McRib Briefly Returns to Tease Cultlike Fans

The mystery meat sandwich returns nationwide Tuesday

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Which is more exciting: potentially historic elections or the return of an elusive sandwich? For many Americans, something much more thrilling than casting a ballot is happening November 2. The McRib is back. The fast food legend, made out of pork molded into the shape of short ribs and smothered with sweet barbecue sauce, will hit McDonald's restaurants nationwide Tuesday. Could re-releasing the addictive mystery meat sandwich on election day be a devious corporate ploy to distract Americans from voting?

Since debuting the McRib in the early 80s, McDonald's has only brought back the sandwich sporadically, never in all locations at once, and never for more than a few weeks.  The Los Angeles Times' Sharon Bernstein reports, "store operators have found that sales are strongest for about four to six weeks. ... Thus the McRib has taken on a cameo role. Elusiveness heightens its appeal." The strategy has worked surprisingly well. The McRib has a cult-like following, with fans turning to the McRib Locator site to track sandwich sightings nationwide. The site's creator mused, "The good times will be rolling here again — for a while." Too bad Democrats haven't been able to sell voters on that line.

  • A Sandwich Hype Machine The Wall Street Journal's Julie Jargon and David Kesmodel report. The mystique is no accident, though. "Five years ago, one of the company's marketing regions in the South said it was permanently removing McRibs from all restaurants and announced a 'McRib Farewell Tour.' At the same time, the region created a 'Save the McRib' website sponsored by the fake 'Boneless Pig Farmers Association of America.' The sandwich continues to be sold on and off in the region." And just like a herd of smitten junior high boys, fans are enthralled by the sandwich that plays hard to get. McRibbers drive for hours to stock up. "It has a ghostly quality," one fan said. "You don't know when it will appear. It's the girl who you are in love with who has always been a tease to you."
  • A Cultural Icon Mike Krumboltz of The Newsroom writes, noting that the McRib was "lampooned" on an episode of The Simpsons. "Homer drove all over the country to different Krusty Burger restaurants in search of a McRib-type sandwich. Once the Simpsons makes fun of you, you know you've become part of pop culture." On Tuesday, the frenzy began. "Web searches on 'mcrib mcdonald's' are up over 1,000% and related lookups on 'mcrib locator' are also through the roof."
  • The Masses Are Salivating, Shirley Brady writes at Brand Channel. "Anticipation, to put it lightly, is running high. It's caused a riot at Penn State, it was referenced at the end of the Taiwanese animated precreation of the Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert rally — and we can guess at least one celeb who's tickled by the month-long promotion, running through Dec. 5. ... With a fan-created McRib Locator and word-of-mouth taking over social networks, McDonalds marketers could have saved their money — fans of the pork-based, rib-shaped sandwich are doing the heavy lifting for them."
  • Marketing Genius  Mary Shyne explains at The Awl. "It seems McDonald's has stumbled upon the greatest marketing tactic of all: turning its sandwich into an urban legend. Specialty items at other fast food chains-like the Chipotle Chicken/Asian Chicken at Wendy's or, arguably, Burger King's salads-are too easily accessible to generate mystique. Perhaps sensing the wisdom of McDonald's approach, Taco Bell only puts its Cheesy Gordita Crunch on the menu sporadically. (Spoiler alert: You can special order them!) Like Big Foot, McRib sightings are rare and its taste questionable."
  • Perfect Drunk Food, John Del Signore reports for Gothamist. McDonald's delivered eight of the sandwich to the blog's office, and reactions were mixed. "I feel as though my heretofore depraved mouth hole has been baptized in the holy McSpirit!" one staffer said. Others were less enthusiastic. Still, fans can submit their best McRib stories to the fest food giant, which will reward the best tale with a free trip to Germany, where McRibs are served year round.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.