The McDonald's McRib sandwich has attracted a loyal, fanatical,
but small fan base often referred to as "The
Cult of McRib." Explore the history of the McRib, seasonal distribution, ingredients, quality or
lack thereof, and behavior of the McRib cultists.
A Brief History of McDonald's Menu
McDonald's is nothing if not a contradiction unto itself.
The original streamlined McDonald's menu was created by Richard and Maurice McDonald in 1948
and consisted of just nine items:
- hamburger 15 cents
- cheeseburger 19 cents
- French fries 10 cents
- milk 10 cents
- milk shake 20 cents
- root beer 10 cents
- orangeade 10 cents
- coca cola 10 cents
- coffee 10 cents
This original nine-item menu has been validated with various extant contemporary display and
paper menus. The
limited menu allowed high-volume-low-cost food preparation with standardized procedures. Note: the official
McDonald's site lists the original nine items as: hamburger, cheeseburger, soft drink in 3 flavors, milk, coffee,
pie, and potato chips. Clearly very early in the process pie and potato chips were replaced with milk
shake and French fries.
In 1963 McDonald's began down the dubious path of expanding the original nine item menu with the addition
of the Filet-O-Fish sandwich. As McDonald's grew exponentially, the commitment to a simple menu was foolishly
abandoned and replaced with both additional permanent items and seasonal items.
In 1981 McDonald's introduced the McRib sandwich. The McRib sandwich never became a permanent menu item,
and has been available on an intermittent basis ever since. Often the McRib sandwich is available for
certain brief times in select regions on a rotating basis. It usually returns just once a year in select
markets, but not simultaneously.
Recent National Seasonal Rollouts
Beginning in fall of 2010, McDonald's began a series of nation-wide McRib rollouts rather than rotating select markets all year. Dates of recent national rollouts follow.
- November 2, 2010 through December 5, 2010
- October 24, 2011 through November 14, 2011
- December 17, 2012 through Mid-January 2012 (nationwide)
- Mid-October 2013 through Mid-December 2013
- November 5, 2014 through December 2014 (selected areas)
- September 2015 through November 2015 (selected areas)
- November 9, 2016 through December 2016 (selected areas)
- November 6, 2017 through December 2017 (selected areas)
- October 29, 2018 through December 2018 (selected areas)
- October 7, 2019 through December 2019 (most states)
- December 2, 2020 through January 2021 (nationwide, first since 2012)
- November 1, 2021 through December 2021 (nationwide)
- October 31, 2022 through November 20, 2022 (nationwide)
- November 11, 2023 through probably December 2023 (selected areas)
McRib Seasonal Theories
Why is the McRib available only sporadically? There are many theories. Here are a few:
Inadvertent Official McDonald's Pronouncement
At the 1985 stockholder meeting, it was mentioned that the reason the McRib was pulled was because the McRib
could not sustain international sales because many countries do not eat pork regularly. The McRib would be
brought back periodically as a specialty sandwich for promotional periods until sales receded. Ironically, Germany is the only country where the McRib is always on the menu.
The "A Few Million Dollars Is Real Money Even for McDonald's" Theory
McDonald's sells approximately 500 million Big Macs per year, compared with 20 million McRibs. Even though
the McRib is an infinitesimal percentage of the McDonald's empire, 20 million sales of anything might be real
The Rotating Specialty Inventory Theory
It is best for any restaurant to have as little inventory as possible. The greater the
inventory, the more it adversely affects the bottom line. The McRib adds three unique items to the required
inventory, namely: the meat, the sauce, and the bread. If the McRib was offered permanently, the demand would
fade to a lower level causing the total dollar sales to decline but the specialized ingredient overhead inventory
cost would remain high. So,
in a nutshell, the sales would plateau but expenses would go up.
The rotating specialty inventory theory fits elegantly with the rotating regional availability
the McRib is offered on a roving regional basis, the specialty inventory can be targeted to a relatively small
geographical area until the profit margin drops, followed by rotating the specialty inventory to the
next geographical area.
The Declining Interest Theory
When the McRib is not available, people (read McRib cultists) crave it. When the McRib becomes available
again, an instant increase in traffic results. After the novelty wears off, interest declines rapidly. When
the demand is less than fixed overhead costs, it is time to pull the product again.
If it was sold all the time, people would just say "I'll get it tomorrow." If it is known to
be short term item, people will buy it today because it might be gone tomorrow.
Seasonal Marketing Ploy Theory
Many fast food restaurant chains find that the November-December holiday period is an opportunity for timed marketing campaigns. With McRib viewed as a peak demand product, it is convenient to overlay the McRib limited release to a holiday advertising campaign. Often fast food restaurants experience an end-of-year decline in traffic, and the seasonal McRib promotion is a counter measure.
Gaming the Price of Bulk Pork Theory
Pork prices tend to decline from September through November. McDonald's, at least in recent years, has only introduced the sandwich right during this fall price decline. It is conceivable that some sort of pork price trigger initiates the timing of McDonald's bulk pork purchases, which in turn determines the retail availability schedule. The McRib would remain available until the supply of pork from the bulk purchase is exhausted.
The McRib Sandwich
What exactly is the McRib Sandwich?
From the official McDonald's web site:
- Calories 500
- Fat 26g
- Cholesterol 70mg
- Sodium 980mg
- McRib Pork Patty: Pork, water, salt, dextrose, BHA and BHT and propyl gallate and citric acid (preservatives).
- McRib Sauce: Water, high fructose corn syrup, tomato paste, distilled vinegar, molasses, natural smoke
flavor (plant source), food starch-modified, salt, sugar, spices, soybean oil, xanthan gum, onion powder,
garlic powder, chili pepper, sodium benzoate (preservative), caramel color, beet powder.
- bun, pickles and onions
From the official McDonald's McRib 2010 restaurant box:
- McRib tangy temptation
- Flavorful boneless pork
- A smothering of tangy barbecue sauce
- Your old friend is back. It's the telltale sign of that tangy barbecue sauce that's left its mark on your lips. The fact that the tender boneless pork is smothered in it means there's no way of getting away with this love affair. I'm lovin' it ®.
From the official McDonald's McRib 2016 restaurant box:
- Tangy, tasty, real pork ...
McRib Quality or Lack Thereof
The McRib sandwich is marketed as a barbecue rib sandwich. It is neither, although it is a sandwich.
The meat of the McRib sandwich is made from left over small scraps of pork. The pork scraps are molded
together into the shape of ribs. In addition, striped coloring is added to enhance the illusion of ribs.
The sauce may resemble in some remote manner barbecue sauce. However, no respectable specialty barbecue
restaurant would serve such a bland sauce.
The hallmarks of the McDonald's philosophy, beside high sales volume, are consistent quality and taste which
will offend almost no one. Non-offensive taste leads to bland flavors. Consistent quality means
the product at one location will be very similar to the product at another location. Consistent quality
should not be confused with high quality. Thusly, the result of the McDonald's philosophy is bland consistent
mediocrity. The McRib sandwich is an archetypal product.
The barbecue cognoscenti have long regarded the McRib sandwich as fake barbecue Often this is expressed
as "faux barbecue" or "faux cue" for short.
The Cult of McRib
Despite the mediocre quality of the McRib sandwich, but buoyed by its rare availability, the McRib sandwich
has attracted a loyal, fanatical, but small fan base. This fan base is often referred to as the Cult
McRib cultists are easily identified by these behaviors:
- The phrase "I hear the McRib is coming back" creeps into unrelated conversations
- Frequent surfing to the
Locator web site
- Frequent calls to the closest McDonald's inquiring about the first day the McRib will become available
- Creation of a countdown poster showing the number of days remaining for the return of the McRib
- Measuring the freezer in order to buy the maximum number of McRibs for freezing in order to create a supply
for when the McRib disappears from local restaurants
- Making a trip to McDonald's the first day the McRib has become available again
- Planning all recreational activities around the McRib schedule when the McRib is available locally
- Planning trips to cities where the McRib is known to be currently available
- Joining more than three Facebook groups dedicated to the McRib
- A decrease in the ability to discern quality in barbecued meat
McRib. The sandwich. The myth. The legend.
This is the peculiar story of the Cult of McRib. For those of us non-cultists,
it is best to remember the cognoscenti's assessment of the McRib as "faux barbecue" or "faux
cue" for short. So
when someone asks "What is your opinion of the McRib sandwich?" merely reply: "Faux cue."