I am a Kansas City Barbeque Society certified barbeque judge. Got an official pin and everything. Granted, anyone with a few bucks in their pocket and a free afternoon can qualify for this distinction, but I like to mention it as frequently as possible.
I also like to pretend that this makes me particularly qualified to assess the merits of McDonald's mercurially available McRib sandwich, seeing as it has "rib" in its name and all. I was wrong. There is no expertise needed. There are, for that matter, no teeth required for the consumption of this sandwich, in semi-discordance with the sandwich's signature "CHOMP!" campaign of the late 1980s.
"Restructured meat products are commonly manufactured by using lower-valued meat trimmings reduced in size by comminution (flaking, chunking, grinding, chopping or slicing). The comminuted meat mixture is mixed with salt and water to extract salt-soluble proteins. These extracted proteins are critical to produce a 'glue' which binds muscle pieces together. These muscle pieces may then be reformed to produce a 'meat log' of specific form or shape." Mandigo told the authors of a University of Nebraska report on restructured meat products.
Moser goes on to tie the sandwich's visceral appeal to the roots of traditional South Carolina barbecue (making inexpensive cuts of meat more appealing with a cooking process and a slathering of sauce), and its sporadic appearance on market conditions, quoting Mandigo once again.
"If you suddenly start to buy a large amount of that material," said Mandigo, "the price starts to rise." Then the cuts go back into their traditional service as ingredients in processed meats like Spam and Vienna sausages.
"That material," as Mandigo calls it, is pork trimmings - but not from the rib. According to McDonald's Executive Chef Dan Coudreaut, it's primarily shoulder and loin meat, chopped and formed into a boneless patty in the shape of a four-ridged rib slab, and then quickly frozen until it meets it final fate on a restaurant grill. Then it's slathered in sauce, topped with pickles and raw onion and served in a long, soft white bun. That's in adherence to the original recipe formulated by McDonald's first Executive Chef Rene Arend - also credited with the invention of the Chicken McNugget.
While Mandigo and Arend's contributions may have been key, their creation has hogged all the glory, inciting frenzy each time it's reintroduced for a limited engagement on the McDonald's menu. Not only does McD's build buzz with promotions like an online "Quest for the Golden McRib" game, a now-defunct site for the "Boneless Pig Farmers of America," Twitter promotions and seemingly endless "farewell tours," - they also rely on homegrown hype from Facebook fans and enthusiasts like Alan Klein, founder of the McRib Locator website. Klein developed the site (which now has a popular Facebook fan page) to assist other fanatics in pursuit of the elusive sandwich.
But does it really stand up to all the ballyhoo? Heck - that's up to you. Taste is an incredibly subjective thing, and as we often say around Eatocracy HQ, if it tastes good, it is good. In the opinion of this certified judge, it tastes and feels not so much (or anything at all) like barbeque, but rather akin to a thin, wet hunk of mattress padding slathered in sharply tangy sauce and spiked with enough raw onions to make the Lincoln Memorial tear up. The pickles are good and the bun sufficiently pillowy, but it all comes back to that squishy, machine-formed slab that I described to a colleague in an IM as "creepy."
It may not be my cup of barbeque, but that just means more for you. Chomp.