McRib Taste Test: Why Is It Such a Coveted Sandwich?

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Nick Carbone / TIME

The McRib is back for a limited time, which means just one thing: I couldn’t miss the opportunity to try one.

When KFC released the Double Down in April 2010 for what was supposed to be just two short months, I had no shame about standing in line for the innovative idea that built an entire sandwich out of meat. And upon hearing that McDonald’s was bringing the elusive, coveted McRib to all locations until November 14th, a quick glance at my watch told me this was an opportunity slipping away. I needed to grab hold of its golden, fluffy bun containing that paradoxically boneless rib-like patty.

It last showed its barbeque sauce-slathered bun a year ago in November 2010. It was a publicity stunt so popular that McDonald’s is hoping to piggyback off its success again this year. But why do millions clamor for the McRib? As an unenlightened McRibster, I envisioned a sandwich so perfect and delectable, tender but crisp, one that melts in your mouth like cotton candy. And to make matters worse, my friends at Healthland think they can scare me away from the McRib with their explanation of the plethora of chemicals I would soon be digesting. How wrong they are. Calling it “not heart smart” only makes my heart race quicker for one.

(READ: McRib Fanatics and the Amazing Power of Limited Availability)

I have a distinct love for the salty sweetness that is fast food. But admittedly, I’m a McRib first-timer. Upon checking the McRib locator to be sure, I find that there’s been a sighting at the McDonald’s closest to TIME’s offices. Brilliant! Not that I needed any confirmation, as the McRib should be at all McDonald’s, but alas, it’s better to be sure.

Walking into the establishment, it’s buzzing at noon. I know I’m in good hands when the guy in front of me orders one too. And my glee increases when I approach the counter, only to notice the ad that touts an extra McRib for a mere $1 if I get the combo. Done deal. But that might have been where my crazy train derailed. Bounding back to the office to open the bag, my joyful attitude deflates as quickly as the bag  – which contains a soggy meat patty of questionable authenticity.

Nick Carbone / TIME

(READ: Why Lovin’ the McRib Isn’t Heart Smart)

But that’s only after I opened the box, which seemed to have attracted more of the sweet, delectable barbeque sauce than my sandwich did. No worries, I didn’t expect this to be a clean meal. After all, the thrill of eating is only augmented by an all-senses experience. And that’s why my coworkers are looking at me like I’m crazy. Though I do question my decision to wear a yellow shirt, as I’m a notoriously messy eater, I put aside all fears, roll up my sleeves, and prepare to dig in.

@ErinLeighSkarda / Twitter

The thoughts swirl as I ruminate over the first bite. The bun: delicious. Warm and soft, a good consistency. The barbeque sauce: sweet but tangy. I could probably drink a gallon of it. The meat patty: tender but mushy, squishy, and basically unrecognizable. And I suppose it’s any McRib newbie’s primary shocker – where are the bones?! A McDonald’s marketing director explains its bonelessness “gives it this quirky sense of humor.” More like an sadistic sense of humor, I think, as I consider what its 500 calories and 26 grams of fat (actually quite reasonable by Mickey D’s standards) is doing to my insides.

OK, realistically I don’t want to be munching on actual ribs, but I had hoped it would taste more like the real thing. It just tastes like random meat slathered in BBQ sauce. Delicious, delicious BBQ sauce. But then again, I could just put the sauce on a Big Mac and have the same taste – no reason to run around the country chasing this elusive prey.

And believe me, I’m no fast food skeptic. I loved the Double Down – mainly for its innovation. Companies can make a limited-time item worth it if it’s truly special. But the McRib, well, I just don’t understand why it’s so coveted. Is this some contrived scheme from McDonald’s? We want what we can’t have. But we shouldn’t want this. If they offered it year round, it simply wouldn’t sell!

It’s got a chemical from gym mats banned in Europe, for crying out loud! And its look is not appealing, plain and simple. If I want to see obnoxiously unhealthy food that has the power to wow me, I merely have to turn to Epic Meal Time. Now to the best part of this meal: the fries. Oh boy, it feels like there’s a rock in my stomach.

Nick Carbone is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @nickcarbone. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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