Smoke Signals: Is the McRib barbecue?
A week later, the reverberations from last Tuesday are still being felt. The mid-term elections? Yeah, that, too. But I’m talking about McDonald's reintroduction of the McRib, its now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t boneless pork rib sandwich.
It arrived from on high, through parting clouds, electrified on either side by streaks of lightning. No, really. It did.
On the McDonald's web site, the faux-‘cue sammy is represented as a sort of deity. The guys at the McDonald’s ad agency created a jokey marvel that the Mad Men creatives can only dream about. We saw it mentioned in articles and blogs weeks before it came out.
And when it arrived, it came with a cheeky back story. Originally introduced in 1981 after test-marketing well in the Midwest, the McRib was pulled from the McDonald’s menu a few years later due to poor sales. Since then, it has appeared sporadically and in specific regions. On Nov. 2, after a sophisticated viral marketing campaign, McDonald’s put it on its menu nationwide – for six weeks only.
Served on a six-inch roll, the rib-shaped pork sandwich comes slathered in a sticky sweet sauce and dotted with onion and pickle. It is to barbecue what those faux-Beatles bands are to the Fab Four. It is meant to make you believe you are enjoying the real thing.
Maybe not. Maybe they never intended anything “real” about the McRib at all. Maybe it is just a great post-modern marketing joke.
Whatever the case, the Internet has lit up with information about the sandwich. There is a “McRib Locator," which tells fans where to find the sandwich. We Love DC.com had a story headlined, “McRib Spotted in DC." The highbrow AtlanticWire has weighed in on the sandwich. Francis Lam at Salon.com called it "a symbol of the fakery we've eaten up all campaign season." McRib even has its own Facebook page.
On Saturday afternoon, I went to the McDonald’s at Verizon Center to see whether I could figure out what all the hubbub was about. At a corner table was a couple, each person chomping down on a McRib. Ashley Nelsen, 30, a government employee from the Columbia Heights neighborhood, met Michael Proies, 34, from Shirlington, specifically to eat McRibs. “We built our day around it,” Nelsen said.
“We are going to see a movie,” she said. “But our main activity for the day is to get a McRib.”
It was her first and his second since the McRib came out again. Each had tried the sandwich during its first incarnation. Both agreed it lived up to their favorable recollection.
“I heard about it online,” Proies said. “It traveled quickly among our crowd.”
Here’s the kicker. The two are from barbecue hallowed ground: Nelsen, from Kansas City and Proies, from North Carolina. So, did they consider this sandwich barbecue? Both paused for a long time before answering.
“No,” Proies said, finally. “No. I don’t think it’s a barbecue sandwich.”
“It is,” Nelsen said, “a barbecue supplement.”
She said she brought a camera to take a picture of the sandwich to post on Facebook. Somehow, McRib and Facebook seem made for each other.
-- Jim Shahin
| November 9, 2010; 8:00 AM ET
Categories: Smoke Signals | Tags: Jim Shahin, Smoke Signals
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