If you caught my pasta snob article from earlier this week, you should know that there’s some irony in me writing it. Enthusiastic cork-sniffer though I may be, there was once a time when I ate McDonald’s every single day. I exaggerate only slightly.
We lived way out in the country in Fresno County, past where my school’s buses ran. So every day when I got out of school at 3 o’clock, from about middle school until I could drive, I’d go to the junior college where my mom worked to wait until she got off at five to take us home. There was a McDonald’s across the street from the college, and, probably to keep me from annoying the shit out of everyone in her office, she’d usually give me a few bucks to go get myself something. It likely stunted my growth and guaranteed future heart disease, but I loved McDonald’s. Hell, I was obsessed with it. It was the highlight of my day.
This week, to widespread acclaim, McDonald’s has brought back the McRib (for a limited time). The saucy riblet roll debuted in the early 80s and came back for a limited run in October 2019, but hasn’t been available nationwide since 2012. In any case, the internet loves the McRib, for whatever reason. And with the sandwich back on the menu, we thought, who better to review it than me, a McDonald’s enthusiast with decades of experience?
Since I don’t have a favorite McDonald’s franchise anymore, I just went to the location nearest my house. It was one of those fancy jobs with the double-lane drive-through. I didn’t see the McRib on the menu yet, but I ordered it anyway and they took it in stride, as if they expected me all along. The payment window was no-touch and by the time my credit card was done processing the person at the next window was already holding my food bag in an outstretched fist, waiting for me to come get it. Clearly, these were professionals. It was like they thought I was some spy from corporate, sent there to secretly time them and report my findings back to headquarters. I was sent there to do a job, alright, but not that job… (*long drag from cigarette, dreamy anecdote about some dame*)
Fine, fine, enough foreplay. I had to resist the urge to eat my sandwich in the car (the place where I’d normally eat McDonald’s food, the place where I’d argue McDonald’s food is meant to be eaten) so that I could photograph it. But it was only a two-minute drive from home so it didn’t have much time to get cold or soggy(er).
Opening up the bag…
In contrast to the effortlessly efficient service, this thing looked like a damn crime scene. I’m surprised no one took the time to write “HELTER SKELTER” on the lid of the box. They expect a person to eat this inside a car? Yeah, right. I’m going to end up with half of that on my hands, face, and crotch. No way I eat this on the way to anywhere that doesn’t stock extra gym shorts they can loan me from the nurse’s office.
Picking it up, the bottom bun was, as you might expect, soggy as hell.
Okay, not bad. I was expecting that red sauce to be way too sweet but it actually isn’t so bad. The pork stuff (in classic boneless riblet shape!) reminds me of that pork loaf you sometimes get in Vietnamese restaurants — not sure what it’s called, but it looks kind of like a pork meatloaf with diced rather than ground pork?
Anyway, I love that stuff so it’s not a bad food memory to evoke. The cornmeal dusting on the bun is also a nice touch. Adds a subtle but needed flavor and texture contrast. There are big slices (for McDonald’s) of fresh onions, which add freshness and crunch. I’m v pro onion, so that’s nice.
Now I’m now noticing weird textures in the meat. Like microscopic bone fragments? The meat somehow comes on juicy but chews dry. Noticing the processed flavor more here, probably because of the texture putting that thought in my head.
Ooh, it has pickles. The pickles are great. This should have more pickles. You ever notice McDonald’s pickles are just the right size? You can bite right through them. Nothing worse than a thick-ass pickle that falls in your lap when you’re trying to bite through your burger, I always say. The McDonald’s engineers solved that one years ago.
Okay, I’m halfway through and I’m tapping out. The sugary sauce and processed pork are yummy enough at first, and the pickles and onions help a lot, but it sort of loses its appeal. I mean… it’s fine. There’s a reason the similarly processed McNuggies only come in small crunchy bites (I confess that I still love McNuggies, even though I know deep down that they’re made of disgusting pink chicken slime). But this is like a whole big sandwich where the dominant ingredient is pork McNugget filling. Probably ill-advised.
There’s a reason McDonald’s only serves the McRib for a limited time. Scarcity seems to be the main appeal. It might not be the worst thing on the menu, but you probably don’t want your workers in the back slipping in puddles of bright red barbecue sauce all year, either. Who needs that headache? Better to release it only when public demand reaches a fever pitch. But hey, that’s just me playing “Fantasy McDonald’s Exec” here.