The McRib Was A Military Experiment Gone Horribly Right
Reader Steven C. wrote to us, wondering if there's some Social Network-style backstory behind the McRib. Well, there was never any battle over who owns the basic McRib process, the one that glues unwanted animal trimmings into simulated cuts of real meat. That's because the US Army developed it then freely released it for public use.
Military rations, produced cheaply, have historically always been unappetizing. Then the Army realized morale would jump if soldiers ate stuff that looked like chops and steaks instead of scraps in brine. So in the '60s, they put their scientists on the case. Professor Roger Mandigo came up with the process they sought (mostly, it involves a lot of grinding and adding salt and fat). Afterward, he learned he was free to use it for whatever business venture he liked.
Then, Mandigo was approached by an organization looking to use this "restructured meat" technique to make pork fast food sandwiches. The name of that organization was ... not McDonald's. It was the National Pork Producers Council, looking to create a product they could pitch to McDonald's. Mandigo made them a pork chop sandwich out of pig hearts and stomachs. If that disgusts you, well, that's why they needed to disguise it. However, those undesirable bits of the pig are just as nutritious as the muscle, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with eating them.
McDonald's said yes to restructured pork—mission accomplished, National Pork Council. But they thought they could do better than Mandigo's chop sandwich. So, against everything you'd expect, they hired Rene Arend, a Luxembourg chef who'd prepared meals for royalty. This was the guy who really came up with the McRib, basing it on Southern BBQ pulled pork (which actually also began as a method for disguising unwanted pork scraps).
Arend also used meat restructuring to invent McNuggets. These were more popular and would have blasted the McRib right off the menu in those early years, but farmers simply didn't have enough chicken scraps to meet demand at first, so McDonald's stuck with serving the rib as well. They've since repeatedly taken it off the menu, but you can count on them bringing it back again, every time the price of pig scraps drops.
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Top image: harry_nl/Flickr