The best McDonald's McRib copycat recipe

McDonald's McRib is a relatively simple sandwich: pork, barbecue sauce, pickles, and onions, served up on a hoagie bun. It doesn't seem like the type of thing that would make people crazy, and yet it has an incredibly devoted following. Over the years, it's popped on and off the menu at McDonald's across the nation, creating what The Atlantic refers to as the "Cult of the Elusive McDonald's McRib." In fact, the sandwich is so popular, it spawned a McRib Locator website, allowing fans to find a McRib or share the most recent sighting of the hard-to-find sandwich.

What makes this sandwich so craveable? Forbes argues that the sandwich achieved cult status because of McDonald's brilliant marketing campaign. It's so well hyped when it's re-released — enticing people with quite a bit of urgency, using language like, "Get it while it lasts!" — that it creates its own buzz. That might be true, but the flavor of the sandwich has to hold up to the excitement. This is where the McRib truly shines. It's simultaneously sweet, salty, savory, and sour, stimulating your taste buds at the mere thought of taking a bite. We would be lying if we said our mouths aren't watering just thinking about it.

Instead of waiting until the next McRib release, why not try making it at home? It seems like something that would be close to impossible, but when we put our McDonald's McRib copycat recipe to the test, we were pretty amazed at the results. 

Gather the ingredients for McDonald's McRib copycat recipe

The first step to making a copycat McDonald's McRib sandwich was gathering the right ingredients. McDonald's product page was down at the time we wrote this article since that sandwich wasn't currently available, so we couldn't get the information straight from the source. To make matters worse, there are a lot of rumors out there about the McRib and what it may (or may not) contain. 

Luckily, the McRib Locator blog debunked the theories that the patty is made from kangaroos or unicorns when they posted the list of ingredients. The pork patty is regular pork — ground up from the pork shoulder

From there, we just needed to create a patty by grinding the pork with water, salt, and sugar — McDonald's uses dextrose, a sugar derived from corn, but we swapped in regular granulated sugar because it's easier to find. Then, the patty is dipped in McRib Sauce, a sweet and tangy barbecue sauce similar to Hunt's Original. 

Based on the ingredients list, we decided to make our own barbecue sauce using ketchup, molasses, Worcestershire, brown sugar, apple cider vinegar, onion powder, garlic powder, and spices (ground cumin, ground coriander, and chili powder). The only things left to pick up was sliced pickles, chopped onions, and a hoagie-style roll. 

You'll find a full ingredients list, including quantities and step-by-step directions, at the end of this article. 

The basis of a McRib sandwich is the pork meat patty

There have been a lot of theories over the years about what McDonald's puts in its McRib sandwich patty. In 2011, Chicago Magazine reported that it is made with real meat, but that meat is likely restructured meat products. These less desirable parts of the pig (like the heart and stomach) are made more palatable by chopping them up and turning them into patties, mixing them with salt-soluble proteins that hold the meat together like "glue."

In a 2009 Maxim article (via Yahoo!), Rob Cannell, then director of McDonald's U.S. supply chain, confirmed that there is very little rib meat in the patties. That doesn't mean it's not meat, though; he explained it's made primarily from pork shoulder meat. It's "chopped up, then seasoned, then formed into that shape that looks like a rib back. Then we flash-freeze it. The whole process from fresh pork to frozen McRib takes about 45 minutes."

You can grind up your own shoulder meat if you like, but we used pork chops because they're easier to buy in smaller quantities. If you don't want to mess with the whole grinding part, you could also start with pre-ground pork. You'll definitely want to whip it together with the salt, sugar, and water, otherwise it won't be sticky enough to form into patties.

Choose the right type of bun for this McDonald's McRib copycat recipe

Most of McDonald's sandwiches are sold on a toasted sesame seed bun, but not the McRib. After the meat goes through the grinder, it's shaped to look like a rack of ribs. According to NPR, the scientist that created the pork patties originally formed them into the shape of a pork chop. McDonald's wasn't keen on serving pork chop sandwiches and asked for the patties to be shaped "like the boneless part of a backrib" instead. Because pork ribs are rectangular in shape, that decision required a different style of bun.

It's nearly impossible to find an exact replica of the McRib's homestyle roll, but most hoagie buns will do. You don't want to use French bread or another type of crusty bread, because the McRib bun is most definitely soft. You might not be able to find one with the semolina dusting on top (we couldn't), but look for 6-inch hoagie rolls. Sara Lee Center Split Hoagie Rolls or Francisco International French Sandwich Rolls were the closest matches we could find.

Start by making the pork patty for your McDonald's McRib copycat recipe

Okay, enough talk about ingredients; let's get cooking! The first step for making the McDonald's McRib copycat recipe is grinding up the pork. Since most people don't have a meat grinder, we're going to use a food processor instead. It works surprisingly well, but you do have to cut the pork into 1-inch pieces before you get started. If you threw the entire chop into the food processor, it would grind unevenly, leaving you with some larger pieces and some overprocessed pieces.

After you break down the pork chops, place the cubes in a food processor. Add the salt and sugar to season the pork, and a few tablespoons of water to help the pork come together to create a sticky mixture. You definitely want to use cold water here; hot water would start cooking the pork, which we definitely don't want. When the mixture is smooth and looks like ground pork, you're ready to shape and freeze the patties.

Let the patty freeze for McDonald's McRib copycat recipe

Now it's time for the part that might seem difficult or overwhelming: You get to shape the ground pork so it looks like fake ribs. Before getting started, we were worried about this step, but we actually had a lot of fun with it. Start by dividing the ground pork into four 4-ounce portions. If you have extra meat, don't make the patties larger because they won't fit on the buns if they're too long or wide. We suggest sticking to the 4-ounce patty and using any leftover pork for another dish.

Wet your hands under cold, running water to make the patties easier to form. Then, working with one patty at a time, form each portion into a rectangle that's roughly 6-1/2 long by 3-inches wide. If you need a visual reference, take a peek at the hoagie roll: that's the shape you're going for. Using your fingers, create little indentations in the patties to make them look like "ribs." Don't worry about perfection here; McDonald's likely uses a machine to make their patties look perfect, and yours certainly won't look the same. The indentations don't affect the final flavor at all, so don't stress it too much.

Place the patties on a piece of parchment paper and cover them with another piece of parchment. Freeze the patties until they're frozen solid, which should take about two hours. If you want to save the patties for later, transfer the frozen patties to a freezer bag.

Meanwhile, prepare the McRib BBQ sauce for McDonald's McRib copycat recipe

While you're waiting for the patties to freeze, you may as well make the best of the time by making the barbecue sauce. If you're not into making everything from scratch, you can absolutely pick up a bottle of grocery store barbecue sauce. To stay as close to the original as possible, look for a sweet and tangy barbecue sauce. Sauces like Sweet Baby Ray's are a touch on the sweet side for the McRib sandwich, but Hunt's Original Barbecue Sauce or Bull's Eye Sweet & Tangy get pretty close.

It's really easy to make barbecue sauce at home, so give it a try if you have the time. There are a lot of ingredients here — ketchup, molasses, Worcestershire, brown sugar, apple cider vinegar, salt, onion powder, garlic powder, ground cumin, chili powder, and ground coriander. Luckily, the steps are super simple: Just combine all the ingredients in a small saucepan, bring it to a boil over high heat, and reduce the heat to a simmer. After about 15 minutes, the flavors will meld together and taste just like McRib sauce.

Cook the pork patty for McDonald's McRib copycat recipe

When the McRib patties are good and frozen, the rest of the process comes together extremely quickly. There's no need to wait for the patties to defrost; they're so thin, they will cook in about three to four minutes per side, even when frozen. This is great news because it means you can double (or triple) this recipe and always have ready-to-cook McRib patties in the freezer. 

When you're ready to eat, preheat a griddle or cast-iron skillet over high heat. When the pan is nice and hot (right before it begins to smoke), add the frozen pork patty — rib side up — directly to the griddle.  After a few minutes, the patty should be a beautiful shade of golden brown on the bottom. Flip it over and let the rib side cook for the same amount of time, until it's nice and browned. If you bought prepared ground pork, the National Pork Board recommends cooking the patties until they reach an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit. If you ground your own at home from a pork chop or pork shoulder, it only needs to be cooked to 145 degrees.

Dunk your pork patty into BBQ sauce for McDonald's McRib copycat recipe

You're going to want to dig into your McDonald's McRib copycat recipe right away, but we recommend letting the pork patties cool for a minute or two before dipping them into the barbecue sauce. One of the reasons McDonald's sandwich is so good is because it has a thick layer of sweet and tangy barbecue that clings to the patty. In our test batches, we found the sauce stuck best if it was around room temperature (not hot off the stove or cold straight out of the refrigerator). It also seemed to cling better if the pork patty had a minute to cool before we got to dunking.

It was also easier to dip the patty if we put the sauce into a large bowl first. We tried dunking the patties with our fingers, but that got really messy really quickly! It was definitely cleaner to use a set of tongs to lower the pork into the bowl of barbecue sauce. Give it a turn and pull it up, letting any excess drip off into the bowl.

Assemble the sandwiches for McDonald's McRib copycat recipe

We're almost ready to eat. The only step that's left is assembling the sandwich. While the pork was cooling for its dip into the barbecue sauce, we buttered up the cut side of each hoagie roll. Then, we placed them onto the hot griddle until they were lightly browned, which only took about a minute. This step not only infuses buttery flavor into the bun, but it also warms it up, making it ready to receive the hot sandwich patty.

From there, place the barbecue sauce-dipped pork patties onto the bottom bun. Top the patty with a few pickle slices and a few tablespoons of the sliced onions. Put the top bun on and get ready to enjoy, because that's it. This sandwich doesn't have any fancy toppings, lettuce, mayonnaise, mustard, or ketchup. It's so simple, but that might be why it's so dang delicious.

How close did we get to the real McDonald's McRib sandwich?

We have to say, we really really nailed it on this one! This sandwich satisfied every quality we dream about when we can't get the McRib sandwich: A salty pork patty, covered in sweet and tangy barbecue sauce, served up on a warm and fluffy bun. It has everything your taste buds crave, all wrapped up in a messy package. Because, yes, that barbecue sauce does tend to drip, so you better eat this one over the plate.

If we're being really critical, our faux rib formations didn't quite hold up on the griddle. They were sort of there, but it didn't look as much like a rack of ribs as McDonald's. And, as we mentioned previously, our bun doesn't have the semolina dusting on top, so it looked a little plainer than the original. But, none of these things affected the flavor. We would make this sandwich over and over again, and we'd absolutely recommend doubling the recipe so you always have a pork patty on-hand in the freezer. 

McDonald's McRib copycat recipe directions

Prep time: 20 minutes (plus 2 hours of freezing time)

Cook time: 30 minutes

Makes: 4 sandwiches

Ingredients:

(For the BBQ sauce)

  • 3/4 cup ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons molasses
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander

(For the sandwich)

  • 1 pound boneless pork chops
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoon white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 4 6-inch hoagie rolls
  • 4 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 8 sliced pickles
  • 1/2 cup sliced white onion

Directions:

  1. Make the barbecue sauce by combining all the ingredients in a small saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat before reducing the heat to medium-low. Simmer the sauce for 15 minutes, until the flavors meld together. Let the mixture cool before storing it in an airtight container in the refrigerator. If you don't want to make your own barbecue sauce, use one cup of store-bought sweet-and-tangy barbecue sauce.
  2. Meanwhile, chop the pork chops into 1-inch cubes. Place the pork cubes in the food processor with the water, sugar, and salt. Process the mixture until it's smooth, like ground pork.
  3. Divide the ground pork into four 4-ounce portions. Form each portion into a rectangle that's roughly 6-1/2 by 3-inches. Using your fingers, create indentations to make the patties look like "ribs."
  4. Place the patties on a piece of parchment paper. Cover the patties with another piece of parchment. Freeze the patties until they're frozen solid, about 2 hours.
  5. Remove the patties from the freezer. Preheat a griddle or cast-iron skillet over high heat. When the griddle is hot, add the pork and cook for 3 to 4 minutes a side, until browned on each side and cooked through. Let the pork cool for a minute or two.
  6. While the pork is cooling, spread 1/2 tablespoon of the butter onto the cut side of each bun. Place the buns on the hot griddle, cut-side down, until they're lightly browned, about 1 minute.
  7. Meanwhile, place one cup of the prepared barbecue sauce in a large bowl. Dip the pork patties into the barbecue sauce, letting any excess drip off.
  8. Place the pork patties onto the prepared buns. Top the pork with a few pickle slices and 2 tablespoons of the sliced onions.