McDonald's is bringing back the McRib, a boneless pork sandwich that had almost disappeared from the fast-food giant's menu in recent years. The company deliberately made the McRib elusive, offering it at franchises in different cities for a few weeks at a time. But McDonald's will put the sandwich back on sale across the country in November, realizing a dream of its many dedicated fans. (Watch a 1989 commercial for the McRib.) Here's a quick guide:

What is a McRib?
It is a sandwich filled with ground pork molded into the shape of a small slab of ribs, and topped with onions and barbecue sauce. Dating back to 1981, the McRib has inspired both a "Simpsons" episode and a marketing campaign for The Flintstones movie, and has been described as a "culinary phoenix" for its habit of appearing on and vanishing from McDonald's menus with no apparent predictability. 

Why is McDonald's bringing it back now?
To make money, of course, says Jason Sheehan at Seattle Weekly. This promotional stunt is simply "a way for Mickey D's to jump a tenth of a point in sales" and "make an extra few million dollars." But it's not just McDonald's that offers "limited-time products to coincide with holidays or promotions," says Chicago's Breaking Business blog. Burger King put actual ribs on its menu this year, and Mars sells red and green M&Ms over the Christmas period.

How extreme are McRib fans?
A network of dedicated McRib lovers thinks little of traveling great distances to buy one. There is even a "McRib Locator" where people can post nationwide sightings of the elusive snack. One fan, Ryan Dixon, tells The Wall Street Journal he traveled 10 hours from California to Oregon to reach a restaurant that was selling McRibs. "You don't know when it will appear," he told the newspaper. "It's the girl you are in love with who has always been a tease for you."

Has McDonald's helped stoke the fires of its fans?
The conglomerate has arguably "helped cultivate the McRib mystique," says The Wall Street Journal. McDonald's told customers in the South it would be discontinuing the sandwich five years ago, and announced a "McRib Farewell Tour." It even launched a "Save the McRib" website sponsored by the fake "Boneless Pig Farmers Association of America." Even so, the sandwich has continued to pop up at times in some Southern outlets. 

What's all the fuss about? It's only a sandwich.
And it's not even a very good one, says Vanessa Farquharson at the National Post. "Obsessing over sandwiches is one thing," but this "imitation pork product molded into the shape of a real pork product" just isn't worthy of "this level of devotion." That's just plain blasphemy, says James Plafke at Geekosystem. "The McRib is like some kind of delicious, mythical being, akin to pure joy captured and stuffed into bread and boneless pork." Its return should be cause for national celebration.

When is it coming back?
McDonald's will sell the McRib at 14,000 outlets across the U.S. for six weeks, starting on Nov. 2.

Sources: Seattle Weekly, Breaking Business, Wall Street Journal, National Post, Geekosystem