Ah, McRib. We meet again. The prima donna of the McD menu (on and off too many times since its first appearance in 1981 to keep count), McRib is the poor man’s pork rib, the fast food giant’s own agreeable rendition of its scandalous pink slime, and the most notoriously famous item, by far, on McD’s menu. In this article, we discuss ten noteworthy facts about the Golden Arches’ elusive pork unicorn, barbeque sauce and all.
10. The McRib doesn’t really have any… rib.
The brainchild of Roger Mandigo and Rene Arend, the McRib – apart from its dollops of barbecue sauce and characteristic tangy taste – is also famous for the conspicuous absence of its chief ingredient. Its shape is designed specifically to look like a pork rib, but not one of its extensive list of 70 ingredients is pork rib. So how does it get its name? Roger Mandigo, a professor at University of Nebraska – Lincoln, specialized in meat restructuring. His reuse of a centuries’ old technology is what gave the McRib’s pork vestiges and offal flurry their solid, patty form, and with a few crests and troughs to look like the boneless part of a pig’s back rib, voila! The McRib was born. So even though its name proclaims of only its shape (real ribs mostly have bones, and imagine the outcry if customers found bones in their sandwich), the burger is anything but rib. The real secret behind why the burger is called McRib, however, is in its marketing director’s answer. According to the Marta Fearon, the fact that a ribless pork patty is called a McRib is just McDonald’s quirky sense of humor, which is what makes the burger so popular. Speaking of, what do false advertising, said quirky sense of humor, and a burger with tons of chemical additives (many of which are carcinogenic) have in common? They’re all inedible.
9. Its chief ingredient? Meat Restructuring.
Hailing from a family of restructured chicken, beef, even the occasional glass, paper, and nail, it is only at McDonald’s that the entrails of an animal become best friends with its ‘meatier’ portions, so to speak, in a mishmash of technology-enabled ‘meat restructuring’ held together by the glue of dozens of chemicals and food additives. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that the bait-and-switch McRib is the meatiest lie of non-meaty pork remains that the fast food behemoth has come up with since its origin in 1955. The McRib is made of pork tripe (the lining of a pig’s stomach), pork shoulder, scalded stomach, and pig heart that is mashed together in the healthy goodness of water, salt, dextrose, and preservatives (BHA, propyl gallate and citric acid) that help maintain its flavor, then restructured into the famous shape that the sandwich is renown for, before sitting in elongated sandwich buns and barbecue sauce. But the McRib is not the only product guilty of being reshaped. Chicken McNuggets, turkey breasts, roasted beef, fish patties, ham loaves, luncheon loaves – basically, if it’s processed, feel free to assume it’s restructured.
8. Yoga Mats and the McRib have more in common than you’d think
The McRib’s 70 ingredients, apart from the carcinogenic BHA and propyl gallate preservatives, include a very unnecessary azodicarbonamide, used in the bun (which consists of 40 of the 70 ingredients) as a ‘dough conditioner’. This chemical, also called ADA, helps give the McDonald’s bun its characteristic resilient, light, and soft features, but is also known to cause respiratory issues, allergies, skin problems, and is even suspected to cause cancer. The chemical is also used in yoga mats and flip flops. Found in close to 500 foods in the market, McDonald’s is not the sole culprit guilty of using the very chemical that gives yoga mats their pseudo-stretchiness and elasticity. Residing in most fast food giants’ menus’ fine print and grocery store bread, the chemical is also used to aerate plastic with tiny bubbles to make it lighter, spongier, and more flexible. The FDA permits concentrations of ADA below 45 ppm in food, but many developed countries have already banned the chemical, and numerous petitions are still afloat online to take the ingredient off all dinner tables in USA and Canada as well. While it is much healthier to consume fresh bread than bread adulterated to seem fresh in the first place, experts note that the same properties of bread can be brought upon by natural and much safer ingredients – begging the question, why use a potentially carcinogenic chemical, to begin with?
7. Its supplier is infamous for animal cruelty
Though the fast food giant is embroiled in numerous animal safety petitions across the globe, what stands out the most in the McRib’s dicey repertoire, in particular, is the case filed against its supplier, Smithfield Farms, in 2010. A petition made by the Human Society of the United States (HSUS) with the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission), the complaint claims that Smithfield farms treats its animals with immense cruelty, including confining them in ‘gestation crates’, which are barely the size of an average adult pig, shooting and stomping on the necks of some pigs, ignoring abscesses and sores and another diseases, and even disposing some pigs in manure pits while they were still breathing. The Virginia-based provider of the sandwich your dreams dream about claims to deliver ‘Good food. Responsibly’ and considers ‘advancing animal care’ as one of its core values, marketing its corporate social responsibility to socially responsible investors. Though the supplier is the world’s largest pork supplier, some allege that the petition officially ties the McRib to the complaint solely for the sake of publicity (the McRib’s rise and fall, after all, are always a source of media amusement), but the undercover investigation revealed enough to condemn all those involved in the farm’s success. Eight years from the fateful complaint, Smithfield farms is charged with a $25 million in damages as well as $3.25 million in punitive damages to neighboring residents who were affected by the farm’s lesser-than-friendly rearing practices.
6. Food or Commodity?
A constant media presence, ingenious and multi-million-dollar advertising campaigns, and nearly 40,000 restaurants across all seven continents, McDonald’s notorious celebrity status in pop culture and stock markets is undeniable. In fact, the ingenuity behind the fast food behemoth’s profit margins is made glaringly obvious by a closer look at the relationship between its McRib and the prices of pork, one that is more correlational than meets the naked eye. The reason for McRib’s guest appearances on the Golden Arches’ sprawling menus will continue to be up for debate (Public curiosity? Cult-like demand? The love of pork tripe?), but the influence of the McRib on the national price of pork is almost too obvious to not notice. The seasonality of the product may actually be a result of pork prices themselves and nothing else. According to the graph, hog meat’s lowest prices are also met with a reintroduction of McDonald’s flagship kitschy burger, and this price differential (low-priced pork vestiges processed into appealing patties sold at relatively expensive prices to create wide profit margins) may be at the core of the burger’s undulating regime. When the price of pork rises, however (which could just as well be a result of McDonald’s demand for the meat – meaning the restaurant literally controls its price) McDonald’s does not hesitate to dump the burger from its menus. Conspiracy theory or not, it is, much like the burger itself – definitely food for thought.
5. McRib Origins: A Story
Created by the mastermind behind the world-famous Chicken McNugget, Rene Arend attributes his wily innovation of the McRib to its more popular brother. When the Chicken McNugget was invented in 1979, McDonald’s owners (and chicken farmers) did not anticipate the skyrocketing demand, and so renown was the delicacy that demand soon outstripped supply. That’s right, after a certain point, there were insufficient chickens in the country to make enough McNuggets, so the Luxembourger had to scramble back to test kitchens to come up with an equally appetizing counterpart. In 1981, McDonald’s kitchens across the country that were insufficiently supplied with chicken nuggets were sent the brand-new McRib, and demand was… well, lukewarm at first. By 1985, the product, in fact, had to be pulled off its golden shelves, and it made its return only in 1994 thanks to its resemblance to a rib cart in the Flintstones movies (Nothing like blatant ‘90s product placement, am I right?), thus beginning a 24-year long love/hate relationship between the burger and the fast food chain’s patrons. Though today, onions, pickles, and restructured patty come together in azodicarbonamide-enabled goodness of a sandwich across the world (available year-round in Germany), Rene Arend’s creation was actually first inspired in Charleston, South Carolina. The McRib is actually a rendition of the city’s pulled pork sandwiches slathered in barbeque sauce, a similar kind of dressed-up meat delicacy that was made to be pocket-friendly.
4. How is it Really Made, Though?
Like most legendary food products of the 21st (and the 20th, and the 19th for that matter) century, much of McRib’s appeal is a result of industrialized food processing and ingenious marketing.Bits of pork (shoulders, tripe, stomach, and heart) are ground together before flavoring and preservatives are added. This indistinguishable elastic mass of disposable hog innards is ‘restructured’ into a presentable form, cooked in water and salt to extract salt-soluble proteins until fully congealed into a patty, which is pressed in the factory to form the famous rib replica. The ridges on the pork patty that seem like bones are meat as well, and they’re only still beginning to resemble the barbecue-slathered delight. The patties are then sprayed with water, readying them for the flash-freezing process. After extracted from cold storage in the homely kitchen of a McDonald’s near you, the McRib patty is then cooked in a panini-like pressing machine into a crispy golden brown. After marinating in buckets of barbecue sauce, the tangy patty is then sandwiched between two freshly toasted buns, pickles, and onions before being served.
3. The Golden McRib – an Elusive Elusive McDelicacy
In an effort to boost sales of the burger phantom, McDonald’s introduced the ‘Golden McRib’ contest in 2011. Available only on Facebook (which was not then as sketchy as this would sound now), the game encouraged enthusiastic McDonald’s patrons to wade through challenges and barbecue-sauce-loving unicorns, Viking accountants, and emo pilgrims to find ten Golden McRibs virtually hidden in ten obscure McDonald’s locations across the globe. The game was integrated with Google Maps, giving players the ability to navigate to actual Mickey D branches while testing their love for the burger. Tapping into the fervor of McRib fans across the globe, the game was either ahead of its time (think Pokémon Go, but quirky unheard-of McDonald’s mascots instead of Pokémon) or just a marketing ploy. But perhaps the fact speaks for itself: even eight years since its release, so mysterious is the Golden McRib that not even one instance of a golden McRib being found has been reported, and the game was eventually pulled off the annals of Facebook and its sprawling history – much like its many gaming counterparts that deserted the website sooner than later.
2. The Internet May Have Contributed to Its Return
After being pulled off menus in 2005 following an eleven-year-long successful stint, the McRib was paraded in a ‘farewell tour’ by McDonald’s twice before a pattern had been created. Following this, the McRib has made ‘limited returns’ to locations across the globe too many times to count. Though McDonald’s says the McRib returns ‘when it feels like it’, and the rise and fall of pork prices clearly influence its return, there is little that explains why the sandwich actually was reintroduced at all – until you turn to the internet. Since 2005, forums and petitions gained traction across the world to make the reign of the pork burger permanent: and so far, the internet has only mildly succeeded. Nonetheless, even today, petitions across the internet have gained hundreds of thousands of signees that want the McRib back, and like all large corporate giants, McDonald’s really cares for the internet’s opinion – more or less.
1. McRib is as Scandalous as it is Seasonal
The McRib is the shady Godfather of fast food legends: Its mystery and elusiveness intertwine in a saucy, tangy combo that makes mouths across the world either open in horror or salivate in anticipation. No matter your opinion about the McRib (and its delicious unhealthiness), it is impossible to deny that the burger has had a strange impact on popular culture on the internet: featuring in memes that revere and mock the burger in equal proportions, and advertisements that claim its fans cannot live without it. But the air of humor that comes with the reclusive burger’s limited returns do not preclude it from its fair share of scandal. In fact, when the daredevil of a burger isn’t busy masquerading as an edible pork patty, the McRib impassions some pretty big names: the internet, meme makers, and its own dedicated cult of haters. Apart from its association with the animal-cruel Smithfield Farms and the SEC petition filed by Humane Society of the United States, the McRib also ruffled a few feathers when raw footage of a frozen patty was released on the internet – and the problem was not animal cruelty or carcinogenic preservatives this time – it was just how unappetizing the slab of meat looked. But beyond this aesthetic affront to the taste buds of its many patrons, the burger also received some steam when insider information revealed that some McDonald’s employees just used hamburger patties instead of McRib patties because of the 45-minute cooking time, and gullible consumers were usually none the wiser. While controversy is a part and parcel of McDonald’s legacy, the McRib deserves a special status in the halls of its scandalous fame. Be it the luxuriance of its barbecue sauce, the fury it invokes in animal-safety petitioners, or its strange guest appearances on the restaurant’s menu, there is always something interesting happening about the burger. And though it isn’t available this time of the year, watch out for the specialty making only its 157th return to McMenus this coming Winter.