For those who like to know what they're eating before they, well, eat it — the McRib is nothing short of a mystery. It was created 41 years ago in 1981 by McDonald's first executive chef, René Arend, who also developed those famous Chicken McNuggets as a means to combat a chicken shortage.
"The McNuggets were so well received that every franchise wanted them," Arend told Maxim magazine in a 2009 interview. "There wasn't a system to supply enough chicken. We had to come up with something to give the other franchises as a new product."
After a year of test-marketing, that first McRib appeared in McDonald's stores in 1982. Despite the cultlike appreciation for the sandwich, the McRib was actually considered a failure. Even with support throughout the Midwest, McDonald's discontinued the McRib in 1985, citing a lack of pork eaters in the United States.
Then it made a major comeback in 1994 as a promotional tie-in to "The Flintstones" movie. Naturally, the sudden popularity and support for the McRib sparked a movement to restock select stores across the U.S. and Canada. But just as it reappeared, the McRib disappeared again in 2005. McDonald's even planned a "McRib Farewell Tour" (shocking, right?) featuring an online "Save the McRib" campaign.
So all this begs the question: What exactly is the McRib? McDonald's describes the contents of the famed sandwich as "seasoned, boneless pork slathered in smoky, tangy barbecue sauce, topped with slivered onions and tart pickles," but that's just marketing. We do know one thing: It's not pork rib meat. It's mostly meat from the pork shoulder.
It's called restructured meat, and the food processing technique was created by the U.S. Army in the 1960s to lower its food costs. These new meats were added to MREs for troops. So essentially, the McRib is made of pig parts (including boneless pork picnic shoulder) pressed into the iconic McRib shape with some barbecue sauce added for flavor.
McDonald's did allow the late Grant Imahara, former co-host of the show "MythBusters," behind the scenes in 2014 with Virginia teacher Wes Bellamy. Bellamy's tweet about how unappetizing the meat looked caught McDonald's attention.
The two watched as the pork meat was processed and pressed into shape, and then flash-frozen to be shipped to restaurants. In the video, Kevin Nanke, vice president of McDonald's U.S. pork supplier Lopez Foods, says the only ingredients in a McRib are pork, water, dextrose and preservatives to "lock in the flavor."