In my household, there has always been controversy surrounding the Big Thunder Ranch BBQ. We’ve been on and off supporters of it for about 15 years. The controversy? Over the years, it’s been good, it’s been bad, it’s moved around (for a while BBQ was being served at the Rancho del Zocalo location), it’s even been non-existent. We passed it by for the last few years and recently we decided to give it another chance. I’m happy to report that we are once again supporters.
Big Thunder Ranch BBQ is located in the corridor just outside of Fantasyland as you are entering Frontierland. There are no rides directly around it, making it a quiet area where you can get away from the hustle and bustle of the Disneyland crowds. Big Thunder is a table service restaurant, and while they do take walk up guests, reservations are strongly recommended, especially for large parties.
When you arrive, you are immediately greeted by a friendly cast member wearing a “country” dress. She guides you to the check in area where you pick up a pager. We arrived just a few minutes before our reservation and waited about 10 minutes for our pager to go off. We were immediately taken to our picnic style table. The decor at Big Thunder Ranch BBQ is seasonal. I noticed that over the holidays there were Christmas decorations up. We happened to be there for the “Springtime” decor, so it was very colorful and “Eastery” if that’s even a word!
Our friendly waitress came right over to take our drink order and explain the whole eating process. The main course at the BBQ is family style and all you can eat. Several years back, it had been a “preset” plate with a single serving of each item. Now, everything is brought out in buckets and bowls.
Our drinks came right out. I loved that they were served in cute glass mason jars. If you have little ones with you, plastic kids cups are available upon request. I should have done this, because shortly after the photo below was taken, my 6 year old spilled an entire lemonade on himself. It’s a good thing all drinks are refillable. After the spill, which was quickly taken care of my a cast member, our food came out.
The meal consisted of 5 different items: corn on the cob, corn bread, coleslaw, baked beans, & a giant bucket of meat.
The meat bucket included BBQ’d sausage, ribs, and chicken breasts. There were five us at dinner, 3 adults & 2 kids all of us ready to pounce on the food. When my 9 year old saw the bucket of ribs, he pretty much claimed them as his.
I had some chicken and sausage, both were very tasty. The chicken was moist and the BBQ sauce was tangy & sweet. The sausage did have a little kick to it, but not at all too spicy. I didn’t have any ribs, but they were devoured down to the bone, so I’d say they were pretty tasty. The coleslaw was fantastic. I am not normally a slaw fan, but this one was light and not mayonnaise based, which I prefer. It was crisp and fresh tasting.
The baked beans were also yummy; they were more of a BBQ baked bean than the sweeter variety you usually find in canned baked beans.
Unfortunately, I felt that the corn on the cob was really not that great. It was by all means edible, but was didn’t have a lot of flavor. There was a lot of “water” in the bucket, leading me to believe that it may be frozen. My suggestion? Fresh ears of corn on the cob BBQ’d on the grill.
The corn bread on the other hand was great. Sweet and moist, perfect with butter and honey.
All of the dinner items are refillable, so no need to worry about anyone hogging a certain dish. Got a vegetarian in your party? No problem. You can request a veggie skewer with potatoes, squash, bell peppers, mushrooms & tofu.
As far as dessert goes, it is an extra cost in addition to dinner. Options include Strawberry Shortcake, Seasonal Fruit Cobbler, Seasonal Pies, Chocolate Ganache Cake, and some sort of ice cream cone with a cupcake in it thing called a Cowboy Cone Cake.
(AJ’s note: We tried the red velvet cowboy cone cake on our visit. It was no-sugar-added and really tasted pretty bad. Not recommended on our end — photo below.)
Our group shared the Family Style Chocolate Chip Cookie Bake, which was BY FAR my favorite part of the meal. A freshly baked, hot out of the oven chocolate chip cookie cooked in a skillet topped with Dreyer’s Vanilla Bean Ice Cream.
As if this wasn’t amazing enough, the server brings mini pitcher filled with hot fudge that gets drizzled right on top. I can assure you that you will absolutely love this treat. We devoured ours and it is now one of my favorite desserts in the Disneyland Resort. A hidden treasure!
During all of this eating, there is also “entertainment.” I put this in quotes, because honestly, I’m not sure if I’d classify it as entertainment. More like cheesy western type singers that play silly songs, tell jokes, and try to interact with the crowd. While we were there there was a male piano player, a female singer, and a male guitar player.
They tried really hard to get the audience involved, but other than a few little kids bopping around in the front, no one was really into it. With their bad fake “country” accents and cheesy songs, I actually felt kind of embarrassed for them.
(AJ’s note: The entertainment here is not at all comparable to Hoop Dee Doo Revue in Disney World, which is outstanding. Sounds like Heather had the same cringe-worthy experience we did on our visit to Big Thunder Ranch.)
Overall, I think that Big Thunder Ranch BBQ is definitely worth a try. It’s a great place to take your family or a large group and since there are refills on the food, no one will go hungry. The picnic table seating is perfect for sharing and socializing. Pricing is $29.99 for adults & $9.99 for children ages 3-9. Fountain Drinks are $2.99. If you have an annual pass, don’t forget to use it for your discount.
Now, if they could only get the corn situation straightened out and de-cheese the entertainment a bit…