The “Million Dollar” McRib

If you’re not convinced of McDonald’s genius when it comes to marketing, if not necessarily always food, you need look no farther than the venerable “McRib.” The sandwich, an ungodly sweet BBQ sauce-dipped slab of robotically destroyed pig parts, smoke-flavored, dyed with fake grill marks and then, absurdly, molded with “rib” shapes on top, was never tremendously popular in the 1980s, until McDonald’s created a “false scarcity” around the product, taking it off the menu only to trot it out for a limited time each year.

Inspiration comes from some funny places.

Underneath its generic factory-to-table appearance, however, there lies the foundation of a really, really good sandwich. The seductive draw of smoked pork, syrupy barbecue sauce, bright, crunchy onions, and the tart snap of pickles is hard to deny, which got us thinking: What if you made a McRib with, y’know, real ingredients?

Million Dollar McRibRather than start with a mash of ground pork with fake bones stamped into the surface, we start with whole sections of slow-smoked baby back ribs, cooked until tender enough that the bones pull right out, leaving a neat, bun-sized slab of succulent, tender, fall-apart pork. We smoke ours, but you can also get great results in your oven, if you’re patient. Choose your favorite off-the-shelf Memphis-style BBQ sauce, or use our recipe for our signature “Red Eye” BBQ sauce, made with ancho chiles and strong coffee. The sandwich gets finished with your favorite store-bought pickles, and some quick-pickled red onions, to introduce even more balanced tartness to the finished sandwich.

Million Dollar McRibSide note: This sandwich ended up being the most successful item that we introduced during the winter 2017-2018 season of “Winter Pig Barbecue,” my quasi-legal foray into the world of delivery barbecue service, where I learned exactly why: 1. Delivery service isn’t really a thing in Midcoast Maine, since making deliveries to houses 20 miles apart tends to wreck your profit margin, and 2. Slow-smoking meats when it’s 5 degrees below zero is ridiculously difficult. Still, it was nice to be able to fill what was (at the time) a big vacant hole in the market…and we PERFECTED our coffee-spiked house barbecue sauce, which is also detailed below, even though I’m still hosing mesquite out of my car’s air vents. Will I try to sell barbecue for a living again? Probably not. Will I eat this sandwich again? Absolutely.

The Million Dollar McRib

Taking inspiration from the classic McDonald's sandwich, our version uses whole slabs of baby back rib, pickled onion, and tart pickles.
Course: dinner, lunch
Cuisine: American
Keyword: barbecue
Servings: 3 people
Author: Malcolm Bedell


For the Pickled Onions:

  • 1 red onion thinly sliced
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 1 cup lime juice

For the Sandwiches:

  • 3 brioche hamburger rolls
  • 1 rack baby back ribs
  • 1/2 cup rib rub
  • 15 slices dill pickle
  • 1 cup Red Eye BBQ sauce recipe follows


For the Pickled Onions:

  • Peel and slice onions as thinly as possible. Add to saucepan, and add orange and lime juices. Heat over medium-high heat until just before onions simmer; transfer to bowl and chill in the refrigerator while you prepare the rest of the ingredients, or overnight.

For the Sandwiches:

  • Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Rub the rack of ribs on both sides with rub, then wrap tightly in foil. Cook directly on rack until ribs are very tender, about four hours. Remove ribs from foil, brush with bbq sauce, and broil for an additional five minutes, or until ribs get all sticky and gorgeous.
  • Transfer ribs to a cutting board, and let cool for a few minutes. Using your fingers or a pair of tongs, pull the bones straight out, and cut rack into segments of 3-4 bones each. Brush with more BBQ sauce.

Million Dollar McRib

Red Eye BBQ Sauce

Our signature BBQ sauce starts with a base of ancho chiles, with lots of strong coffee to add a mysterious depth.
Keyword: barbecue sauce
Servings: 4 people
Author: Malcolm Bedell


  • 3 whole dried ancho chiles
  • 1 tbsp salted butter
  • 1/2 onion minced
  • 4 cloves garlic chopped
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 1/4 cup strong brewed coffee
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tbsp dark brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce optional


  • Begin by rehydrating the chiles. Fill a saucepan with water, remove seeds and stems from ancho chiles, and add to pot. Bring to a simmer, cover, remove from heat, and set aside for 15 minutes.
  • In a skillet, cook onions and garlic in butter until onions become translucent, about 6 minutes. Transfer to a blender, add softened chiles, ketchup, coffee, vinegar, brown sugar, and fish sauce, and blend until smooth.

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