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Disneyland’s Big Thunder Ranch Barbecue Lunch Review

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IMG_0115I think of Big Thunder Ranch Barbecue as the forgotten Disneyland table service restaurant. While Blue Bayou, Napa Rose, or Carthay Circle enjoy a certain amount of buzz, no one ever really talks about this particular dining establishment. Perhaps it’s because it’s relatively hidden compared to the other restaurants. Or maybe it isn’t yet old enough to have a reputation. Today I will help to boost the reputation of this restaurant, because any place that allows me and my loved ones to stuff my face with unlimited ribs should be loudly and frequently celebrated.

Before I start my review here is a little history lesson on this location. Big Thunder Ranch Barbecue was added to Disneyland in December, 1986, along with the neighboring Big Thunder Ranch petting zoo. It started its life as a quick service restaurant with a menu consisting of turkey legs, chicken, and prime rib, but for whatever reason it never gained the amount of popularity Disney had hoped. For most of its life it remained in the dreaded “seasonal” operating status, meaning it was only open during the busiest days of the year. Big Thunder Ranch Barbecue was closed permanently on January 21, 2001, and it remained shuttered until Disney revitalized the entire Big Thunder Ranch area in 2009. Big Thunder Ranch Barbecue returned as a family-style, all-you-can-eat table service restaurant. Fun fact: From 1996 to 1998, Big Thunder Ranch Barbecue was rethemed to promote Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame film and renamed to “Festival of Foods.”

Big Thunder Ranch Barbecue doesn’t have its own marquee, so it may be a bit easy to miss. It is located in the Ranch entrance nearest to Fantasyland.


Your first order of business after you arrive is to check in at the building on the right. You won’t actually pay here: you just check in and wait to be seated. Your bill will come after the meal. The current price is $26.99 for adults and $11.99 for children.
When your table is ready you will be taken to your table by a “ranch hand.” He or she will take your drink orders and bring out your buckets of food.
Notice the tables. All tables in Big Thunder Ranch Barbecue are benches. When you check in you will be reminded that seating is “family style” and  that you may be seated with people you don’t know. I’m not sure why it’s called “family style” if you have to sit with people who are not your family. But then again I’m also not sure why I feel like I need to sleep all day after eating unlimited ribs.
Before we get to the food I should also mention that there is live entertainment while you eat! Tex Tumbleweed and Miss Chris sing various songs while you stuff your face. They will also try to talk to you, so make sure you’re not covered in barbecue sauce.
The entire area is festive and it receives themed decorations for the summer, Halloween, and holiday seasons.
Some of the decorations remind me of when I was a child and my grandma would take me in to antique stores. The smell of old wood and potpourri still makes my stomach sick to this day. Luckily the Big Thunder Ranch Barbecue smells nothing like this. But you may occasionally catch a whiff of the goats in the petting zoo, which is about 10 feet away from the restaurant.
The drinks are served in these lovely mason jars. I should also mention that drinks are included in the price of the meal. So whether you order a soda or not, your’re still basically paying for one.
Now on to the good stuff! The food! Everything is brought out shortly after being seated. The initial wait for food, as well as for reorders, was brief.
The star of the show is obviously the ribs. I was pleasantly surprised at how good they were. The ribs were cooked perfectly: moist, with not-too-much barbecue sauce. I also enjoyed the chicken, but a friend I was eating with said his was dry. I didn’t notice anything wrong, so maybe he just got a bad piece. Remember I said the restaurant is all-you-can-eat; initially they will bring out a bucket of chicken and ribs, but after then you can ask for one or the other. Also, you can specify what parts of the chicken you would like. This means fans of drumsticks can get their fill. I may or may not have eaten “too much food.” But, hey, I’m on vacation!* *I am not on vacation.
Coleslaw and baked beans. These are pretty much number 2 and 3 on my “list of least favorite foods on the planet” (nothing will ever dethrone sour cream). So I did not try these two food items, but my friends did, and they assured me they were edible. Moving on.
Cornbread! These little loafs of cornbread were fresh baked, warm, and delicious. My only warning is that the cornbread is so good that you may fill up on it and leave less room for ribs.
Finally we have the dessert menu. All desserts are cost extra, but thankfully they all seem reasonably priced. Everything sounds delicious, but unfortunately I didn’t leave enough room in my stomach for anything.
But I would be foolish not to take advantage of pumpkin-flavored goodies. Because it is Halloween Time in Disneyland, they offer pumpkin ice cream. It was great, albeit a bit pricey at $2.29 a scoop. By the way, pumpkin-flavored food should be available all year. The world would be a much better place if we all could buy pumpkin related food at our leisure.

Was Big Thunder Ranch Barbecue worth it? I thought it was. Some people may balk at the $26.99 price tag, but if you think about it you’ll be spending bare minimum of $10 for a quick service meal in any restaurant in Disneyland. Considering the unlimited food, included soda, fast and friendly service, and live entertainment, I think that makes it one of the best values in the park.

What do you think? Have you ever eaten at Big Thunder Ranch Barbecue? What was your experience like? Let us know in the comment section below.

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Guy Selga Jr.

Disneyland writer for TouringPlans.com and co-author of the Unofficial Guide to Disneyland. Also a Disneyland local and appreciator of Disney theme park history. Twitter and Instagram: @guyselga

15 thoughts on “Disneyland’s Big Thunder Ranch Barbecue Lunch Review

  • We went there by accident. It was the best accident especially after a long morning of rides and lots of walking. Let’s just say, the limitless of protein was greatly appreciated by a hungry crowd. Delicious and worth the price.

  • As far as sauces, they’ll bring all the extra barbeque sauce you want. It’s delicious, but it’s the only sauce they have that I know of

  • Oh yes and the skewers have baby portabellos and yellow squash as well. Mmmmmmm!

  • This place is amazing. THE VEGGIE SKEWERS ARE REEEEEAAALLLYYY GOOD! Even for non-vegetarians, you should ask for one. They bring a big plate with 2-4 HUGE skewers at a time. They contain roasted potatoes, pineapple, peppers, onion, and tofu. They’re salted with a seasoning salt-like seasoning and OMG they’re delicious. I don’t eat pork or beef, so it’s nice that i can ask for just chicken in the bucket and they’re always glad to do it. It’s expensive, so it’s not a treat we can do often (we have passes), but when we can indulge, we do. :D. The kids LOVE it, because while we’re waiting for our table, they can see the animals (including the US’ pardoned turkeys), and the live entertainment. Just an all-around lovely experience 😀

  • We celebrated my son’s 9th birthday here on our first DL visit in 2011. We’ll be back again in May 2014 and I asked him where he wanted to eat and he said “BBQ!”.

    • That’s great!

  • I tried the vegetarian skewers. They gave us those also even though none of us were vegetarian. It has mushrooms, red onion, potato and some type of squash. It was acceptable, but it didn’t stand out compared to the other dishes offered.

    • It sounds kind of bland. Too bad they don’t offer any kind of special sauces with it or anything.

  • I enjoyed it very much! I went on the very first day it opened. I went alone. It was too much food for me. It was cheaper when it first reopened. It was back when Woody and Jessie would meet there.

  • This is one of these places I would like to try, but the extremely limited menu keeps me away. Like you, I do not like baked beans or coleslaw, and I’m not a fan of ribs. If they had hot dogs, hamburgers, mac & cheese, etc., I’d be much more willing to try this out.

    • Yeah the limited menu is a bit of a problem. But during dinner they do offer smoked sausages. Also offered is a vegetarian skewer option (which I stupidly forgot to ask for so I could review it).

  • We enjoyed a meal there Sept 2012 and everyone loved it. The food really was delicious. We also had the deep dish cookie for dessert and I crave that thing everyday. I just wish I hadn’t been so full from all the chicken and cornbread because even with 4 adults we couldn’t finish the cookie (it’s huge). My 3yr old son had some really fun interaction with one of the singers. He made up a song on the spot about how my son was taking pictures of him. It was really fun and I’m so happy I got it on video. We will definitely be going back on our next trip.

    • Ok you’ve convinced me next time I go I need to order the deep dish cookie. It sounds GREAT! That’s great to hear your son had fun with the singers. The day I went we were one of the first parties seated for the day so it was just us and one other family the entire time. But the singers still gave their all and were very entertaining.

  • We ate there for dinner on our last trip and it was everyone’s favorite meal of the entire week. The atmosphere is fantastic, the service was great and the food was out of this world. Everyone kept stuffing their faces. We were there for dinner so we had sausage and corncob wheels as well. All of the meat was delicious, the coleslaw is very unique and yummy and the cornbread was incredible. It was just such a pleasant meal and we can’t wait to go again next trip, which I guess means we thought it was worth the price.

    • Wow sounds like your family had a great time. I agree about everything you said about the service and atmosphere. And the cornbread, so delicious.


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