by AJ Golub
Hello. My name is Adam Golub, and I am an addict. I have been addicted to fast food since I was 14 months old. It was a tender, formative time; My communicative skills were rounding into form. I would request a Happy Meal with a series of grunts comprehensible to only my poor mother, which she begrudgingly relented to on more occasions than she feels comfortable admitting. In 12-step speak, she is my addiction’s classic enabler.
In the near three decades since those early mother-son bonding moments, I do humbly believe that my palate has evolved a great deal. Quite frankly, my addiction has demanded it. I have been told by many of my peers that my refined tastes and encyclopedic knowledge of fast food offerings has made me an untapped resource ready to explode upon the world. (In reality, only our esteemed editor Rich holds this view of my potential. I have tried to convince myself that he isn’t the only one.)
Seeing as how I would like to believe I possess knowledge of subjects beyond fast food, and given that I have been barred from adding insight into any subject aside from fast food herein, I am going to write this column as if I am the Hemingway of the Hamburger. The Friedman of the Fry. The Nietzsche of the Nugget. The Ebert of the Egg McMuffin. Or something like that.
Just keep this in mind as you read this column: I know how every fast food restaurant dresses their sandwiches, by name and by type, and can recite them at the speed by which an idiot-savant multiplies two 5-digit numbers. I can order a full meal from any fast food chain with items not appearing on the regular menu. I know how frequently Burger King changes the oil in their fryers. I am special.
In this premiere edition of Unfine Dining, I would like to discuss what is widely considered the Holy Grail of fast food items: McDonald’s transcendent McRib sandwich, which has recently been reintroduced for a limited time. The McRib has taken on great cultural significance among fast food connoisseurs and laymen alike. Urban Outfitters sells a McRib t-shirt right along side one’s bearing the slogan “More Cowbell” and other popular hipster prints. There is a McRib tribute site (www.mcrib.com), a McRib twitter account, and a McRib locator app. In their latest commercial announcing the McRib’s triumphant return, a man is sent reeling when, on his honeymoon, he receives a text message from his buddies that they are en route to McDonald’s, for their beloved McRib has returned. Much like when the plumber comes knocking in a porno scene, we know where its going to go from here - Honeymoon over, wife only slightly displeased as she smiles wryly, McRib in hand. But perhaps this advertisement isn’t so far fetched. According to the Wall Street Journal, McDonald’s sees an increase in revenue of approximately 15% nationwide during the McRib’s run. Without going into a whole discussion of micro economics, that’s, like, a serious increase. Best to change those honeymoon plans now, ladies.
I am not the first writer (though perhaps the first addict) to have devoted an entire article breaking down the McRib in all her glory. The seminal piece of McRib journalism was written by Meredith Melnick and published in Time Magazine over multiple separate articles in 2010 and 2011. In her piece, Ms. Melnick details the composition of the McRib, noting that over 70 different ingredients are used to create the sandwich from bun to bun. These include azodicarbonamide, pig ear, pig lips, ammonium sulfate, and blah-blah-blah, blah-blah-blah-blah. Silence Melnick! The fast food addict cares not for what is inside his food! He cares only about taste and execution. With all due respect to Ms. Melnick, she must have had someone else in mind when she wrote her scathing piece of McRib slander. As far as this author is concerned, she can detail the composition of the McRib patty until pigs fly. If my addiction demands that I order something up, it can be made of boiled pig’s shit - as long as it tastes good. Taste is king; Health, long-life, hygiene, and nutritional value are mere afterthoughts.
So let’s take a look at the McRib - we have Ms. Melnick’s pork patty of death, smothered in the same BBQ sauce contained in the McDonald’s sauce cups, and sandwiched with onions and two pickles in between a bun best described as a narrow, elongated Kaiser roll. It is quite a simple sandwich, even by fast food standards. In the most glowing and positive terms, the McRib tastes something like a McDonald’s BBQ-sauce sandwich (stay tuned for the fast food condiments post for a more detailed look at McDonald’s BBQ sauce, among many others). Removing the patty from the bun and wiping away as much pre-applied BBQ sauce as possible, I can report that the patty tastes like very little. At the very least, the taste is unrecognizable to this advanced palate. The McRib patty is soft and fatty, and much easier to bite into than a standard McDonald’s beef patty. The beef patty, however, at least tastes like beef, regardless of its quality. A McRib patty looks and tastes like nothing else I have ever seen before. I do not, however, believe this mystery meat aspect adds to its appeal.
The McRib was first introduced in 1982 and McDonald’s removed it from circulation in 1985 due to poor sales. In 1989, it was reintroduced using McDonald’s own BBQ sauce, and has been a hot seller in limited runs since. Ms. Melnick, the Wall Street Journal, the LA Times and even the esteemed scholars at Maxim magazine have been able to point at the same reason for its popularity - impermanence. By making the McRib seem special, it has become perceived as special. Much like a trendy Manhattan pop-up restaurant, its popularity is not based on quality in any way whatsoever.
I recently ate a McRib with a close friend who is the most loyal McDonald’s customer I have ever known. We both agreed the McRib is perhaps the poorest item on the McDonald’s menu whose name does not include the words “filet” or “fish.” So how could McDonald’s improve on this massively popular sales bonanza in terms of quality? I believe the answer is two-fold: 1) By giving the patty an infusion of flavor - Cumin, pepper, cinnamon - the traditional base components of rib rubs used by the finest BBQ joints in Kansas City and Austin. Just a hint of these would alleviate the need to drown this sad patty in an overwhelming portion of McDonald’s BBQ sauce. 2) With less sauce drowning the patty, I would add a sharp or spicy cheese - a Jack or a Cheddar. Let’s be honest here people, everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, is better with cheese.
Would I order a McRib again when it returns in 2012? If, contrary to Mayan prophecy, the world does not end before #McRibisBACK!!! dominates twitter feeds, I will attempt to add cheese to my order. So I guess that’s a yes. As currently constructed, however, I’m going to give the McRib one and a half arches out of a possible five. I can’t see this review affecting much change, as billions and billions are served, but let this serve as notice: I’m watching you Ronald. Step your game up.