Issue January 22, 2013

Taste Bud: McRib? McYUCK

I shouldn’t have opened my mouth. While watching football recently with my friend Butch, we saw a commercial for the McRib sandwich, that unholy abomination on bread that is rolled out every so often by corporate chain McDonald’s in its relentless effort to kill us all.

I mentioned to Butch that I’d never eaten a McRib sandwich and never intended to. Of course, his response was, “Now that you’ve said that out loud, you sort of have to eat one, don’t you?”

Dammit.

So a couple of days later I used my lunch break to do what I said I’d never do: I ate a McRib. Pigs flew that day, my friends. Up was down. Black was white. Right was wrong. Left was … well, you get it.

You see, the McRib barely classifies as food. A recent article titled “Amazing Facts About the McDonald’s McRib,” published on businessinsider.com, does some of the explaining for me. I won’t burden you with all of this information, but there are a couple facts you should probably know.

One is that a McRib sandwich contains about 70 ingredients — including a flour-bleaching agent called azodicarbonamide that is used in producing yoga mats. The stuff is banned in Europe and Australia as a food additive because it’s toxic. (I’m lovin’ it.)

But the factoid I couldn’t get past is that the McRib is a creation of an industrial breakthrough called “restructured meat technology.” The “restructured meat product” in a McRib sandwich contains a mixture of pork tripe, heart and — direct quote here — “scalded stomach,” which is then mixed with salt and water to pull proteins from the muscle. Those proteins then bind together all the ingredients and enable the stuff to be molded into any specific shape, such as a fake slab of ribs.

(Remember when Joey on “Friends” proclaimed his love of the McRib? “Even the bones are meat!”)

So in this bizarre process of meat origami, why shape it like a slab of ribs when there aren’t any bones? This apparently was inspired by authentic Southern barbecue, and thus the sandwich was called “McRib.” Also, “McRestructuredMeatProduct” apparently didn’t test well with focus groups.

Anyway, when I sheepishly ordered my McRib, the cashier informed me the sandwiches were on sale: Two McRibs for $4.

“One will probably be enough to kill me,” I replied. She chuckled.

Moments later, I sat, staring down the unthinkable: after all these years of abstinence, a McRib that was destined for my digestive system. I looked at it; it was kind of weird. I took off the top bun and gazed at the fake grill marks and the lumps that are supposed to approximate the contours of rib bones.

And then I took a bite. The “meat” was sort of spongy and quite bland. In fact, it was a bit like a McDonald’s breakfast sausage patty, only — if you can believe this — with less flavor. The sauce was plentiful (presumably to help mask the weird), was mildly tangy and sweet, but clearly built for the undiscerning palate. The crispy raw onions are actually the best part of the sandwich, truth be told, because they add an actual, recognizable flavor as well as a nice crunchy texture to the sponginess of the “meat.”

Almost impossibly, there are people who actually travel to find McDonald’s locations that sell these things even when a national ad campaign is not under way. (Google “McRib locator” if you don’t believe me.) I mean, this stuff is literally toxic. And it’s also unhealthy. A single McRib sandwich packs 500 calories, 26 grams of fat, 44 grams of carbs, and 980 milligrams of sodium.

Honestly, just eat the yoga mat. It’s probably better for you.

Interestingly, some business forecasters theorize that McDonald’s uses the McRib’s on-again, off-again availability to drive its popularity. If it was readily available all year, would it sell so well? It sure picked up McDonald’s sagging sales at the end of 2012, which is probably no coincidence. Also, one analyst noted that McRib campaigns often coincide with low pork prices, which would not only drive sales but maximize profits.

See, this McRib thing isn’t food, it’s a corporate chess piece. And it’s unhealthy. And it’s kind of disgusting. And I freaking ate one. Bleah.

Never again. I vow to go to my grave having only eaten one of these monstrosities, peer pressure be damned. And the one I ate will probably still be lurking inside my colon when I do.