The McRib Sandwich

The McRib returned to McDonalds for another appearance on December 2 this year. Alerted to the return, I decided finally to give one a try.

I’m not a regular at McDonalds, although for years when I’ve been traveling by myself I have eaten their breakfast sandwiches fairly often in the absence of a free hotel breakfast. I mainly order the sausage egg and cheese biscuit. If they offer a country ham biscuit, I’m all over that, but then I doubt that I ever have passed up a country ham biscuit anywhere under any circumstances. When Nancy is with me, she occasionally has one of their small ice cream cones. McDonalds also has dependably clean bathrooms, and a clean bathroom often can be a pearl of great price for the … anxious traveller.

What turned my thoughts to the McRib was a link in a recent issue of the Cue Sheet by Robert Moss. This issue featured a fascinating article about the late Owensboro, Kentucky, barbecue legend, Harry Green, and an inspiring photograph of the six sticks of butter that went into the chicken pie Robert Moss had for Thanksgiving. Amid these glories, the Cue Sheet linked to an Orlando Sentinel article about some local chefs’ re-imaginations of the McRib sandwich. Reporter Amy Drew Thompson inspired “the talent behind five of Orlando’s hottest kitchens” to come up with their own versions of the McRib. It’s an entertaining piece..

Thus inspired, or provoked, I decided to try a McRib sandwich, so faithful am I to my readers. In a long and occasionally useful life featuring myriad rib sandwiches, I had never tried a McRib before.

Now, a traditional rib sandwich is one of the glories of the culinary world. I have found that the most important thing about a true rib sandwich is that, like a chicken leg sandwich or a pork chop sandwich (see here), it must contain bones — rib bones –as well as meat. And it really should be served between two slices of white bread, as at Archibald’s, here shown with one or two ribs missing.

I once before ate a rib sandwich without bones. That was at the execrable Pappy’s in St. Louis. You can read that post. I’d really rather not talk about it.

Off I went to a nearby McDonalds a. Let me hand it to McDonalds for their cleanliness and near-fanatic adherence to COVID safety. Or perhaps I should hand it to McDonalds’ lawyers, or to the victim of the famous coffee spill. McDonalds does everything but package the french fries individually. The only problem, a minor one, was ordering. Conversations between masked individuals are hard enough without layers of intervening plexiglass shields.

I succeeded in ordering a McRib, passed on the fries and whatever else I may have been offered, and took the McRib home. Voila, the McRib —

The meat had been reconstituted, i.e., ground and packed into the approximate shape of a rack of truncated ribs. The texture of the reconstituted meat consequently was no more like a true rib’s texture than reconstituted turkey is like the turkey you just had at Thanksgiving. The McRib texture immediately brings to mind a hamburger.

The sauce McDonalds applies is sweet, as one would expect, but to its credit it doesn’t drown the sandwich a la Pappy’s, and the flavor of the sauce is inoffensive. The raw onions and pickle were a delight. They help the sandwich a lot. The pickle and onion add much-needed texture and go a long way to vitiating the impact of the sauce. The meat itself, however, was devoid of pork flavor. There was none of the richness of a pork rib. And it will not surprise you that there was no smoke flavor, just griddle flavor. Really, the McRib tasted like a McDonald’s hamburger, one with pickle and raw onion, covered with barbecue sauce rather than mustard and ketchup.

That is not to condemn. Billions and billions of McDonalds hamburgers have been sold, including a fair number to me. McDonald’s hamburger represents a workmanlike, utterly dependable product that everyone (figuratively) can afford and from which untold numbers of people derive great pleasure as well as sustenance. That is a very good thing, a blessing in many, many circumstances. And the same may be said for the McRib. It offers a nice change of pace for regular McDonalds diners. Go ahead and try one. Just approach it with your eyes open: what you are getting bears no resemblance to actual ribs, much less that noble delicacy, a rib sandwich.

On the other hand, I confess that I didn’t eat the whole thing. I don’t like to have the fast food taste linger, so I cleared my palate with a peanut butter and mayonnaise sandwich — a nice counterpoint.


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