By now, you’ve probably heard the news: McDonald’s is bringing Szechaun Sauce back… again. But when? When is McDonald’s Szechuan Sauce coming back? How long must we wait before the return of the sauce that launched a thousand ships? And is the House of the Golden Arches really, truly prepared for it this time round?Well, the good news is that the answers to those first three questions are, “Soon,” “Very soon,” and “Not long at all” — and I have hope that the answer to the final question I just posed is, “Yes.”
I won’t lie: After the disaster that occurred last fall, just hearing the phrase “Szechuan sauce” is enough to strike fear into the very marrow of my bones. You heard about what happened, right?
I guess we will wade into the mess again.
Just for you.
Never say I don’t care about you.
Here we go.
In 1998, McDonald’s ran a promotion that corresponded with the release of Disney’s latest hit, Mulan. That promotion was centered around a new dipping sauce for the chain’s ever-popular McNuggets. Called Szechuan Sauce, it was meant to “mimic traditional Chinese Szechuan Sauce,” according to the fan-run McDonald’s Wikia. The cuisine that originates in the Sichuan province of China is notable for its use of garlic, chili peppers, and Sichuan peppers — and indeed, a close look at the label of an ancient packet of McDonald’s Szechuan Sauce does indicate the presence of that flavor profile. The sauce came packaged with the Mulan-themed Chicken McNugget Happy Meal — but once the promotion ended, the sauce vanished from McDonald’s restaurants.
Apparently, though, those who had experienced it in all its glory as children never quite forgot it — and when the April 1, 2017 episode of the television show Rick and Morty aired, it opened the floodgates wide. Titled “The Rickshank Redemption” (a play on Stephen King’s novella Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption and the 1994 film adaptation of it, which shortened the title to simply The Shawshank Redemption), the episode opened season three — and perhaps somewhat surprisingly, it included a small subplot about Rick Sanchez’s love of McDonald’s Szechuan Sauce.
Following the episode’s air date, discussion of the fabled sauce exploded on social media, petitions were started, and demands were made: Fans wanted McDonald’s to bring back Szechuan Sauce. And for a brief time, optimism reigned. On July 30, 2017, the official Rick and Morty Twitter account tweeted the tweet to end all tweets:
Thanks to the show, Szechuan Sauce had been created (or, depending on how you feel about time travel, brought back to the future from 1998) once more. Rick and Morty co-creator and actor Justin Roiland tweeted out more details of the miraculous package they had received, too:
And McDonald’s itself tweeted out this gem:
And then… then… it was announced that Szechuan Sauce would be returning to some McDonald’s restaurants themselves, albeit in extremely limited quantities and for an extremely limited time. Intended as a dipping sauce option for the Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Tenders, McDonald’s brought back Szechuan Sauce for one day, and one day only: Oct. 7, 2017.
It… did not go as planned.
The chain was wildly unprepared for the sauce’s popularity, and fans were not pleased. Actual riots occurred over the limited supply of Szechuan Sauce.
It was… not our finest moment.
(We seem to be having a lot of those lately.)
In any event, McDonald’s did apologize to fans for failing to anticipate the demand (although I would argue that the fans should probably also apologize to every McDonald’s employee they treated like hell simply because there wasn’t enough Szechuan sauce available; as Justin Roiland tweeted, "It's not their fault."), and promised to bring the sauce back again at a later date.
And hey, guess what? That date has finally arrived! On Monday, Feb. 26, 2018, Szechuan Sauce makes its (hopefully) triumphant return to your local McDonald’s once more.
News actually leaked of the return in a report by Heavy published on Feb. 20. According to sources the outlet spoke to, as well as a few posts on Reddit, shipments of the sauce had already begun arriving at McDonald’s locations around the country; the cases were marked with a May 28, 2018 “use by” date. Reports of how it actually tasted were mixed, with some Reddit users who purportedly worked at McDonald’s saying, “It’s amazing! It tastes like BBQ, honey, and teriyaki mixed together,” and others saying, “[It’s] not as spicy as I would have liked it to be.”
On Feb. 20, McDonald’s teased the return of the sauce via their Twitter page, instructing followers to check back for more info on Feb. 22:
And now that Feb. 22 has arrived, we’ve finally gotten the official word: Szechuan Sauce will return in just four days’ time.
20 million packets have been shipped to McDonald’s locations across the country, which will be available with orders of McNuggets or Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Tenders starting on Feb. 26.
The chain also launched a website called We Want The Sauce devoted solely to Szechuan Sauce and the saga of its latest incarnation — and this, perhaps, is the most interesting part of the whole thing. “Last October, we truly meant well when we brought back a super-limited batch of Szechuan Sauce, but it quickly became apparent we did not make enough to meet the expectation of our fans,” McDonald’s wrote on the site, apologizing yet again for the fall fiasco. “We disappointed fans and we are truly sorry.”
But that’s not all they’ve got in store. “To full make amends,” they continued, “we felt it was important to not only bring back much more sauce this time, but to also admit our, mistakes, answer questions, and give fans access to the story behind the story.”
To that end, they’ve created a podcast.
Yes, a podcast.
A podcast all about Szechuan Sauce.
I mean, stranger things have happened, right?
Created with the help of Studio@Gizmodo and Onion Labs, The Sauce is a three-part investigation into the history of Szechuan Sauce, what happened last time McDonald's tried to bring it back, how they learned from the experience this time, and exactly why fans are so into Szechuan Sauce in the first place. You can listen to it on a wide range of platforms, from iTunes to Stitcher; check it out here.
In the meantime, though, there’s one question that still remains: How long will Szechuan Sauce be available? According to the We Want The Sauce website, all we have to go on is the somewhat nebulous “while supplies last”; however, the site also notes that “this time around, we hope [that’s] a while.”
I’d still move fast if I were you, though. Something tells me that the return of Szechuan Sauce is going to get snapped up fast, even if there are 20 million packets of it to get through.