McDonald’s has been the sole, dominant player in the boneless fast food rib sandwich game for decades now. But Burger King is looking to change that.
The Miami-based burger chain is taking on the storied McRib with its own limited edition rib sandwich, the BK Rib Sandwich, which will be available nationwide starting May 21 as part of Burger King’s new summer menu. Burger King will announce the official details of the new menu Thursday, May 16.
Per USA Today, BK’s summer offerings conjure up images of a Southern barbecue, and will also include a return of the Memphis Pulled Pork Sandwich, a line of Carolina BBQ sandwiches, sweet potato fries, a BBQ chicken salad, and Oreo-based desserts.
The BK Rib Sandwich, meanwhile, is a dead ringer for the McRib, according to its description, though we haven’t tasted it: a boneless slab of ribs, doused in a “tangy” sauce, topped with pickles. It’s also equally elusive: along with the rest of the summer menu, it will only be available through August.
Burger King’s latest pork-heavy menu rollout is the product of two things: commodity prices and an effort to cater to the ever-important Millennial market. Spurred on by last summer’s drought and the recent harsh winter, beef prices hit an all-time high last week, with the wholesale price of a USDA cut of choice beef hitting $201.68 per 100 pounds. Pork prices, conversely, are falling, as demand slackens in the Chinese market (pork prices there dropped 6.5 percent in April).
The other reason: Young customers have broad tastes, according to Eric Hirschborn, Burger King’s vice president of Global Innovation.
“Our guests have grown to look for a variety of options," he told USA Today. "It's not just about beef anymore, but other proteins like chicken and turkey and pork."
McDonald’s doesn’t seem especially worried. "We know our customers love McRib and we won't disappoint them," spokeswoman Danya Proud told USA Today. "It will be returning."
That confidence is probably warranted. The McRib has been the only game in town for years, and its limited, shadowy availability has lent it a mythical status atypical of most fast foods. Its fans constantly lobby for it to return to the McDonald’s menu on a permanent basis. One Twitter account, @McRibWatch, is devoted to tracking the sandwich’s whereabouts across the country. It’s been parodied on “The Simpson,” “Chapelle’s Show,” and others. According on one urban legend, the boneless rib patty is made from kangaroo meat.
That’s a big pedigree to go up against, but the BK Rib Sandwich may have a key advantage: It will be grilled over an open flame, in keeping with the Burger King tradition. Will this give it an edge, taste-wise? We’ll find out next week.