Did you realize the McRib has existed for nearly three decades? Me either. Yet, it’s been on McDonald’s menus periodically since 1981. As the story goes, when the Chicken McNugget was “invented”, demand was so great from the franchisees that Mickey D’s had to limit the markets that would receive them. To placate the other markets, the inventor of the McNugget created the McRib — eerily similar in form and function, but of course using pork instead of chicken. Thus, the legend weas born.
And so I recently found myself invited to a launch party for the McRib and a new marketing campaign, The Legends of McRib, held at the enormous flagship McDonald’s in Times Square.
In case there was any doubt who the star of the evening’s show would be, a shrine (inedible, but not for lack of trying) was well-lit and centered on the second floor of the restaurant.
The walls and much of the PR material was festooned with cartoon characters and historical figures (Ben Franklin, Napoleon) handling McRibs and generally being legen (wait for it…) dary. A photo booth in the back would give you the chance to be photographed with these legends, too.
Of course, McRib sandwiches were brought from the kitchen at regular intervals, along with fries and, all-too-rarely, shakes. But as you can see from this box, McDonald’s has lovingly embraced the Cult of McRib this time around.
The McRib. In its glory. I’m not sure if there’s exactly one shape or, like the McNugget, several slightly-different shapes to choose from, but rest assured you’re getting your money’s worth. Here, that would be $2.99, though like everything this evening, this one was gratis.
Smothered in that signature barbecue sauce — I was told KC Masterpiece was the inspiration — and topped with sliced , not diced, onion and a couple of the standard pickles, the McRib is a formed-meat masterpiece of its own. Notice that they even toast the bun.
Taking a bite, and being transported back to the early Eighties and every few years for the past couple of decades. I was a little surprised that the pork looked so… porky, actually. It’s not a slurry, it’s pretty close to merely shredded, with a sort of binder for shaping. All the flavors come through independently, and for what it is, it’s still pretty darn good. That sauce is still really sweet, but that just means I won’t eat three of these in one sitting.
Incidentally, I believe the McDonald’s PR photographer went meta on me and took a picture of me taking this picture. So that’s nice.
The Legends theme was set up on two levels. This upper level was outfitted with cameras where one could record their defining McRib moment for posterity, as well as stare at the balloon garden showing off the cartoon Legends.
I opted to talk to two of the real-life legends of McRib. A few years ago Alan Klein, of Minnesota, created the McRib Locator, a Google Maps app which took feedback from users to plot McRib sightings around the country. Starting out with a perhaps a couple hundred hits a day from diehards like himself, the Wall Street Journal wrote a story recently, and coupled with a Yahoo! front page story, his hits ballooned to over 89,000 daily. So finding a McRib suddenly has become painfully easy. Add to this, that Alan did it all in his spare time from his aviation forecasting vocation, and you’ve got quite the dedicated fan!
When in Rome, right? I had to enjoy the crack in potato form, tasty, salty, greasy goodness. I shared, of course.
McRib number two had a mutant top roll, the better to see the McRib goodness. While graciously accepting this McRib, I talked to New York Legend Adam Winer, who in the last McRib release — which did not include New York City — flew to Chicago, then drove to St. Louis, mapping his route based on eating McRibs the whole way down. Since he wrote this up for Maxim, he had some behind-the-scenes help from McDonald’s in locating plenty of McRib-stocked restaurants. Adam is a fellow Duke alumnus, so that makes him automatically cool. Now if only he’d seen the entire Simpsons Ribwich episode (“No, you’re waaay off. Think smaller. Think more legs.”)…
Adam noted that not only did the McRib’s taste not vary from location to location, he hadn’t noticed a change from release to release, either. I think that takes a lot of skill on the part of McDonald’s. Truly, the Budweiser of fast food.
But all good things must come to an end, and with that end, of course, the swag was handed out: an excellent McRib T-shirt, flash drive with loads of information, two free McRib coupons, wet naps, and a pen courtesy of the Pork Board (in case you were on the fence as to the construction materials for the McRib). Lovely mementos to remember a sandwich worthy of the American cult canon. I’ve had McRibs before and since so far this year, and I’m not ashamed in the least to admit that. Long live the McRib!
Please note that this meal was courtesy of McDonald’s and the restaurant’s PR. I received no monetary compensation for this review, nor was I obliged in any way to post about this meal, positively or otherwise. This is my own opinion of McDonald’s and I feel it was unbiased; you are free to take from this what you will.