One of the first ten or so sandwiches that I made for this sandwich blog was the McShortRib where I bought beef short ribs and braised them in barbecue sauce to create tender meat to be used in a sandwich that was reminiscent of McDonald’s famous McRib. This week I’m writing about my second Not-McRib sandwich that I’ve recently made and thoroughly enjoyed.
What is the McRib?
The McRib is a sandwich introduced in 1981 by the McDonald’s fast-food chain. It’s a 5 or 6-inch patty of seasoned, “restructured” pork, slathered in a sweet barbecue sauce and then topped with thinly sliced onion and dill pickle slices. The whole thing is sandwiched between a 6-inch-long sandwich roll that’s lightly dusted with cornmeal.
A lot of people go nuts over the McRib. I think a large part of the love for the McRib comes from its scarcity and limited availability. The McRib Wikipedia page thoroughly covers the history of the McRib and when it has been available throughout the years and there are McRib fan sites out there that cite sightings and locations where the McRib has been seen last.
What is restructured pork?
The process of restructuring in the meat industry means breaking down meat trimmings into smaller pieces, combining them with salt and water, and turning that mixture into a specific form. In the case of the McRib, that form is a patty shaped to look like a slab of ribs with the bones still in them. This Chicago Magazine article has more info about the invention of restructuring meat and how that led to the creation of the McRib.
In 2022 my friend Dennis wrote about how you can make the McRib at home using a product called a “Rib Sammy” which is a silicone mold that you can use to form pork patties to look like a slab of ribs with the bones still inside. The original idea of shaping or restructuring pork into another shape was initially invented by the military and McDonald’s borrowed it to use in the original McRib back in 1981. Fast forward to today and the sandwich has such a following that it has inspired people to make silicone molds with the sole purpose of replicating the look of the McRib.
One reason I’m not the biggest McRib fan is because the meat is a boring pork patty. This shouldn’t be very surprising since most of McDonald’s patties are boring, but I do think the concepts behind the McRib are solid. Tender pork, a sweet and tangy barbecue sauce with tart dill pickles, and super thinly sliced onion combine well and if prepared properly someone could easily turn them into a great six-inch sandwich.
That’s what we plan to do today. First, we need some bread.
Six-inch sandwich rolls
I wanted some six-inch long rolls for these sandwiches, but they needed to be plain white bread rolls. Instead of concocting a new bread roll recipe I simply used my sub roll recipe and divided my dough into six pieces instead of three.
The McRib sandwich has a roll that is lightly dusted with corn meal which does give it a bit of a unique appearance among the other buns that McDonald’s offers. I made a bun like that for my McShortRib post, but I changed it up a little here.
I decided to go for a slightly different look on these bread rolls by using black sesame seeds just for a visual change. I also made some regular non-seeded rolls but for consistency, I ended up only using the black sesame seed rolls for my McPorkBelly sandwiches.
Black sesame seeds are pretty much the same thing as normal sesame seeds except for the color and the fact that almost all black-colored sesame seeds are still inside their hull. This does change the taste and the texture because the hulls are slightly bitter, and the hull adds a little bit more chew to bite through.
For this seed application, I opted to pour a handful of seeds into a sheet pan and rolled each dough log on top of the seeds so that I would get a full application all around the dough. Then the dough was allowed to rise for a final hour before baking.
I baked these rolls in a silicone sandwich roll mold that I have written about several times. This mold is cheap, fits perfectly in a standard half-sheet pan, and rolls up for convenient storage. I use this mold whenever I want a very standardized deli or sub shop style roll. The dough rises inside the mold and fits the shape of the channels to create rolls that have a very similar shape and size.
Next time you get a sub from a sandwich shop or buy sub rolls from a store or bakery, roll them over and check out the bottom. You often see that a specialized pan has been used for the standardization of the rolls. You can see the image of the bottom of my rolls baked in this silicone mold below and see the texture that comes along with using these molds.
One thing to think about if you are considering using a silicone mold or pan that has a function for shaping the dough into a sandwich roll shape is that the dough will be pushed up against the mold or pan during the cooking process. This means that the part of the dough touching the mold will be surrounded by its own produced moisture during the baking process so the bottom will turn brown, but it will still be pretty soft in the resulting roll. The point is that I’ve found that it’s difficult to create a crunchy roll using a pan like this.
Here’s my sub roll recipe that I used for this sandwich. Check the notes below the recipe instructions if you want to make smaller-sized rolls instead of 11 or 12-inch versions. You just want to divide your dough into smaller pieces half of the size and treat them as half versions of the long roll.
Pork belly is a cut of meat that unsurprisingly comes from the belly of a pig. The most common use for pork belly is to smoke and cure the meat to be thinly sliced into bacon. When you buy it uncured and unsmoked (raw) you can often find it in large pieces, or your butcher/store might sell it in thinner slices—still much thicker than normal bacon.
I bought what my store calls Pork rib belly which does contain bones that I trimmed off. I placed my pork belly slices on a parchment-lined sheet pan and baked them for 20 minutes, flipped the meat, and slathered it with barbecue sauce to continue baking.
The second part of the baking process helps the pork to cook through a bit more and it also helps the barbecue sauce to thicken and incorporate into the meat. When 20 more minutes had passed, I flipped the meat again. Sauced the top and placed the pan under my oven broiler for 3 to 5 minutes to sear the sauce and crisp up the pork belly a little. This turned out great and worked very well in the sandwich.
The pieces I used for these sandwiches were around 1/2 inch thick. You may need to adjust the baking time of the recipe if your slices are a lot thinner or thicker. I honestly think it would be difficult to overcook this cut of meat but if your pork slices are thinner than 1/4-inch I would suggest pan frying them instead.
Skin on or off?
I did some tests and for this sandwich with this particular cooking preparation of pork belly, you should probably choose to remove the skin if it is still on your pork belly pieces. I love the crackling and crunchy bits you get from the skin, but this sandwich is supposed to be soft and tender pork, and leaving the skin on will lead to some super crunchy bites. I would be scared that one aggressive bite could lead to a dental injury with some of the crunch that I was getting on the skin-on pork belly that I tested.
Spicy dill pickles
This is my favorite dill pickle recipe. I have shared it before and each time I make it I have an opportunity to tweak the recipe, but I never do. It’s that good.
The MSG is optional, but I don’t suggest leaving it out. You should use it because it does something special to these pickles to make them even more exciting and tasty.
If you are not a person who enjoys spice, it’s easy enough to scale down the red pepper flakes or remove them entirely. In my experience, even if you use the high end of recommended pepper flakes these pickles are around a 3 on a scale of 1 to 10 in heat. So if you have no issue with slightly spicy foods, you will not have any issue with this recipe.
These pickles are fantastic to have in the fridge and easy to make. Give them a shot and let me know how addictive they are.
Thick, sweet, and tangy barbeque sauce
If you have a kitchen and like barbecue sauce, you should try to make your own at home. It’s so easy and the return on investment is high because you can control the ingredients super easily.
Here’s my barbecue sauce recipe. It’s also in the main recipe below. Just note that the spices added to the barbecue will become a bit more flavorful a day or so after the sauce has been cooked. So, you can and probably should make it in advance if you are able.
The McPorkBelly sandwich recipe
I ate a few of these McPorkBelly sandwiches while creating this blog post and they were a great sandwich to end 2023 with and kick off the new year by sharing the recipe for making your own.
Tender pork belly slices slathered in a homemade barbecue sauce pair very well with dill pickles and thinly sliced sweet onion in this slightly messy but super flavorful sandwich.
Ingredients:Sweet and tangy barbecue sauce
- 2⁄3 cup ketchup
- 1⁄2 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1⁄2 cup brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
- 1⁄2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1⁄2 teaspoon onion powder
- 1⁄2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1⁄4 teaspoon MSG (optional)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 to 1/5 pounds pork belly, skin removed - sliced 1/2 inch thick
- salt and ground black pepper
- barbecue sauce (from above)
- 2 six-inch sandwich rolls
- pork belly slices (from above)
- barbecue sauce (from above)
- 1⁄4 sweet onion, thinly sliced
- 8 to 10 dill pickle slices
Sweet and tangy barbecue sauce: combine all barbecue sauce ingredients in a small pot over medium heat and bring to a simmer.
Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. At this point, the sauce should be thickened and sticky.
Remove from the heat and store the barbecue sauce in a sealed container in the refrigerator.
Oven-baked pork belly slices: preheat your oven to 400 F. Season both sides of the pork belly slices with an even sprinkling of salt and ground black pepper.
Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and place the seasoned pork belly slices on the paper. Bake for 20 minutes and remove the pan from the oven. Flip each pork belly slice over and paint the top of each slice with barbecue sauce. Return the pan to the oven to bake for another 10 to 20 minutes.
Remove the pan again. Flip the pork belly once again and paint the top with more sauce. At this point, you can serve or if you would like more browning on top of the pork belly you can turn on the oven broiler to high and broil for 4 to 5 minutes or until the top is crispy and the barbecue sauce is browning.
Sandwich assembly: slice your roll and toast the interior if desired.
Add a little barbecue sauce to the bottom of the roll. Top the barbecue sauce with slices of the pork belly. Add more sauce to the top of the pork belly slices.
At this point, if you want a hot sandwich you can place the barbecue sauced bottom half of the sandwich under an oven broiler on high for 2 to 3 minutes. This will heat the meat and sauce. Remove from the broiler and continue.
Sprinkle some sliced onion and dill pickles slices on top of the pork belly and close the top of the sandwich to serve.
Check back next week
It’s a new year full of new challenges and one of them is that I took some time off from writing and photographing sandwiches and now I must catch up. Suggest a sandwich in the comments if you have a cool idea. I might need one!