Friday, October 12

The Sandwich Gets a Good Ribbin'

From the sauce-stained keyboard of guest blogger Adrian Miller.

Barbecue is fertile ground for vernacular expression, and my all-time favorite one is the "rib sandwich." The origins of the rib sandwich remain obscure, but it's been on the barbecue scene for some time.  The New York Times offered this dispatch from William Allen White—newspaper man, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, and unsuccessful Kansas gubernatorial candidate (1924)—who ate many a rib sandwich while covering Kansas politics on the 1928 campaign trail. White wrote, "Compounded by a handsbreath of pork ribs thinly overlaid with fat, roasted over a hot fire until the outside is just sufficiently seared to retain the juices of the meat without hardening or drying its rich texture, generously peppered, touched with mustard, smothered with catsup or A1 sauce, served crackling hot between two slices of rapidly toasted fresh bread, and washed down with a flagon of near-beer, the barbecued rib sandwich is one of those hearty delicacies which delight the male palate."
Rib sandwich: bone-in, old-school style. Photo courtesy of Serious Eats.
Boneless McRib, the new kid on the block. Photo courtesy of JunkFoodBlog.
Now, unlike the one rhapsodized by White, rib sandwiches tend to be served open-faced. As Ardie Davis and Chef Paul Kirk describe in their book America's Best Ribs, "the traditional rib sandwich features at least four spareribs bones atop a slice of white bread, with sauce on the ribs or to the side and another slice of white bread to the side." This may confound someone eating the sandwich for the first time, but it's easier than chomping down on the bone-in sandwich that White described in 1928. Some might say that the rib sandwich was revolutionized for diners in the early 1980s when McDonald's introduced the boneless McRib sandwich. Of all the changes that the rib sandwich has had—using sliced white bread, serving it open, and getting rid of the bones--I'll leave you to decide which marks progress.

Follow Adrian Miller on Twitter at @soulfoodscholar