The McRib Is Turning 40 (and Y'all Are Still Eating It)

By: Jeremy Glass  | 

McRib
Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese ... oh wait. Wrong sandwich. The McRib is seasoned, boneless pork slathered in smoky, tangy barbecue sauce, topped with slivered onions and tart pickles. Mmm. McDonald's

It's a McRib world, and we're all just livin' in it. Much like the first snow of the season or spring break, McDonald's release of cult-favorite McRib is something a lot of people get behind. Keyword: a lot. And fans can — for the second time during the COVID-19 pandemic — line up to get one starting Nov. 1, 2021. But just like clockwork, in a few short months, McDonald's will pull it off the menu faster than fans can say McRib.

For the other part of the population — 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 40 years ago in 1981 by McDonald's first executive chef — who also developed those famous Chicken McNuggetsRené Arend as a means to combat a chicken shortage.

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"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 quickly as it reappeared, the McRib disappeared again in 2005. McDonald's even planned the "McRib Farewell Tour" 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 "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."

There must be something about that flavor, because 40 years is a pretty long time for McDonald's to be serving up this love-it or hate-it sandwich. "Whether you're a McRib loyalist or first timer, there is no denying that the McRib is one of the most iconic sandwiches of the last four decades and we have thousands of emails and tweets from fans to prove it," Mike Bullington, senior archives manager at McDonald's said in a press statement.

So if you want to get your hands on a McRib while it's available, set your calendar reminders for Nov. 1. Because before you know it, the McRib will be gone yet again. And that's all in the "McPlan." Create a demand for a seasonal item and the diners will come.

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Originally Published: Nov 5, 2020

McRib FAQ

Is the McRib back at McDonald's?
McDonald's last brought the McRib back on Dec. 2, 2020.
Why is the McRib seasonal?
The McRib is seasonal because its limited availability increases demand. By offering the McRib sporadically, McDonald's is able to generate interest and increased motivation each time the McRib is re-released.
Is McDonald's selling the McRib right now?
No, as of February 2021 the McRib has been taken off McDonald's menu once again.
What month does the McRib come out?
McDonald's changes the McRib's availability each time it returns to the fast food restaurant's menu. It's rarely released at the same time or within the same month when it becomes available again.
Why was the McRib discontinued?
Originally, when the McRib was first unveiled in 1981, it didn't sell well. In fact, it performed so poorly it was removed from the menu completely in 1985. It wasn't until it returned in 1994 that it became a recurring seasonal addition popular with customers.

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