They say that smell is the sense most closely tied to memory. Anyone who has ever smelled an ex's perfume can attest to that. When I opened the McRib box, the smell brought to mind my mother's Oldsmobile station wagon; the barbecue sauce reminded me of its burgundy velour interior. It was when I took the first bite, though, that I remembered exactly how long it had been.
The Serious Eats team emailed me last week with news that the McRib was coming back, on Election Day, November 2nd. (Those who read my column forwarded me similar news.) I wrote the McRib re-release date onto my calendar.
Rumors circulated this week that the McRib had been released early in certain locations. A reader confirmed that it was, indeed, available in Brooklyn and Queens. After confirming with the restaurant via telephone, I spent the entire subway ride trying to remember how long it had been since I'd last had a McRib. Sixteen years? No, that's how long it's been since the Pirates were above 500. Ten years? No, longer than that. When I ordered one, the cashier (noticeably younger than I) asked me, "Have you ever had one before?" I said it had been ten years, at least.
The scent brought my mom's old car back to mind. But that didn't seem right; she'd gotten rid of that in the late 1980s. When I bit into it, the crunch of the onion, mixed with the sauce brought the Flintstones movie to mind—Rick Moranis and John Goodman and a Flintstones-McDonalds promotion. The Flinstones was released in 1994; 16 long years ago.
The McRib has popped up from time to time since then, but it's hardly changed—hoagie-style bun, rib patty, onions, pickles, and their tangy barbecue sauce. The bun looks exactly like Burger King's bun for their chicken sandwiches, and tastes similar, too; a slight top crust, a light interior. The pickles are standard issue, but the white onions are long half-moons with a distinct onion taste and crunch. The rib patty tastes more like pork than plenty of fast-food meats, and it's complemented nicely by the barbecue sauce, which is different from the normal dipping sauce—a bit more tangy, less sweet, and more spice and smoke.
Worth All the Hype?
When people talk about the McRib, they're so often talking about nostalgia. And really, nostalgia might be the biggest thing McDonald's has going for it—memories of birthday parties and ball pits and Happy Meal boxes; The Grimace, the Fry Guys, and the Hamburglar.
Can anything live up to the memories of childhood? When I got to the end of my McRib, my heart sank. Not because I was finished, but because it didn't blow my mind. I remember it being tastier and meatier; I remember mouthwatering barbecue sauce. Sixteen years is a long time; maybe my palate has just evolved. I think the idea of the McRib is better than the McRib itself. I would've loved to have tracked down an early release and delcared, "The McRib is back!" But I can't.
I wish this were just a kink that the McD's kitchen could work out, like the new restaurant that needs a few weeks to get into a groove—but it's fast food, and that's hardly the case. I recommend that McRib fans still check them out; they aren't here to stay, and who knows when they'll be back, or where. But don't expect the second coming.