Reality Check: Burger King's 'Fire-Grilled Ribs'

Fast Food

Would you like fries (or onion rings or chicken tenders) with that?

Editor's note: John M. Edwards has reviewed a handful of fast food burgers for A Hamburger Today's Reality Check series—Burger King's Iron Man Whiplash Whopper, The McDonald's Angus vs. Burger King's XT, and McDonald's Mac Snack Wrap. Today he's bringing Reality Check beyond burgers with a review of Burger King's new ribs.


Press photo of the ribs. [Photograph: Burger King]

When I got the call from Serious Eats to tackle Burger King's new 'Fire-Grilled Ribs,' I was so elated I broke into song. "I want my baby back baby back ribs," I started singing as I headed for the nearest BK. Could it really be possible to get great ribs at a drive-thru? (Bass note: "Barbecue sauce.")

Burger King recently introduced a new line of ribs to its menu, offering them in six- or eight-piece value meals. Note the term "piece." Though as an American adult I ought to know better, having looked at the BK Menu at the drive-thru, I expected ribs at least four or five inches long. When I opened the box, I found riblets no longer than 2.5 inches. That, in and of itself, is not bad; Applebees used to make pretty solid riblets with a barbecue glaze. But these were not Applebees ribs.

Those who've read my previous columns know that I'm not against fast food, in any large sense. I like Burger King. I love their fries. So, in the interest of fairness, I'm going to approach these ribs in two different ways.



The ribs in real life. These photos were taken at a press event where 3-piece portions were given out. [Photo: Robyn Lee]

As far as fast food goes, these ribs are great. They're actual pork, the tips of pork short ribs, and don't have that artificially composed taste (nor the occasional nub of cartilage) that the McRib has. And for a drive-thru, the meat is quite tasty: it doesn't have, say, the watery, salt-infused fake taste of a headless, featherless Kentucky Fried bio-bird. The naked meat is pretty appealing—you're not dealing with a cotton-corn-syrup bun, nor gritty pink tomato and weak lettuce. Thirty minutes after eating, I didn't have that Fast Food Hangover; I still felt like a human being. They're salty, you can taste fatty, meaty pork, and the meat comes clean off the bone. I would definitely go back.

However, as someone who likes ribs more than he likes fast food, these ribs fell short. They all tasted like they had been microwaved. Most were shiny, with an eerie glisten—the kind normally reserved for the free fried chicken you get with a delivery over $30 from a Chinese restaurant. Of the eight I tried, three or four fell off the bone; the others required some serious chew. The glaze on the outside was so dried that it cracked and crisped. Basically, inside of the six or eight you get, they're hit or miss.

Then there's the price. For $9.98, I got eight riblets—maybe four normal-sized ribs. (Plus fries and a soda.) I seem to recall paying $9.99 for a half-rack of ribs, plus fries, at Damon's Grill back home in Pittsburgh. And those are smothered in a real, tangy barbeque sauce. With a new promotion, I expected Burger King to introduce a special sauce for the ribs. Instead, I got the regular BK BBQ sauce (which is better than McDonald's, but still, I had high hopes).

Burger King, I'm sorry. This is good fast food. This is different fast food. It sure beats one of my last fast-food taste tests—what one commenter referred to as McDonald's "Shit Taco."

But you've stepped up the game so much—in price and in concept—that I have to consider these ribs real food. And in that regard, they suck. Even Chau-Chow City (Boston, lemme hear ya) serves up better ribs, and they're a hell of a lot cheaper. Mr. King, they tasted like they'd been lying around, not recently flame-broiled, and that's not something I'm used to from you.

Final thought: you should only sell these in the North, and out West—because the South and Texas are probably going to laugh in your face.

Fun with Fast Food