Why is the McRib really back again?
The McRib and McDonald's: they've had more break-ups and make-ups than Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel.
Since its introduction in 1981, the cult sandwich has been brought back at least 8 times for limited releases, most recently last month. Each time it makes a comeback it becomes more popular. So why isn't the McRib a McPermanent fixture, like the Big Mac?
What's really in a McRib sandwich? Find out here
The Awl's Willy Staley has a theory : pork prices determine every comeback the McRib makes. Staley noticed that each reintroduction of the product through the years has coincided with a drop in the cost of the 'other' white meat.
"The product is only introduced when pork prices are low enough to ensure McDonald's can turn a profit on the product," Staley suggests. "The theory is especially convincing given the McRib's status as the only non-breakfast fast food pork item: why wouldn't there be a pork sandwich in every chain, if it were profitable?"
McDonald's relationship with the pork industry goes back to the McRib's conception. In 1972, Roger Mandingo, a University of Nebraska professor, received a grant from the National Pork Producer's council to develop a technology that bound small "umarketable parts of the animal" into a formation that looked more appetizing. In other words, he figured out how to mold tripe, heart or stomach bits into something that looked like a choice cut of meat. Let's say, the ribs.
Mandingo's scientific breakthrough birthed the McRib almost a decade later. It stayed on the menu during a four year dip in pork prices, but by the time costs went back up in 1986, the McRib had been retired.
"During the product's first run, pork prices were fluctuating between roughly $9 and $13 per pound-until they spiked around when McDonald's got rid of it," explains Staley. "Also note that sharp dip in 1994-McDonald's reintroduced the sandwich that year, too."
On the record, McDonald's reintroduced the product that year to coincide with the movie "The Flintstones". But Staley is skeptical, and he's not alone. Another popular theory of why the McRib won't stick to McDonald's ribs, is more psychological. Some believe that its limited availability is a marketing tactic that drives demand-not just for the McRib but for the McDonald's brand.
"As much as some might want the McRib to have a permanent place under the Golden Arches, there is much to be said for the rush to such a limited window, like the euphoric burst of optimism a high-profile acquisition always brings to baseball's Chicago Cubs," suggests Chicago Tribune reporter Phil Rosenthal .
Still, there's one thing nobody can wrap their heads around: why is the McRib so delicious? We know it's not the cut of meat. And among the 70 ingredients in the recipe, few seem appetizing on their own. One in particular is also used to make yoga mats. That doesn't exactly make you want to run to your local golden arches. Then again, who knows how long the next McRib drought will last?
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My after-school snack was a sacred ritual. I sat on the carpet in my parents' bedroom at a low table, the television turned to "I Dream of Jeannie," and ate a peanut butter and honey sandwich cut into neat squares. I wasn't fussy about crusts. I just loved the sticky pairing of creamy peanut butter with syrupy golden sweetness drizzled from a honey bear in diagonals across the soft white bread. Nothing else--save for maybe apples and peanut butter in a pinch--could have made for as sweet an