Arrogant Swine

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Secrets of the McRib

McDonald’s Corp is the world’s largest fast food franchise. It is located in 119 countries and has a market cap of close to 94 billion dollars. In 1940, the company began as barbecue restaurant featuring all you can drink orange juice. It was California after all. They had over 40 items on their barbecue menu. Today obviously there’s no barbecue left on the menu save the strange metallic tasting BBQ sauce they offer with their chicken McNuggets.

One oddball menu item that not only has a cult following, it even has its own Simpson’s episode! The McRib. It’s not even that great of a sandwich, but the quirk of the McRib is its ephemeral nature. It graces our shores in Messianic fashion and poof! It’s gone. Mcdonald’s chief ad man Peter McGuinness explains why.

"It's not a mass play year-round," McGuinness says.

Thus McD's deploys the McRib strategically, when the calendar leaves the company without a natural hook for its products — like at Christmas time. "We don't really do polar bears," McGuinness says.

Instead, the McRib functions as "a great piece of buzzy news that surprises and delights, late in the year on the marketing calendar." The McRib is a sandwich for those of us who never grew up. People like me are completely indifferent to the woes of manufactured foods. The fact that it’s processed pork meat of unknown parts, liquidated and reformatted into the shape of ribs, do not bother me. Taking our foods and pressing into funny shapes is as old as childhood. Why are our chicken nuggets shaped like dinosaurs?  Why do vegetarians make fake meat products like the Tofurkey?

Some McRib FACTS 

  1. There are 70 different ingredients, the least innocuous of which are “pig bits like tripe, heart, and scalded stomach.”
  2. The sandwich was inspired by McDonald’s Executive chef’s (who also fathered the McNugget) trip to Charleston, South Carolina.
  3. The original intention of the McRib was to try and shift some demand from the overly popular chicken McNugget.
  4. A (fake) petition to save the McRib was featured on the McDonald’s site in 2005, sponsored by the Boneless Pig Farmers of America.
  5. It takes 45 minutes of processing pig parts to make the “rib” shape.

I argue that the McRib is actually good for artesianal barbecue. How so? The main reason that McDonald's shifted from doing smoked meats to hamburgers is simple economics. Even to this day you see many people across the country expecting to pay the same for a pulled pork sandwich as they do a hamburger. Now as much as anyone would like preserve lost dying arts, I'm not going to sit around for 12 hours cooking something that will cost the same as something that took 12 minutes. This is the key ingredient in why so many barbecue joints across the South are spit out bland boring meat baked in gas powered ovens.

In the revival of US demand for barbecue, the art of smoking meat for 12 hours or more using live fuel - charcoal/wood, people will begin paying a premium for what truly is a premium product.