Could it be that time of year already? That beautiful time of year, when the air takes a certain chill? Can’t you just feel the holly-jolly love in the season? It is! It really, really is the most wonderful time of the year! No, no, we’re not talking about Christmastime – it’s McRib season again! Yes that’s right – our lord Ronald McDonald has once again graced us with the McRib, the processed pork patty soaked in BBQ sauce, served with pickles and sliced onion. Now people who love fast food and people who hate their arteries alike find common ground, and it’s at McDonald’s.
Today, we’re going to delve into the heart of this sandwich… and the other offal parts, too.
The McRib isn’t just a pork sandwich – it’s a cultural sensation that has lasted for decades. The earliest McRibs were placed on the menu of McDonald’s in 1981. Developed by executive chef Rene Arend, they were intended to be a substitute for the wildly popular McNugget which was introduced in ’79. The McNuggets were so amazingly popular that McDonald’s couldn’t supply restaurants with the amounts demanded, and the McRib was developed as a similarly meat-processed-into-an-impossible-shape product to hold franchises over. However, the McRib failed to find a foothold and was removed from the menu in 1985.
After the initial flop, McDonald’s allowed the McRib to resurface every now and again as a limited time item during the 90s, leading to a more prominent return in 1994 as a tie-in with the Flintstones movie a la Fred Flintstone’s car-tipping rack of ribs. But it wasn’t until 2005 that McDonald’s officially declared the nail in the coffin for the McRib, stating that it would go on one more “Farewell Tour” before being removed forever… At least, until a year later, they stated that the McRib would take another farewell tour before being removed forever. And then a third one the year after that. Ever since then, the McRib has settled into a comfortable seasonal pattern of coming back in the time frame of late fall to early winter before vanishing by February.
But just what is it that makes this sandwich so desirable? Dozens of fan websites have been made to help fans of the McRib find their precious sandwiches. Petitions to make the McRib a permanent menu item have been around as long as the McRib have. And still, very little has been made of how the McRib actually tastes. Most people, when actually discussing the McRib’s flavor, tend to stick to mocking the sandwich for its obvious artificiality and for the vague attempt to imitate a real barbecue pork sandwich.
Despite all this commotion, its fanbase and its hatedom are both just small minorities in the massive crowd of people who eat McDonald’s regularly. In fact, the McRib’s rarity can be pinned to two things: the fluctuating price of pork (the McRib is introduced when pork is at its most affordable), and more importantly, the fact that it’s just not very popular in the larger scale of things. In reality, franchises have reported that every McRib season starts out with reasonable sales, and then steadily trickles to only a few sandwiches per day. It’s been more profitable for McDonald’s to keep it a limited-time offer, since it’s a product that manages to reliably keep its mystique and desirability.
This wouldn’t be the only sandwich of its kind, either: the McRibster was released only in Austria, for a limited-time run of only a single month out of the single year of 2012. It was a variant of the McRib, opting out the barbecue sauce for being deep-fried and covered in cheese. Wow!
And when it comes to seasonal releases, McDonald’s has always been on top, with menu items like the Shamrock Shake being attractively elusive. All things considered, the McRib gets its uniqueness through the customers’ reactions alone. It’s a self-fulfilling cycle, and McDonald’s is fully aware of it.
Now that all of that has been said, let’s actually taste it, shall we?
We don’t really feel like the sporadic pickles and rubbery onions are a good pair for this sandwich, so we ordered ours without them as we always have. We really think this sandwich is best experienced plain, since the saucy pork and bread feels like more than enough. That said, if you’re the sort of person who enjoys those toppings, you can try to squint and imagine they’re in this review. If you’re curious: McDonald’s pickles are sour but feel meaningless and distracting, and their onions (which would be much better if they were whole rings, but are slivered instead) are rubbery and do little but provide an offensive texture.
The meat has the perfect amount of yield. It’s soft and chewy, a lot like the texture of a McNugget. The patty is large, and it spills out of the elongated bun (which is soft and fluffy, but provides no flavor), which isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it’s better to have more meat for the bun than more bun for the meat. The texture of the meat is reminiscent of Spam, which is no real surprise, as they’re both made out of processed pork shoulder. It doesn’t offer much in the way of pork flavor, but that is fine: this is primarily a vehicle to get the barbecue sauce into your mouth.
Speaking of which, the sauce is sweet and tangy, but despite the initial mess, it was surprisingly sparse. Our McRib was served in a wrapper instead of the trademark box, and most of the sauce appeared to have migrated onto the paper. This resulted in prominent bald spots on our sandwich where the potent barbecue flavor gave away to a more neutral pork flavor.
This was a pleasant experience, but it really wasn’t anything special. It’s hard to give a review without swinging too hard to a positive or negative bias, and that’s been part of our problem every year: when McRib season starts, we get really excited about it. We buy one or two, eat them, and then within a week we’re already bored because we’ve realized it’s just like the stuff we can cook at home (and, somehow, even more poorly prepared). We initially wanted to give this high marks because the season always leaves us with fond memories, but nearly all of them are more about us spending miserable winter time eating hot food than actually about the sandwich itself.
Mc3.5 out of 5 – Worth McTrying (Might McGet It Again)
All in all, this was hard to really pin a McRating to. We really don’t feel like this sandwich deserves the monumental amount of hype that it gets, because in the end, it’s still a McDonald’s sandwich. But if we’re really honest with ourselves, it’s a decent exercise in simplicity. Despite its shady reputation as a sandwich full of meat parts that even hot dogs would be afraid of, and despite the typical sloppy and loveless assembly that can only be expected out of McDonald’s workers… in practice, it’s unarguable in our eyes that everything comes together in a way that feels just right. Even so, it’s still just a barbecue pork sandwich, and one that’s easily recreatable at that. It’s an interesting discussion piece of fast food culture, and it tastes pretty good, but that’s about all that can be said. McSaid.