Doug Bari: McRib Finder
Doug types too much...
February 28, 2021
The McDonald’s McRib sandwich has a checkered past. Since being introduced in the states in 1981, the McRib has been on a rollercoaster. Testing well in some places, but not others. Lots of sales, then no sales. Cancelling it forever, then bringing it back – repeatedly. For the longest time, it seemed McDonald’s had no idea how to steer one of their more divisive products. But fan interest was high enough that the sandwich gained an almost mythical importance. And something cultish can equal lots of money.
Having a product that comes out sporadically and with staggered release dates makes McRibs like Cabbage Patch Kid dolls during the 1982 Christmas season when you couldn’t get one to save your life. And everybody wanted one of those dolls. People got crazy insane trying to hunt down Cabbage Patch anything. Well, the crazy insane McDonald’s version of that is the McRib, so crazy insane that there are rib McFinder apps to aid in your quests. If a McDonald’s in the United States has one of those McRibs, your McFinder app will point you to it.
Whether or not people like McRibs borders on being political in nature – just like a presidential candidate, McRibs fall into the “you either love them or hate them” category. In my interactions over the years, there seems to be no place for middle ground.
The McRib was invented by McDonald’s first executive chef who was a Luxembourg native – he was the same guy who invented the original Chicken McNuggets in 1979. The chef’s origin must have had something to do with the fact that the only McDonald’s that sell McRibs year-round are located in Luxembourg. And Germany. Those 2 countries can’t get enough of them.
The sandwich itself is fairly simple – just 5 ingredients. A 5 ½ inch sesame-seed bun, raw chopped onions, sliced pickles, sweet and tangy barbecue sauce, and then of course, there’s the meat itself. The pork. There are many conspiracy stories about what’s actually in the pork – remember when the original McDonald’s chicken nuggets were exposed to contain chicken “parts?” As they used to shrug and say, “Well, parts is parts.” Much shading has been thrown on the McRib pork patty which McDonald’s says is boneless pork shoulder formed into the shape of a rib. I’ve certainly seen the internet warnings over the years about how it wasn’t just pork shoulder mashed in there. There was sawdust in addition to pork “parts” according to theorists on the web.
Nothing about the processing – real or imagined – bothers me. And maybe it should. But I’ve eaten enough hot dogs in my life to know I can outlive processed food if I have to. And if you’ve ever eaten a hot dog that wasn’t kosher, you ingested dirt, rat feces and bug parts just like I did.
And hey, be careful with the stone throwing. Maybe you eat something just as disgusting. Cheetos covered in fake orange dust. Peeps? Cap’n Crunch? How about raw oysters? The worm at the bottom of a tequila bottle. Seriously. You know you’ve done something. Put those fist-sized rocks down.
For the last several years, I have paid more attention to the yearly release date. Salivating, trembling in anticipation waiting for opening day to roll around. I totally understand if you stop reading now and hate me for the rest of your life. It’s okay. I’m willing to take the slings and arrows. I’m apparently willing to die for my sin.
The eating experience itself is a messy one – on a Big Mac scale, but maybe messier depending on how your food prep person slung the Big Mac or the McRib into the box. Sauce on either one of those untidy options can be all over your hands and dripping through your fingers before you’ve taken your first bite. But the difference in nastiness is compounded in the case of the McRib. Once you get McRib barbecue sauce on your hands, it doesn’t matter what you try to wipe off with your fistful of napkins. You could use sulfuric acid, your hands can look clean, but that sauce smell has seeped into your skin. It is always best to immediately seek out hand washing after ingesting the big mess. Soap and warm water still work wonders. As a famous doctor once quipped, “If you got number 2 smeared on your forearm, would you wipe it off with a piece of dry paper and feel like you were clean?”
I had a McRib the first year they came out. A friend took me to lunch at a German McDonald’s in Mainz and the signs were up. Being a McDonald’s tramp from my teens on, when I saw McDonald’s had a brand new product, I wanted to try it. My friend didn’t and openly disparaged me as I ate it. He wanted to know what was wrong with me.
In his stand-up, Sam Kinison famously called it the McShit sandwich and wondered – just like the friend who bought me my first one – what could I possibly see in that concoction?
I can’t explain myself. I am just one with it.
In a prior life when I was an Air Force guy stationed in Germany, my ex and I spent a week in London with a friend of ours and while we were there, we went to a sensational multi-story record shop – HMV. I was huge into music at the time, so for me, Doug was in a big candy store. I bought some Beatles imports that were collector pressings. This was when everything was vinyl or tape – CDs hadn’t been introduced yet.
Upon our return, we got together with our friend and I opened one of my newly acquired imports to show off. I went to great lengths describing what a beautiful specimen I had in my hands and what an important moment this was. We were going to hear The Beatles as we’d never heard them. “This is premium vinyl, guaranteed not to have pops or clicks. Superior sound quality packed in a static-free rice-paper inner sleeve.” I remember a tone in the room that bordered on reverence. After carefully removing the album from the outer and inner sleeves, being extra cautious to handle the vinyl by the edges to avoid fingerprints, I gingerly placed the sacred LP on my manual turntable.
When I attempted to carefully lower the stylus onto the groove, the arm slipped from my fingers and the needle ended up scraping across the entire album. The sound was something I’ll never forget.
The room went silent. Was Doug going to lose it in front of everybody? Nope. I picked up the arm as it was scratchily trying to play the center paper label, and turned to my audience. Nobody dared to say anything. And then I laughed. And so did my small audience. We were all relieved.
It’s called picking your battles. And finding McRibs has become a battle I’ve wanted to take on for the last several years in earnest. Pre-Covid, I had a friend or two who might join me in the search, but with social distancing and all that goes with it, I am on my own. Plus my friends were lightweights. They might go out for a McRib, but if they notched 5 or 6 a year, that was a big deal.
I wanted to set a record. Do something special. So I set a goal over the last few months. I didn’t know how long stores around my area would have them, but I got the number 25 in my head. Don’t ask me why. I’ve never eaten that many before. Ever. Not even close. But this time out, I wanted to be a true rebel. Without a cause, you might say. Or at least, not a good cause. I wanted to be Joey Chestnut, wolfing down 75 hot dogs encased in water-soaked buns in 10 minutes. Not because I needed to. No. I just wanted to see if I could do it.
I experienced several missteps in the process.
The first time I purchased 2 at the same time, one of them came with very little sauce and was actually a bit dry.
On more than one occasion, the end of the bun was stale – like cardboard – but since there’s a heavy rumor they use sawdust to help bond the pork, the cardboard effect almost seemed appropriate, so I didn’t bother to complain.
I had one instance of not following Joe Pesci’s advice about checking your stuff at the drive-thru, only to drive home and find my McRibs were not in the bag. When I called the store, they asked if I wanted to come back right away. I didn’t want to make the drive, so they offered to put my name on a list. I thought it was funny the store kept a list – you know, like how many people do you screw over by not putting all their stuff in the bag that you have to keep a list? Plus they only wanted my first name. The next day when I returned at lunchtime to claim my junk, the woman at the window yelled to the crew in back of her, “There’s some guy here named Doug!”
Followed by an unseen crew member yelling back, “Is that the McRib guy?”
Yeah, I’m the McRib guy. Gimme what you owe me even though in the long run, I’d be better off without them.
The limited McRib promotion began nation-wide on December 2nd, 2020. By Sunday, January 17th, 2021, I was up to 23. I know this seems excessive, and I know that because even in my mind, it is. If anyone I knew had consumed 23 McRibs over roughly 6 weeks, I would shame them. Publicly. Granted, I did encourage a self-fulfilling prophecy by putting the number 25 into my head to start with. But the fact that I was following through should have been enough to scare anyone in their right mind.
So there I was on the Sunday of the Martin Luther King 3-day-weekend, waiting in line at the drive-thru. I’d wanted to go the previous day, but Judy talked me out of it with thoughts about healthy eating. But by Sunday, I was itching. Tapping the big vein in my forearm in anticipation. At our local Ruckersville store, which is 10 minutes from our house, they have a dual drive-up for ordering that narrows to a single line of cars. For some reason, most people ignore the 2nd lane and queue up in the 1st lane. As I entered their parking lot, there was a line of probably 5 or 6 cars in lane 1. NOBODY in lane 2. Definitely a good omen. I drove up to empty lane 2 and placed my order, being careful not to make direct eye contact with the folks who think you just jumped the line. Of course, they could have done the same, but they have mad looks on their faces anyway.
But then I got a mad look on my face, too. I’d spent a lot of the previous day doing a final mow of the big piece and completing leaf-blowing. That took over 4 hours. I’d put in some work. Now it was time to reward myself. That’s when the voice on the squawk box came back with, “We’re all out of McRibs.”
Sold out. Everyone who seeks out McRibs knows some stores will sell out before others. That’s part of the danger element – you know, in addition to possibly going into cardiac arrest. My goal had been 25 for the season. And now I was being denied. When the world owed me. What the.
When I got home with the news and no McRibs, Judy manifested a look of horror. The same one she got the time I came home and they hadn’t put them in the bag. Her expression reminded me of the people in the room when I bounced that stylus on my Beatles import album. The part before everyone laughed. To be honest, Judy didn’t care whether I got a McRib or not – she would rather they’d never been invented. No, she was more worried about what I might do, wondering if I was going to go off. What is a crazed McRib person capable of? – that was the look on her face.
I was cool. I accepted my fate. And Judy was relieved. Maybe God didn’t want me to have a McRib because I hadn’t been to church. Maybe one of the church families ordering in lane 1 had gotten the last one right before I drove up, and the only reason they got one and I didn’t was because they’d prayed about it.
I contemplated going to church, but I wasn’t sure it would help. Besides you can’t take me anywhere. I think it was Cedric the Entertainer who told the joke: “My New Year’s resolution is to try to stop swearing.” Pregnant pause. “In church.”
So church was out and the Ruckersville location was out. Okay. Take a deep breath. Think about all the good things in your life that far outweigh the importance of another ingested McRib that sits on your stomach for hours giving you McGurgle.
The next day was Monday. Martin’s holiday. I was on the computer and I decided to call around. There was another McDonald’s, except it was in northern Charlottesville – a half-hour drive each way. Right away I wasn’t particularly keen on driving an hour for a McRib. Or was I? Man, I got dark thoughts and a switch flipped in my head. I was going to get to 25 if I still could. I mean, life is all about goals, right? I called the store. “Yes, we have them.”
Judy wanted absolutely nothing to do with my plan. “I’m not in the mood for fast food. If you want to go, just go yourself.”
I mentioned I might eat them right there in their parking lot. Judy thought that was a great idea. Then she gave me a look that said I’d better wash my hands with soap and warm water before returning home.
On my way. Got the music cranked. I glance at the rearview and there is a smug sneer smeared on my face. The sow is mine. Beautiful day. Sun shining. Not much wind. Plus it was a winter day in Virginia – low 50s in the middle of January.
I ordered 2 when I got there. I know this sounds piggish. Now in my defense, and really there isn’t much of one at this point, I will offer this bit of twisted logic: Most people will get a sandwich, fries and a soft drink. I prefer to eat 2 sandwiches, no fries, washed down with a bottle of water. So calorie-wise, things even out. But yeah, when I get to the last bite or 2 of the second one, there is a little devil on my shoulder whispering, “That was too much. And you know that. You know McDonald’s food isn’t good for ANYONE. You even own the DVD of Supersize Me. But go ahead anyway. You know you want to.”
See how devils work?
A week after the MLK holiday, I was stuck at work, fully masked at all times as required by my employer. I was good. Packed a lunch to include an apple and a banana. That night, I didn’t sleep well. A devil started talking to me. Making suggestions. “You know you ate the right things earlier today, but tomorrow, don’t pack a lunch. Think dangerously. Think insurrection on a food level.”
I have to be careful with devil thoughts about lunch because Judy quizzes me on a regular basis. I call her every day around 10 AM to say hi and she always comes around to “Did you pack a lunch today?”
She has every reason to ask that. She knows about me and temptation. It would be criminal for me to eat unhealthily and spend more money than necessary when our own fridge and cupboard are adequately stocked with lettuces, luncheon meats, sliced cheeses, not to mention things like fresh fruit and nuts. Why on earth would I avoid doing the right thing?
It’s not me. It’s the devils. I can’t control them. Not every day.
When I’m at work, I am only 10 minutes from that northern Charlottesville store. I wrestled with myself all that morning leading up to lunchtime. I talked myself into and out of potential peril numerous times. Then I made a deal with my devil that was talking to me the loudest. We agreed I would scope the store in a couple of days and if they still had McRibs, I would get one. Or 2.
Unfortunately, my moment of clarity went up in flames like flash paper. Earlier in the week, one of my former McRib buddies did a double-take when I told him I was up to 25. He suggested to me that maybe I’d had enough. He was right. And Judy would agree.
In fact, on that morning 10 AM call with Judy, I’d already told her I hadn’t packed a lunch. She was disappointed, but resigned.
So you tell me. What was a red-blooded Joey Chestnut to do?
I threw caution to the wind.
Drove down there on my lunch break.
I talked to my devils. “If they still have a McRib poster up, it’s meant to be, but if they don’t, I’ll just pack it in and drive back to work.”
I slow down and turn onto their road. Is the sign still up? Is it?
The promotional sign had been removed from its frame and folded unceremoniously on the ground.
You, being a saner person than me, might say that was God’s will.
And really, what did it matter? I’d made my goal. I’d done what I’d set out to do.
But I was there on a mission. Not from God like the Blues Brothers, but something similarly passionate.
I decided to get into the line anyway and pick up something, you know, anything, since I’d made the trip. But disappointment was scrawled across my forehead in big bold capital letters. Dammit!
I pulled up to the squawk box. I didn’t have a tear in my eye, but I was on the verge of misting up.
The voice in the box snapped on so loud, it jarred me. What did I want?
“Hey, I see it looks like you’re out of McRibs.”
“Oh, no, honey! We still got ‘em!”
They say God speaks in mysterious ways. I’m not so sure.
With 27, I was definitely an addict. By anyone’s standards.
And here’s the thing about addicts – they don’t know when to stop. I should know because as I pulled out of the McDonald’s parking lot, only one thought ran through my head: Screw 27 – I wanted more.
I was walking in the shadow of Joey Chestnut’s greatness. Maybe I should have gone for it back on December 2nd and wolfed 27 McRibs in 10 minutes. But I’m not sure even Joey could pull that off. Better to do everything in moderation.
Of course, to an addict, that philosophy governs moderation itself.
Back in the last century, there was a McDonald’s devotee who gained minor fame as “the Big Mac guy.” Over a span of years, he ate 20,000 Big Macs. 2 for lunch, 2 for dinner. Every. Day. He clocked in at 140 lbs. and never gained weight – nor did he experience health issues. He was the Joey Chestnut of Big Macs.
I don’t seek fame for my McRib debauchery. For me, it’s a personal achievement. I am an American and I want what I want.
I have something in common with Joey and the Big Mac guy. It’s never enough.
For your consideration:
Joey didn’t just wake up one day and eat 75 dogs. No, he had to build up to that. Several years ago, he wolfed 70. He came back in subsequent years, adding another 1 or 2 until he got to 75. Ask yourself this: Do you think Joey is going to stop at 75?
The Big Mac guy was at 20,000 when I read about him. Do you think he modified his diet after he got his minute of fame? You know he didn’t. He was at 20,004 the very next day.
When I got to 27, I was pretty proud of myself. I was even more puffed up when I got to 30.
By the way, the very last one was as wonderful as the first one on December 2nd, 2020.
And then the McRib was no more. So I stopped. Or was forced to.
When all was said and done, Judy breathed a sigh of relief. Her long national nightmare was over.
Well, all I can say to Judy is, “Enjoy the respite. Winter is coming.”
I don’t know if the Big Mac guy is still alive. But Joey is, and God willing, he’ll return to Nathan’s next year.
He may get to 76.
And I, God sort of willing, may get to 31.
But then as soon as I wrote that last sentence, my devils started talking to me.
“Come on, Doug. Just 31?”
Yeah, I thought. Maybe the devils are right.
Why stop at 31?
That’s a good number.
As Mary Kay used to say, “What you think about, you bring about.”
Like I said, winter is coming.