results further show that in vivo data are critical as modeling efforts from osteology have greatly underestimated bite forces in Andean spectacled bears.