From Nebraska Lab To McDonald’s Tray: The McRib’s Strange Journey
November 4, 2011
By Peggy Lowe
Since McDonald’s announced the seasonal revival of its popular McRib sandwich last month, there’s been a round of reports about what’s in the sandwich that have ranged from glib (on its 70 ingredients) to McFib (on the alleged inhumane treatment of the pigs that go into it).
But even though there’s not a rib to be found inside the sandwich, that pork patty drenched in barbecue sauce actually represents one of the greater innovations in meat science of the last century.
Roger Mandigo is an emeritus University of Nebraska animal science professor credited with the technology that made the McRib possible. And here’s its story, straight from the meat scientist’s mouth.
Back in the 1970s, Mandigo tells The Salt, he was approached by the National Pork Producers Council (the folks who later brought you “the other white meat”) to create a product with pork trimmings that could be sold to the fast food giant.
“The pork producers wanted to see more pork on the menu, and they were targeting McDonald’s,” Mandigo said.
Mandigo went to work in the lab and came up with a new take on an old-fashioned technology: sausage-making. Instead of just stuffing pork meat inside a casing, Mandigo used salt to extract proteins from the muscle. Those proteins become an emulsifier “to hold all the little pieces of meat together,” he says.
“All we did was reuse the technology that had been around for hundreds of years and emphasize that we could shape products to shapes people wanted,” he says.