Grind Time: Dave Cruz answers McRib ‘challenge’

Jan. 10, 2011 | 3 Comments

Photo by Jason Genegabus /

Project No Ka Oink’s Dave Cruz serves up his version of the McDonald’s McRib sandwich. His sandwich was made with local pork and pickles cut by hand in his Papakolea kitchen.


It’s only been a few weeks since McDonald’s ended its annual McRib sandwich promotion — which got quite a bit of buzz late last year after the cult favorite made its return to the fast food giant’s menus nationwide for the first time in 16 years — but there are surely some fans already counting the days until it returns this fall.

While there is seemingly no good reason to crave the sandwich (pictured at right), which is made with a preprocessed pork patty and checks in at 500 calories according to the nutritional analysis provided by McDonald’s (but hey, who’s counting calories, right?), the McRib is the subject of an award-winning video and was single-handedly responsible for a Wisconsin man winning $1,000,000 last month.

The sandwich also remains a popular subject on various Internet websites, with plenty of posts that “deconstruct” the McRib by telling readers to simply visit the cold case at their local supermarket to buy the same cheap, preprocessed ingredients used at McDonald’s. One notable post by Saveur’s Ryan Adams took things a step further, however, providing readers with a slightly more gourmet-style version to try that utilized a slab of pork belly that, once cooked, would resemble the McRib everyone recognizes.

But wait — we’re talking pork and the challenge of working with this ingredient. Who better to throw down the proverbial culinary gauntlet to than former Indigo executive chef Dave Cruz, founder of Project No Ka Oink?

Project No Ka Oink debuted last October at the seventh annual Kava Festival, where Cruz and soon-to-be wife Kelli Heath served up Vietnamese style Banh Mi sandwiches made with Kurobuta pork. When contacted last week with the challenge of reconstructing the McRib in his own kitchen, he eagerly accepted.

“In general, pork is something that everybody loves,” he said. “And you know, I kind of like pork sandwiches, so it’s worth the effort for me. But this (recipe) was rather easy.”

Photo by Craig T. Kojima /

Cruz purchased three different cuts of pork in preparation for this challenge — baby back ribs, pork belly and pork spareribs — and experimented with all of them before settling on the spareribs.

“It had the most richness,” he explained. “I went to Chinatown and bought local pork. (It’s) a lot leaner, so it didn’t have that real fattiness that mainland pork is bred for.

“It possessed the perfect amount of meat to fat to cartilage/connective tissue… which delivered the unctuous goodness we hope for in a piece of braised meat.“

Photo by Jason Genegabus /

Cruz’s take on the popular McRib sandwich.

While he didn’t stick to the McDonald’s version of the sandwich by going with spareribs, cutting up the pork so it wasn’t a single patty and subbing out the type of roll it was served on, Cruz definitely elevated the dish by braising the pork for hours before frying and serving it up with some homemade pickles and barbeque sauce.

“The McRib sandwich is flavored with a barbecue sauce that is reminiscent of a cross between a Memphis and Kansas City style BBQ sauce — sweet, sour, tangy and pumped up with a little heat,” said Cruz. “The ideal sauce for this sandwich and closest to the original McRib would be KC Masterpiece.

“To add more tang to the sauce, add a little cider vinegar or lemon juice.  To add more heat, add some Siracha chile sauce or El Pato Mexican chile sauce.” 

If you can’t wait until the McRib shows up on Hawaii’s shores once again, give the following recipe a shot:

Tweaking the McRib

By Dave Cruz, Project No Ka Oink

Ingredients (Makes four sandwiches):
» 4 pounds pork spareribs, on the bone (procure at any Chinatown butcher or ask your neighborhood grocery store to save some for you)
» 4 Kaiser rolls
» One small onion
» Homemade pickles (see recipe below)
» Salt and pepper (to taste)

1. Cut spareribs into 8-inch pieces and salt/pepper generously on both sides.
2. Place pork in middle of a 12-inch piece of foil (shiny side down). Crimp center ends tightly to form an airtight seal. 
3. Pour about ¼ cup of water into one end of foil and crimp both ends. Place pork in roasting pan and cook in oven at 325 degrees for 1 and a half hours.
4. Drop heat to 250 degrees and continue to cook for another 1 and a half hours.
5. Remove from oven — pork should be fork tender and bones should easily pull away from meat. Remove bones and allow pork to rest in the pan juices to retain added moisture.
6. Heat non-stick pan and add four pieces of sparerib; be careful not to crowd the pan with too much meat. Brush or spoon sauce over the meat checking to make sure it is heated through. Caramelize for a minute or two before removing pork from heat.  
7. Take bun, layer onion rings and pickles, then top it off with pork and drizzle BBQ sauce. Add mayonnaise on the top bun, if desired.

» Note: To kick it up a notch, you can dry rub pork the day before with a mixture of celery salt, paprika, ground anise seed, ground cumin seed, garlic powder, onion powder and black pepper and sugar. Let it rest overnight, then wrap it in foil and add a tablespoon each of apple juice, cider vinegar and water to the foil pouch and braise.

Homemade Pickles

» One large Japanese cucumber
» 2 tablespoons salt
» 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
» 2 bay leaves
» 1/4 teaspoon red chile flakes
» 4 cloves crushed garlic
» 1 cup water
» 1/4 cup sugar

1. Wash cucumber and slice in 1/8 inch thick slices. Place in glass bowl. Sprinkle with two inches of salt and mix.
2. Add chile flakes, garlic and bay leaf.  
3. Heat water in pan until boiling and add remaining salt to dissolve.
4. Pour hot mixture over cucumbers. Mix with a spoon and allow to rest at room temperature for about one hour. 
5. Mix sugar and vinegar until sugar dissolves.
6. Strain salt water mixture from cucumbers. Add vinegar/sugar mixture to cucumbers, mixing well.
7. Allow bowl of pickles to rest in refrigerator, mixing occasionally.
Nutritional information unavailable.