Rapper Pusha T is back to dissing McDonald’s in another track sponsored by Arby’s, his previous one dropping this past March to much fanfare. He’s got some history with the Golden Arches: He alleges he was the one who originally came up with McDonald’s “I’m Lovin’ It” earworm jingle but felt as if he’d gotten a raw financial deal for his efforts. So the man’s still got some bones to pick with Micky D’s.
The newest track is in support of Arby’s limited-time-only re-release of the Real Country Style Rib Sandwich. The song sticks to a mid-tempo flow (with an impressively chest-rattling bass line) as Pusha T talks shit about the McRib, calling it “mystery meat.” He then points out that the Arby’s Real Country Style Rib Sandwich comes “straight out the smokehouse,” and in the video, a rodeo clown bearing no small resemblance to Ronald begins to cry when faced with the fact of his inferiority. Brutal. What can I say? Diss tracks are amazing.
The sandwich itself isn’t nearly so complex. It’s an actual rib sandwich (sans bones, unlike Chicago’s favorite pork sandwich) with crispy onions, barbecue sauce, and cheddar cheese. With no frills, the focus stays squarely on the meat itself. Arby’s website describes the meat as spending “8 glorious hours at a Texas smokehouse,” and if you’re a fan of barbecue at all, you know that it doesn’t take much other than solid execution to make a humble rib very satisfying.
Unfortunately, as you can see in the above photo, the rib meat, which is actually thick slabs of meat sliced out between the rib bones, is somewhat dry. That makes it feel more like a pork tenderloin sandwich. A generous portion of sweet, sticky barbecue sauce can’t really rescue it from that fact. But, on a positive note, it’s got genuine smoke flavor, as in, it tastes like something I’ve pulled off my own smoker. And that’s pretty awesome. The onions serve a dry but satisfying crunch, like adding potato chips to a sandwich, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Despite its low moisture levels, the meat is still tender and it’s easy to eat. It’s definitely not the best barbecue I’ve ever eaten, but coming from Arby’s, that’s weirdly forgivable. Considering its flagship menu item is a roast beef product that looks like shaved fiberless meatloaf (a sandwich I still fucking love), getting an inkling of home cooking from this fast food chain is downright delightful.
And to me, that’s mostly the point. Arby’s one-offs can be really fun sometimes. Years ago I tried a one-day-only venison sandwich from the chain, which wasn’t the best thing I’ve ever eaten, but come on—actual venison from Arby’s? That’s awesome. The flavor of the meat escapes me, but the memory of ordering it from an Arby’s hasn’t. Obviously not all of the chain’s headline-grabbing novelties can be good, like that goddamn french fry vodka, but that’s almost beside the point. The hits are worth the misses, and Arby’s is always swinging.
Since Pusha T dropped a diss track against McDonald’s, there’s the inevitable question: Is this Arby’s sandwich better than the McRib? Unfortunately, it’s an apples and oranges situation. A McRib is a fast food creation through and through, right down to its spongy, emulsified pork patty core. It’s even got those fucked-up fake bone shapes in it, despite being boneless. There’s no way a McRib has ever been within a thousand miles of a smokehouse.
The Arby’s version tastes more like home cooking, which is why there isn’t really a good comparison here. It doesn’t have pickles or raw onions like the McRib, nor is the meat dipped fully in sauce. Despite being only so-so, Arby’s sandwich aims for a beautiful simplicity of execution. I guess I’ll challenge myself to the hard question: If I had to pick between a McRib or an Arby’s Real Country Style Rib Sandwich, which would I choose?
Sorry, Pusha, I’m going to have to go with the McRib, only because it was so painstakingly engineered to make me crave it (even its limited availability every year is enticing). But I have to say, if this were a game of Chopped, the Arby’s sandwich would win over some admittedly crappy pressed pork patty.
At $9.99, this thing isn’t cheap (I will disclose that Arby’s sent me this one on the house). Yet while I might be capable of making much better barbecue at home, it’s somehow much more noteworthy that I once ate ribs from Arby’s, of all places. Were they great? Not really. But a confident fast food concept can rescue a sandwich whose execution is merely okay. It can even make it indelible.