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Burger King Rolls Out McRib-Buster

Burger King's new rib sandwich will compete with McDonald's McRib.
Source: Burger King
Burger King's new rib sandwich will compete with McDonald's McRib.

McRib's got a new McRival.

Burger King on Thursday will unveil its 2013 summer menu plans, highlighted by a new, limited-time BK Rib Sandwich, which is boneless like McRib — has a tangy sauce and comes with sweet bread and butter pickles. It will be sold nationally beginning May 21.

BK's other summer roll-outs include a return of Memphis Pulled Pork sandwiches, a line of Carolina BBQ sandwiches and sweet potato fries. It also will introduce a new BBQ Chicken Salad and line of Oreo-infused desserts. All of the products, including the rib sandwich, will be available only though the summer.

The move comes at a time when industry players like Burger King are increasingly taking on McDonald's in product innovation. Now, Burger King is even aiming for Mickey D's piece of the rib sandwich market — whose fans can be fiercely loyal.

"That McDonald's has been bringing back McRib for 32 years tells you it's popular and important," said Scott Hume, editor of BurgerBusiness.

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For Burger King, which has pushed hard on the product innovation button the past couple of years, the move into a boneless, rib sandwich and other pork products is being driven by two things: consumer demand and commodity prices.

"Our guests have grown to look for a variety of options," said Eric Hirschhorn, vice president of global innovation. "It's not just about beef anymore, but other proteins like chicken and turkey and pork."

Millennials, in particular, are attracted to robust and regional flavor offerings, he said. And younger consumers have traditionally made up a big portion of BK customers.

(Read More: Hidden Restaurant Menu Items)

The rib sandwich, which has been 10 months in the making, was tested in Shreveport, La., and sold "extremely well," Hirschhorn said. The recommended price, which will vary by market, is $3.49 a la carte and $5.59 as a meal — with fries and soft drink.

Burger King will soon begin heavily marketing the new sandwich — and the entire summer menu — under the "taste is king" slogan.

Back in 2010, Burger King briefly sold an on-the-bone rib item: Fire-Grilled Ribs. But because the product was so pricey — nearly $9 in some markets — it didn't sell in large volume. Now, BK executives are convinced they've not only got the right product but the right place to cook it: on their open-flame grills.

Executives at McDonald's don't sound particularly concerned.

(Read More: McDonald's to Add Three Quarter Pounders to Menu)

"We know our customers love McRib and we won't disappoint them," said spokeswoman Danya Proud. "It will be returning."

She declined to say when.

Hume, the blogger, said McDonald's need not fret. "I think McRib has such loyal fans that no one else's rib sandwich will hurt it, even if Burger King's is really good."

—By USAToday.com's Bruce Horovitz

Questions? Comments? Email us at consumernation@cnbc.com.

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