Flame Tree Barbecue: Still Worth It?

Flame Tree Barbecue at Animal Kingdom has historically been up there as one of the Top 15 Counter Service Restaurants at Walt Disney World. In our various incarnations of that ‘best of’ list, it has frequently ranked #1 or #2 among all WDW dining options.

More recently, Flame Tree BBQ has faced staunch competition as new restaurants have opened and others have stepped up their menus. That’s even true within Animal Kingdom, as the opening Pandora — World of Avatar brought with it Satu’li Canteen, which is arguably the #1 counter service restaurant at Animal Kingdom.

With a variety of restaurants still closed during the phased reopening, we skipped our annual update to the Walt Disney World counter service power rankings last year. However, we nevertheless wanted to ‘investigate’ whether Flame Tree Tree Barbecue is still deserving of its strong reputation among us and other Walt Disney World fans…

Accordingly, we’ve done three meals at Flame Tree Barbecue in the months since Walt Disney World reopened in the name of thorough research.

We won’t rehash basic background info, themed design inspiration, or any ground already covered by our previous Flame Tree BBQ Review. The goal here is an update, covering what’s new, changed, and whether this Walt Disney World fan-favorite still lives up to the hype.

One post-reopening development at Flame Tree Barbecue is the installation of wiring installed around the edges of the gazebos. You can’t see it with the naked eye from a distance, and I’d stop short of calling it netting. It’s narrow enough to prevent a bird from entering, but still widely spaced.

Those who enjoy the sport of protecting their feast from Animal Kingdom’s barbaric birds will be happy to know they can still partake in that time-honored tradition by sitting at the open courtyard tables. Joking aside, we’d recommend one of the gazebos–especially the waterfront one with views of Expedition Everest. The birds are large, aggressive, and much more common in the open areas now.

Speaking of the waterfront gazebo with views of Expedition Everest, this will also give you the chance to kill two birds with one stone (figuratively!) and also watch the character flotillas.

You should see 2-3 during the course of your meal, which should (hopefully) be good enough. Trust us, it can be painful sitting in the old Rivers of Light amphitheater waiting for all of them to pass.

Moving along to the menu at Flame Tree Barbecue, we have the Ribs and Chicken Combo.

Here’s our first recommendation change. In our previous review, we called this a worse value than the half slab of ribs. That was true at the time, but the half slab of ribs is no longer on the menu. Now, this is a more substantial portion than the St. Louis Rib Dinner, and it’s ~$1 cheaper. If you want to sample some of the signature barbecue at Flame Tree, this is the best option.

For “our” first two post-reopening meals at Flame Tree Barbecue, Sarah would just sit and watch me eat (protecting my feast from birds, Wonder Woman style) and then I’d do the same with her at Satu’li Canteen. This approach is obviously not recommended as it makes lunch take twice as long, but we usually have no shortage of time at Animal Kingdom–especially without the shows.

On our third visit, Sarah ordered the Hot Link Smokehouse Sandwich: Plant-based Sausage topped with a Tangy Mustard Barbecue Sauce, Slaw, and Crispy Onions on a House-made New England-style Roll. This is very similar to the Loaded Slaw Dog at Casey’s Corner, and likewise has a lot going on.

It’s unlike the other dishes at Flame Tree, and isn’t intended to “fool” anyone by approximating smoked meat. It’s more like an inventive twist on a hot dog, with nuanced flavor, and variety of textures.

While it might look like something that has been slow-aged on the roller at 7-11, don’t let the appearance fool you. The Hot Link Smokehouse Sandwich is delicious. We were both really impressed by this and would highly recommend it to vegetarians or vegans. It wouldn’t be my first choice at Flame Tree Barbecue as an avid carnivore, but it’s most certainly not a phoned-in plant-based option.

Next, the Baked Macaroni and Cheese topped with Smoked Pulled Pork, Onion Rings and Coleslaw.

This was added to the menu a few years ago, and has become my go-to “bang for buck” option at Flame Tree Barbecue. It’s not the best entree, but it’s very good and filling. The quality is really high on everything, with the smoked pulled pork providing that ‘signature’ Flame Tree flavor.

As a side note, you might’ve missed or skipped our “Fantastic Food at Disney World’s Worst Restaurant: Another Festivus Miracle!” right before Christmas.

While that focuses on a lot of holiday desserts that are now gone, it also reviews the Pulled Pork-topped Baked Macaroni & Cheese: Cavatappi Pasta with a Five-Cheese Blend topped with Pulled Pork. In our taste-test, that beat the Flame Tree BBQ dish on size, cost, texture, density, cheesiness, and flavor of the dish as a whole. Just something to consider if you’re in the EPCOT area and want some heavy comfort food! (That’s another dish that tastes much better than it looks.)

Finally, the flagship menu item at Flame Tree Barbecue has long been the ribs. Currently, this is known as the St. Louis Rib Dinner served with Beans and Coleslaw and is priced at $16.29.

Other recent incarnations of the same menu item were the Full Slab of St. Louis Ribs ($19.99) or Half Slab of St. Louis Ribs ($13.99) with the same sides, plus cornbread (now a $2 add-on). Those options were followed by the St. Louis Rib Dinner ($18.29). The latter item obviously has the same name as the current entree, but its menu photo previously featured 3 segments of ribs versus the current 2 sections.

We’ve done dozens of meals at Flame Tree Barbecue over the last 15 years. Above is our “we’ve got Disney Dining Plan credits to burn let’s have a royal feast!!!” order from 2007.

Depicted there are two things I really miss: generous portions at Flame Tree Barbecue and the Year of a Million Dreams!

Above is my most recent, post-reopening order of the St. Louis Rib Dinner at Flame Tree Barbecue. I did a poor job of photographing it, but the portion underneath is much smaller and thinner than the one on top (you can sort of see the white space between the beans and ribs). It’s hard to match the scale between the photos, but I’d say this portion is a little over one-third the size of the previous photo.

I was still hungry after finishing this more recent meal, which is a new sensation for me after dining at Flame Tree BBQ. Honestly, this left a bad taste in my mouth. Not literally–the ribs were fantastic, as always. However, it was a lot of money to pay for a counter service meal that was not filling. It’s hard to believe this was a one-off, as the portion size has been shrinking on the ribs each meal we’ve done at Flame Tree over the last ~4 years. This was just a new low.

Ultimately, the question of whether Flame Tree BBQ is still worth the money depends upon what you’re ordering. The St. Louis Ribs Dinner has long been one of my favorite counter service entrees in all of Walt Disney World, and that remains true to this day. However, it’s been incredibly frustrating to watch these ribs go from being a hearty portion to an insufficient one, all while the price has continued to climb.

This is not an uncommon occurrence with highly-hyped Walt Disney World restaurants or menu items; the same has happened with Le Cellier, ‘Ohana, Be Our Guest, Sunshine Seasons, and several others. At this point, I won’t order the St. Louis Ribs again until the Disney Dining Plan is back and we’re paying with the “monopoly money” of those credits. It’s still a delicious dish, but paying over $16 out of pocket for a less-than-filling meal is a rip-off.

The difference and saving grace of Flame Tree Barbecue is that other affordable and delicious items have been added to the menu. It’s hard to be too down on the restaurant when there are several excellent ~$11 options. The less expensive menu items offer solid value for money when paying out of pocket–we wouldn’t hesitate to order any of these again. In fact, Sarah enjoyed the Hot Link Smokehouse Sandwich so much that maybe in the future we won’t have to do separate meals at Satu’li Canteen and Flame Tree. To answer the questions, Flame Tree BBQ is simultaneously worth and not worth it, lives up to the hype and falls short of it. If you want to butcher a metaphor, it’s basically Schrödinger’s BBQ.

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Have you dined at Flame Tree Barbecue recently? Do you think it still lives up to the hype and/or is worth the money out of pocket? Have you noticed portion sizes decrease here as prices have increased? Would you pick Flame Tree or Satu’li Canteen (or something else entirely) as the #1 counter service restaurant in Animal Kingdom? Think that Flame Tree Barbecue is still one of the elite quick service restaurants at Walt Disney World? Which menu items here do you like? What do you plan on trying? Do you agree or disagree with our review? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!

38 Responses to “Flame Tree Barbecue: Still Worth It?”
  1. Paul February 11, 2021
  2. Brian Bugarin February 8, 2021
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