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The Enduring Legacy of the Barbecue McRib Sandwich

McRib Sandwich

I’ve never had a McRib. I’m British and they’ve never been released at our McDonalds here in the UK. I did venture to Florida in 2001, eating in what was then the biggest McDonald’s in the world, but I didn’t have a McRib Sandwich because I was 12 and I had absolutely no idea what a McRib was and I just wanted a burger. These days they only appear over a period of a few weeks, having been discontinued on the standard McDonald’s menu since 2005. I’ve heard they’re quite good though, so good that people were devastated when McDonald’s stopped serving them.

The McRib Sandwich is a barbecue-flavoured pork sandwich, served with barbecue sauce, pickles and onions on a bread roll. Although the name gives the impression that you’re eating ribs, you’re actually mostly eating pork shoulder. That doesn’t stop it tasting good though, although you may change your mind after viewing the picture below…

Above is a frozen McRib, which doesn’t exactly look like the most appetising slice of barbecue food that I’ve ever come across. People shouldn’t be too surprised that McRibs are delivered packed tightly in boxes though, McDonald’s is a fast food restaurant after all. Go to a proper barbecue restaurant and the chef will craft the meat into a delicious portion of barbecue heaven (well, if he’s any good anyway), whereas the most you can expect at a place like McDonald’s is for them to quickly cook frozen produce that may have been sitting in a warehouse for a few weeks. It’s not fresh meat by any means, but if you were expecting more than you probably shouldn’t be eating at McDonald’s in the first place.

Despite knowing just where McRibs come from, people still love them. But where exactly did it originally come from? According to this article it can be attributed to a meat scientist from Nebraska and a Luxembourg-born, French-trained chef. They described the process of making it from “lower-valued meat trimmings” that are mixed with salt and water to extract proteins. These proteins then act as a ‘glue’ to bind the meat muscle pieces together and form a ‘meat log’. These are then cut into steaks or chops that, after cooking, look a lot like their real counterparts.

Frozen McRib Sandwich

It’s not real meat in the sense of that prime steak you cooked on the barbecue, and the quality of taste will definitely be noticeable too. But McDonald’s doesn’t serve a market that expects prime steak on a plate. It’s a market that demands cheap and fast food, and unfortunately quality isn’t one of the prime components of making sure that’s always available.

But if this ‘false meat’ remains so popular then why does the big M always take it back off the menu? The barbecued sandwich went through farewell tours in 2006 and 2007, but it continues to reappear in golden arch restaurants every year. This article says that the McRib is constantly disappearing and reappearing because pork trimmings are far rarer than beef trimmings, driving up the cost if McDonald’s continues to offer it all year-round. Since it’s a profit driven company it’s not in its interests to lose money just to keep a favourite on the menu, and by only offering it during a short period they drive up a flurry of sales that would probably remain stagnant if it were to remain on the menu permanently. People are more likely to buy something if they know they won’t be able to get it for another year, and the long wait for it to reappear in restaurants adds to the anticipation of its fans. After all, we all want what we can’t have.

“It’s only a sandwich!”

That may be the case, but to others it’s like looking forward to a decent summer barbecue – even if the cheap quality sausages do end up burnt!

If it’s not McRib season, or you just live in a country where the McRib isn’t sold and want to try it for yourself, then you could always attempt to clone the sandwich yourself by watching the video below. Try using a gas barbecue for the tastiest grub.