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Review: Flame Tree Barbecue at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Last week, I had the pleasure of heading to Walt Disney World for a super quick jaunt around the parks.

And while there, I decided it was high time to stop by one of my (and yours!!) favorite spots in Animal Kingdom, Flame Tree Barbecue.

Flame Tree Barbecue consistently gets rave reviews from Disney food fans as one of the top — if not the top — counter service spots in all of Walt Disney World. I was anxious to see if it still lived up to my fond memories…

Atmosphere

Located in the Discovery Island section of Animal Kingdom, you’ll find this colorful restaurant adjacent to the entrance to Dinoland (which is awesome, and you should totally go there). And as the name clues you in — they specialize in barbecue, with meats that are smoked right in the “Flame Tree Barbecue Smokehouse.”

Flame Tree Barbecue Sign

Normally, you see lines snaking back from the ordering area — note the cow-line ropes in the picture. But it was shockingly not busy when I got there late in the afternoon (around 4:30pm). See? I told you those Disney Dining Tips are for real! ;-)

Flame Tree Barbecue -- Outside View

The set up is your standard Disney counter service situation, with multiple ordering stations and pick up lines. You won’t find any automated kiosks here…yet!

Ordering Kiosk

For guests who aren’t familiar with smoked meats and the pink color that the meat takes on due to the process, you’ll find these signs. You can be sure that your meat is thoroughly cooked, even though it may appear pink inside.

Sign Regarding Smoking Process

Once you’ve chosen your food, be sure to take a look around at the fantastic themeing that Imagineers have dreamed up for this corner of Animal Kingdom. The surroundings here depict the Circle of Life (i.e. animals eating other animals…seriously) and you see it everywhere.

Circle of Life on Lanterns Featuring Owls and Rabbits

With the bright, cheerful colors, what’s actually happening in the carvings and pictures might escape your notice. But look closer, and you see that predators and their frightened prey are pictured in carvings and statues throughout the various pavilions. It’s a fascinating combination of the whimsical and the slightly disturbing. OK…really disturbing if you really thing about it. ;-)

Decor with Circle of Life Theme

While we are on the subject of decor, this is a great time to mention the unique seating situation at Flame Tree. You may not realize how extensive the seating areas are at first glance, but if you follow the paths through the jungle and off to your left, you’ll find lots of interesting places to enjoy your meal.

And some of these spots are really gorgeous. This is what I really, really love about dining at Disney. It’s about so much more than the food (which is usually pretty good.) Where would you ever go in the United States to find such a lovely fast food destination? This spot by the reflecting pool is among my favorites.

Table Next to Reflecting Pool

If it’s shaded seating that you prefer, you’ll find several open-air pavilions like this one. Protected from the sun and cooled by ceiling fans, the spots are very pleasant, even during the heat of summer. But if it’s super cold outside, you may prefer a restaurant with indoor dining spots — Flame Tree is all outside.

Seating Pavilion

But on a quiet day like this one, there was no better place to relax and enjoy our lunch than in this shaded spot by the water, which offered a fantastic vista of Expedition Everest in the distance. Framed by trees, the view just doesn’t get any better than this.

View of Expedition Everest from Waterside Dining Pavilion

While I really love showing you all the beautiful details about Flame Tree’s setting, it’s time to turn our attention to the other big star of the show — the food!

Eats

Because this is a barbecue place, it’s just sort of a given: your top choices are going to be meat-centric. All the traditional standards are here: St. Louis-style ribs, chicken, and pulled pork figured prominently in the line up. (You can see my review of the pulled pork sandwich here!)

The day that I visited, I really only noticed one option, the Fruit Plate, that would have been appropriate for my vegetarian friends. (More vegetarian options would likely be available upon request.)

Menu -- Entrees -- Click to Enlarge

There are a couple of sides that are big enough to share, as well as some on-theme options for the kids, like a Baked Chicken Drumstick.

Menu -- Kids' Meals, Sides, Beverages, and Desserts -- Click to Enlarge

A limited selection of beer and wine are available too. Check out the fun taps. :-)

Beer Taps

Safari Amber is specially brewed for Disney, and you’ll find it at both Animal Kingdom as well as Animal Kingdom Lodge (the picture below was taken during a visit to Sanaa.) While it’s a more interesting option than Budweiser, we haven’t found it to be anything super special. It does make for a great pairing with barbecue, though!

Safari Amber on Draft at Disney Animal Kingdom Lodge's Sanaa at Kidani Village

Because of the completely open and spread out nature of Flame Tree’s seating, you’ll find condiment stations located at the seating pavilions, rather than near the ordering area. This makes it much easier to find a seat before fetching your sauces and napkins.

Condiment Counter

Meats are smoked but not necessarily “sauced.” You can add just the right amount of sauce so that your meal is to your liking (extra for me!)

Ketchup Dispenser

There are a couple of different varieties of barbecue sauce available, but they’re both fairly traditional options.

Regular Barbecue Sauce Dispenser

I love the Sweet and Spicy Sauce, with that little kick it provides!

Sweet and Spicy Barbecue Sauce Dispenser

It’s nice to mix them together in just the perfect ratio for a custom sauce experience. :-) If you’d like to try your hand at recreating that signature Flame Tree Barbecue sauce flavor at home, check out our Flame Tree Barbecue Sauce Recipe! You’ll swear you’ve been transported.

Sweet & Spicy and Regular Barbecue Sauce

I was really excited to try the new-to-me Mandarin Orange Lemonade during this visit — it’s one of the new lemonade flavors that’s been spotted at the Animal Kingdom dining locations.

It has more flavor than regular lemonade, and the beverage was a nice match for the smokey-sweet barbecue we were consuming. I really enjoyed this, and would gladly have gone back for more!

Mandarin Orange Lemonade

Having tried the Pulled Pork Sandwich and 1/2 Slab of St. Louis Ribs on a previous lunch visit, we decided to go with a few other options this time.

I always like variety, so I opted for the Ribs and Chicken Combo, featuring a quarter of a rack of ribs and a quarter chicken. This platter is served with two sides — Baked Beans and Cole Slaw.

Chicken and Ribs

Since it tends to be lean, Barbecue Chicken can be a tricky thing to make because it becomes dry so easily when smoked. Unfortunately, I found that to be the case here. While the flavor was good, there was no juiciness to the meat because of the extended “low and slow” cooking time. Lots of sauce helped the situation, though.

Chicken -- Up Close

The Ribs, on the other hand, were tender, moist, and delicious. Ah, you have to appreciate the goodness of fat when it comes to meat!

Ribs -- Up Close

Now, let’s talk Turkey. Sandwich, that is. According to the menu, the sandwich is made with turkey breast that is smoked on-site.

Turkey Sandwich

The sandwich does boast a lovely House-Made Cranberry Mayonnaise, which will be a winner if you’re a mayo fan. The sweet and creamy combo worked well with the salty, smokey meat. It also stood up nicely to the hearty, multigrain bread. The tomatoes were kind of weird, though.

Turkey Sandwich Cranberry Mayonnaise -- Up Close

Still, you can see that they weren’t stingy with the sauce — even if they could have included a little more turkey.

Turkey Sandwich -- Up Close

The sandwich was just okay. I think the next time we are craving a turkey sandwich, we will stick with The Earl of Sandwich or another special spot we found on this trip! I can’t WAIT to tell you about the World’s best turkey sandwich…coming up on DFB soon!

As for desserts, we tried the Key Lime Mousse on a previous visit. Since I’m not a big fan of the gelatinous green goo that appears on top of the parfait, I don’t really recommend it.

Key Lime Mousse

Instead, I suggest you head over to Kusafiri Coffee Shop and Bakery to snag a Paw Print Brownie or White Chocolate Elephant Cupcake (oh how I love you, Elephant Cupcake!) if you fancy something sweet to end your meal.

Overall

Although the chicken was a bit dry and the turkey sandwich a little chintzy, I still think that Flame Tree Barbecue offers some fantastic food value. With slow-cooked meats that are akin in quality to some table service spots, you’ll get a good meal here without having to wait or pay a tip. The sides are delicious as well, and I appreciate the interesting option of the Mandarin Orange Lemonade.

But when you factor in the incredible themeing and beautiful seating area, Flame Tree becomes a can’t-miss counter service destination for your Disney World trip. With spectacular views and thoughtful touches, a meal here really is a feast for the senses. And that’s not something you can say about every counter service experience you have, to be sure.

What’s your favorite food find at Flame Tree Barbecue? Share your thoughts in comments below!

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21 Comments

  1. Rob Crawford says:

    Considering the theme for the decor, I’d expect it to be a relatively vegetarian-hostile place.

  2. Ann says:

    Actually, I have been reading and noticing that Animal Kingdom is working on their vegetarian dining. I always found it ironic that an animal and conservation themed park would have so few foods without a face! :-) the chicken salad can be purchased without the chicken if I am correct and you also have cole slaw and onion rings as vegetarian options.

  3. Eric says:

    Flame Tree has always been a favorite of ours. Sadly on our last trip, we were a bit disappointed. The meats didn’t seem to be smoked as much as they seemed to be the remnants of a 5 alarm fire. I agree with AJ’s assessment of the chicken on our last trip. Quite dry. I must say I was a bit unhappy seeing the picture of the turkey sandwich. I love that sandwich and my memory of that sandwich had substantially more meat between the slices of bread. As with all restaurants at WDW, 1 bad experience doesn’t disqualify a restaurant forever. Hopefully we will have better luck on our next trip because this spot is typically a big winner!!!

  4. Wendy Snelgrove says:

    Rob,

    My wife is a vegetarian, and there’s really nothing here for her. Yes, you can get a salad, but with the exception of a few beans, there’s no protein in that. So even though I love the ribs, we don’t eat here often. Pizzafari gets more of our business in AK.

    Wendy

  5. Lisa says:

    In our trip last November, this was our first meal in WDW. Our whole family loved this place and thought the food was amazing. The chicken was very tasty and not dry. The sitting area was beautiful. It was the first meal of a amazing trip to WDW.

  6. Miranda says:

    My husband and I both had the salad when we visited last summer. It was just too hot that day to have a hot lunch! The salad was really tasty – sweet, cruchy and tangy and the chicken was generously portioned and moist (not just from the dressing). I enjoyed the salad a lot more than I expected to! I totally agree about those gelatinous desserts, we had one over by the Dawa Bar too, ugh. Cupcakes FTW!

  7. Pardonmyfrench says:

    We like it a lot. However, with so many sides and nice size portions it can be a circus juggling act to get to the seating areas especially with the stairs and wrapping paths.

  8. Greg says:

    LOVE Flame Tree BBQ. It’s definitely your best bang for the buck (and you really like good smoked BBQ). I will say this though, Safari Amber is NOT exclusive to Disney. The exact same beer is served as Hogs Head ale over at Universal in the WWOHP.

  9. Niki M says:

    I always think about eating here, but hesitate wondering if the food is the same served at Fairfax Fare in Hollywood Studios. The meat was disappointing and the beans were overly spicy. Is it totally wrong to assume Disney would prepare counter service bbq at two locations completely differently?

  10. Christa M. says:

    I have eaten there once, and I might have been on a bad day. I will admit that I’m PICKY when it comes to ribs, but I didn’t think they were great. Too dry. I might try again, however.

  11. Andrea says:

    We love Flame Tree. I think you get a lot for your money. The quality has never let me down. My only complaint is it’s outside dining. Sometimes after walking all day it nice to eat in the AC.

  12. hannikins says:

    can the lemonade be chosen as the drink element when using a quick service dining credit or would it cost an extra snack credit?

  13. TV Watcher says:

    I was very disappointed on my only visit to Flame Tree – not only did I feel that it didn’t live up to my expectations of at least decent food at a Disney park, I felt it was below average of what I could find just about anywhere that serves BBQ. Maybe I went on a bad day, but my ribs and chicken were dry and tasteless and the beans were practically inedible. I will give it another try based on your review.

  14. TammyQ says:

    Flame Tree is a #1 must-do dining event for my family when we are at WDW. We LOVE it. The Smoked Chicken Salad is the best salad that I’ve tasted on any Disney property, hands down!

  15. Dave says:

    They need to bring back the corn bread.

  16. Hope says:

    My husband and I always split the combo plate and have more than enough food. It is our favorite counter service restaurant out of all the parks.

  17. Kelly says:

    Safari Amber is also available at the African Outpost in Epcot.

  18. Norma says:

    We happened to eat at the Flame Tree today. I was surprised with how juicy the ribs were. We attended the big bbq competition on Saturday in Haines City and I prefer flame tree’s to some of the ones we tasted there. We ate at 12:30 and had almost no line. There were plenty of tables available and we enjoyed dining on the water. The beans had a bit more spice than I usually like, but the coleslaw balanced it well. I was happy to see that the flame tree lived up to the memory I had of dining there years ago. I also liked that they give the Tables in Wonderland discount there. I saved $5 on two meals.

  19. Keith H says:

    Sometimes i just order a wine and head down to the tables next to the lake,GREAT view of Everest!! Extra magic hours at night makes the view even better.

  20. Kris B says:

    LOVE LOVE LOVE Flame Tree!!! I had never dined there until our last trip in October. I was floored by how great the food was!! Thanks for this review….and bringing back a great food memory!

  21. John V says:

    I’ve stopped there a couple times, most recently in July 2012. Maybe I’m just uber picky when it comes to BBQ, but I tried the ribs on one occasion and the pork sandwich on another, and found both of them to be relatively flavorless. It’s definitely not on a par with, say, Arthur Bryants, Oklahoma Joe’s or Jim Neely’s Interstate BBQ. For my money, if I’m stuck at Animal Kingdom and have to eat, I’d prefer to hit up Yak & Yeti. If I’m just looking to sit, it’s Dawa Bar all the way.

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