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Dining in Disneyland: Big Thunder Ranch BBQ Review

Happy Cinco de Mayo!! Dining in Disneyland columnist Heather Sievers is back with more buckets of food ;-) Check out this Big Thunder Ranch BBQ review, then go check out a few more of her columns here.

Big Thunder Ranch BBQ

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.

Welcome Sign

Welcome Sign

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.

Big Thunder Ranch Dining Entrance

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!

Check In

Springtime Decor

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.

Before the Spill...

Drinks Served in Mason Jars

The meal consisted of 5 different items: corn on the cob, corn bread, coleslaw, baked beans, & a giant bucket of meat.

The Spread

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.

Meat Bucket

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.

Cole Slaw

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.

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.

Corn on the Cob

The corn bread on the other hand was great.  Sweet and moist, perfect with butter and honey.

Corn Bread

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.)

Dessert Menu

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!

Chocolate Chip Cookie Bake

Hot Fudge Pitcher

Chocolate Chip Cookie Bake Close Up

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.

The "Entertainment"

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.)

Big Thunder Ranch Piano

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…

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15 Comments

  1. Heather says:

    Sounds like the food is pretty similar to what they serve at the HDDR. I might have to give this a try for lunch in December.

  2. Andrew says:

    We went to Big Thunder Ranch for the first time in April. We had pretty much the same experience as you did, with the addition of my wife ordering the vegetable skewers they serve for vegetarians. I was impressed at how the meat wasn’t slathered in sauce and gooey. The chicken and ribs were moist and tender, falling off the bone. The vegetable skewers were also delicious, according to my wife, and huge! The corn, as you said, was disappointing.

    We didn’t have any room left for dessert, but next time, we’ll have to make sure we pace ourselves better. Those look great!

    Overall, a great experience, and one we definitely plan on repeating.

  3. Victoria says:

    My husband and I ate at BTR in October of last year, so we got the fall decorations. It was so pretty. So many pumpkins and jack-o-lanterns. I loved it!

    As for the food, I have to agree with the review. It was all pretty tasty. In my opinion, the desserts were lacking. Unfortunately, I ordered the cupcake in a cone thing and it really wasn’t good at all. My husband got the shortcake and it was ok.

    I have to agree on the entertainment – very cheesy. VERY. But the food was good, so we didn’t mind the cheesiness of it all. :)

  4. AJ says:

    I wonder if the cheesy entertainment is on purpose. How can we all have had such a similar experience? They have to know it’s no good! :-)

    And Andrew and Victoria — you HAVE to get the giant cookie dessert. AMAZING!

    Heather — Do try it! It’s not as fun as HDDR, but it’s good food and an interesting atmosphere.

  5. Eric says:

    I also had a similar experience but back then it included the OK dessert. Our entertainment included Woody and Jessie along with 2 singers and a piano player. I think we would still go back but the price is still a bit high for us. We rather spend the same amount of money at Disney Grand Californian’s Storyteller’s Café’s Buffet.

  6. Jeff aka @braindud92 on Twitter says:

    We went accidentally in 09′ during D23 Expo. Everything else was packed and we had the whole place almost to ourselves. Lunch was more intimate, and the singing cowboy sat with us for a while and made up songs about my youngest daughter…plus the weather was So Cal perfect. We rarely want to sit outside at WDW.

  7. Lynnette says:

    My son, his buddy and I went last weekend at lunch time. Park was crowded but we only waited about 15 mins for a table. At lunch you don’t get the sausage or corn. The food was pretty good. The boys scarfed down the ribs, but thought the sauce was a little spicy. I liked the chicken. Both the chicken and the ribs were very tender. I didn’t care for the coleslaw because it was dripping in dressing. Price is 19.99 for lunch. We didn’t have entertainment, but I’ve seen it before and it is pretty hokey. Didn’t save room for dessert. Wonder if you can just go in and get dessert? Next weekend I’ll have to ask. The cookie looks terrific. Wasn’t my favorite dinner, but will probably do again.

  8. Bonnie says:

    You had me at “giant bucket of meat.”

  9. Lynette W. says:

    Confused? In the most current book from the Unofficial Disneyland Guide – it’s said that the characters from Toy Story (Jessie, Woody and Bullseye) were there to dance around and entertain? Was mostly going for that factor, with eating as a bonus – but if they aren’t there performing – just not worth it! Thanks so much!

  10. AJ says:

    Lynette– They weren’t there when I visited in 2010, nor when Heather visited a couple of months ago. I know they were there a couple of years ago when it was “Celebration” round-up, but as far as I know the characters have moved on.

  11. Annie says:

    I remember this from back in the mid 90′s. I also remember going back and finding it was closed. I remember feeling like I was gonna cry cuz this is my favorite eating place in the whole of Disney Land. Then they moved it just like you said and that was horrible too! totally unromantic. This looks like fun though and totally awesome. My only objection is the fact that you can’t order their bbq brisket they did so awesomely back in the day.

    Also, do have to have a bucket with the sausage as one of the meats? My family and I would only want the chicken and the ribs.

    So chicken breast? Not on the bone. Everybody knows chicken is best on the bone.

    okay, that was more than one objection. Any hoo, I’d totally go back just for that awesome atmosphere.

  12. Bec says:

    Personally I like my corn fresh, and boiled. I’m not a fan of grilled corn at all. I find when it’s boiled it seems fresher and juicier and all round nicer! :)

  13. Jean says:

    Great review of Big Thunder Ranch BBQ. We stumbled upon this restaurant last year. There was no wait, plus Mickey & Minnie, Chip & Dale all showed up! It was fantastic, and we have it on our “to do” list again this year.

  14. Heather S. says:

    @Jean – Make sure to order the Smores dessert!

  15. shelly says:

    I have one question… is there MSG in the rub or sauce used on the ribs & chicken? I’m highly allergic to MSG and get terrible headaches/nausea from MSG. I want my time in Disneyland to be happy and pain free. Thanks

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