Friday, April 5, 2013

MRE Review: Menu 16, Pork Rib

Conserve Food, Watch Your Waste Line
I was never in the military.

I tried to enlist, but the doctors at MEPS said my feet were too flat, my vision was too blurry, and that I was, quote, “too ugly for the Marines.” So they slapped a baloney sandwich into my hand, tossed me out, and left me to hitch a ride home any way I could.

You think I’m lying about the sandwich, but it’s true. I'd missed lunch, because it takes longer to fail a MEPS physical than to pass it. Those doctors search long and hard for any excuse to let you through. When they finally gave up on me, late in the afternoon, the last lady to leave the cafeteria took pity and made me a sandwich, just as the other staff were shoving my ass out the door.

Still reeling from the shock, my face a mask of pathetic rejection, I walked listlessly through the streets of Tampa, clutching a baloney sandwich to my chest. It was not a pretty sight.

But don’t weep for me. I bounced back from that disappointment and managed to pay for college without the military's help. And, just recently, I ordered a case of MREs, for reasons that have no connection whatsoever to any of the events I’ve just described. (At this point, you may be asking, “Then why the hell did you write all that shit about MEPS and paying for college?” Allow me to address your question with a question of my own: “Why the hell did you read it?”)

MREs are Meals Ready-to-Eat, the military’s solution for feeding hungry soldiers deployed
to forward areas that don't have a Costco. They're the latest evolution of the military ration, replacing the heavy, noisy canned crap they used to put in C-rats and the freeze-dried drek in the LRP ration. Instead, an MRE contains a full, semi-palatable meal of around 1200 calories, ready to eat right out of the package, even if you lack water, fire, or tools. It also comes in the stylish overwrap shown below. Bonus.

MRE Menu 16, Pork Rib Overwrap

In taste and caloric content, I'd put MREs on par with fast food. The difference is, an MRE is packed with vitamins and it doesn’t give you the runs. And even if it did give you the runs, the MRE has you covered, because it comes with toilet paper. Can you say that about a Happy Meal? I think not.

MREs come in 24 different varieties, referred to as menus. New menus are rotated in every year to replace the least popular ones. The one I'll be reviewing today is 2011's Menu 16: Pork Rib. Here’s everything you’ll find inside:
MRE Menu 16, content

As you can see, it's mostly in pouches. The pouches on the bottom row are your standard foil affairs, but the two boxes on the top row contain retort pouches. We'll explore retort pouches in a future review but, for the moment, you can think of them as the pouch equivalent of canned goods.

That greenish whatsit in the upper right corner is the Flameless Ration Heater. You can heat an entrée just by adding water to the heater and sliding the retort pouch inside. After ten minutes and a few whiffs of hydrogen gas, your meal is steaming hot. Personally, though, I prefer to boil my entrée pouch, and save my chemical heaters for use during a Day After Tomorrow style climate disaster.

All right, let’s get this show on the road.

Course 1
Beverage Base Raspberry, Sugar Free
Potato Cheddar Soup
Wheat Snack Bread Twin Pack
Cheese Spread
MRE Menu 16, potato cheddar soup

We start our meal with a proper soup and bread course, with Wheat Snack Bread and Potato Cheddar Soup in a retort pouch. Now, I’m not much of a soup person. I don’t trust any food that I can eat without chewing. We have a word for foods that don’t need chewing, and that word is “drinks”. QED, soup is an abomination of nature.

But this soup? This soup is awesome. It’s rich, creamy, and flavorful, with just the right balance of salt, cheddar, and seasoning. The potato chunks are tasty and, more importantly, they’re nice and firm. They add much-welcome bulk and give you something to chew on, which is something I like in my food (as you may have gathered.) If they served me this soup at a nice restaurant, I would be quite satisfied, although I’d probably wonder about the foil pouch.
MRE Menu 16, potato cheddar soup texture

The wheat snack, however, is never the highlight of an MRE. It’s a bizarre little slice of space-age material, trapped in a limbo world somewhere between crackers and bread. Sealed in foil and packaged with an oxygen scavenger, a wheat snack can stay fresh for years – perhaps decades. Wheat snack never goes stale. Wheat snack never gets moldy. Wheat snack don't care. Wheat snack don't give a shit.

This menu comes with two of the little fuckers, but they actually go pretty well with this course. You don't notice their dryness so much when you're eating them with a food/beverage hybrid like soup. I used one wheat snack for dunking in the soup, and ate the other one with cheese spread. The cheese spread in this menu is pretty much what it sounds like: a spreadable cheddar concoction that you squeeze out of a condiment packet. It has the taste of Cheese-Whiz, with a slightly thicker consistency. It’s not fantastic, but it’s not bad either, and at least it greases the wheat snack on its way down.

The beverage for this course is a sugar-free drink powder, like Crystal Light. It tastes like what it is: an artificially flavored aspartane soft drink, refreshing but unremarkable. I wouldn't usually complain about such a drink, but most MREs come with coffee instead of generic goddamn Crystal Light, so I was actually pretty disappointed.

Course 2
Cranberry Ranger Bar
MRE Menu 16, Cranberry Ranger Bar

Okay, so I’m not usually a fan of breakfast bars (Question: “Is there anything you are a fan of?” Answer: “Yes. Beau Bridges”) but this breakfast bar is pretty damn good. It has a nice chewy texture, with lots of rolled oats and cranberries, and bits of caramelized apple to add crunch. It’s a little on the sweet side, but the cranberries, apple, and a hint of cinnamon combine for a nice flavor. If I had a box of these in my cupboard, they'd get eaten pretty fast.

Course 3
Pork Rib
BBQ Sauce
Carbohydrate Electrolyte Orange Beverage (pouch pictured)
MRE Menu 16, Pork Rib

Yup, that’s really what it looks like: a pile of offal that went through a trash compactor, then got pissed on by someone with a nasty UTI.

But you know what? Surprisingly tasty!

I mean, it ain’t Memphis ribs or anything, but it’s really not bad. If I had to complain, I’d say that the pork is on the bland side. It’s in desperate need of a marinade, or some dry rub, or at least a little liquid smoke. Also, the BBQ sauce is too sweet, but not offensively so, and it adds a nice balance of spices that the pork itself lacks.

Altogether, it’s pretty damn good. If they made a pork rib TV dinner that tastes as good as this one, I wouldn't hesitate to add it to my "too lazy to cook dinner" rotation, right between mac and cheese on Tuesdays and a large bowl of stove-cooked popcorn on Thursdays.

The electrolyte beverage is basically just powdered Gatorade, and tastes about the same. It gives you what you expect and I have no complaints, since it doesn't displace coffee.

Course 4: Dessert
Peanut M&M’s
MRE Gum (not pictured, I'll get it next time)
MRE Menu 16, M&M's

Does it seem weird that there would be M&M’s in a combat ration?

It shouldn’t, because that’s where they got their start. When they were first made, in 1941, M&M’s were sold to the military as a chocolate dessert that wouldn’t turn to goo in hot weather. M&M's served and were served in Europe and the Pacific, providing a yummy treat in places where punk-ass Hershey bars refused to tread.

Yeah. M&M’s are grunts.

The M&M's fight for America in World War 2. I think Orange may have PTSD, though.

Who knew, right?

Like this review? Read the others in the series!


Fresh Hardtack
3-Month-Old Hardtack
Menu 22, Sloppy Joe
Menu 23, Pasta in Pesto
Menu 14, Ratatouille (Vegetarian)
Menu 15, Southwest Beef and Beans
Menu 8, Marinara Sauce with Meatballs
Menu 20, Spaghetti with Beef and Sauce 
Menu 19, Beef Roast
Menu 13, Tortellini Vegetarian 
Menu 18, Chicken with Noodles
First Strike Ration Menu 2 (Part 1)
First Strike Ration Menu 2 (Part 2)

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