The title of this post might have you scratching your head. Are New England style ribs a thing? We generally associate baby back ribs with the cuisines of the more southern half of the United States. However, given that pigs and hogs were introduced to North America by European settlers, it makes sense that domesticated pigs entered through both southern, specifically Caribbean, and northern ports of entry. Pork is as much prized in the north as it is in the south. So, let’s explore a recipe that embraces the flavors and ingredients of New England.
The Bounty of New England
The northeast is famous for a variety of distinctive foods that are able to survive cold winters and humid summers. Maple trees give us runny, sweet syrup. Apple trees provide cider, applesauce, apple butter, vinegar, and apple everything else. Bogs give us tart cranberries. Summers are plentiful with wild blueberries, strawberries, tomatoes, zucchini, and super sweet corn. Autumn yields include, winter squash, cabbage, pumpkins, onions, and all kinds of potatoes. And, let’s not forget that Bostonians love their baked beans and brown bread that are both steeped in molasses.
All of these compliment pork quite nicely. In this recipe we’ll make irresistibly sticky, sweet, and tangy ribs accompanied by classic New England side dishes. The ribs are enhanced with maple, molasses, blueberry, and apple. The side dishes make more use of maple, molasses, and apple, and offer up cabbage and beans as the main ingredients. Everything comes together with common local ingredients.
You can cook the ribs using charcoal for a really smoky exterior bark. If tending to the fire for 4 or 5 hours is not appealing, use a Masterbuilt Electric Smoker. The ribs will be just as tasty.
Smoked Blueberry and Maple Glazed Baby Back Ribs
- 4 racks of baby back ribs, approximately 2 pounds each
- 3 TBS maple or brown sugar
- 3 TBS course sea salt
- 3 TBS paprika
- 2 TBS freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp onion powder
- 1 tsp dry mustard
- 2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
- 3/4 cup ketchup
- 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar, preferably unfiltered
- 1/2 cup good maple syrup
- 1 TBS molasses
- 1 tsp chili powder
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1/4 cup water, if needed
- Maple or apple wood chips
- Apple cider in a spray bottle
- Water or water and dark beer for smoking
Total time:5 hour – Prep time:30 min – Smoke time:4 hour 30 min – Serves:4 people
1. Lay the ribs flat on a clean surface, meat side down. Remove the chewy membrane that covers the rib bones by slicing it at one end with a paring knife. You should be able to grab the cut end with a paper towel and peel the layer of membrane off. Check out this video to see how it is done. Or, ask your butcher to trim the ribs.
2. Mix all of the dry rub ingredients together in a bowl or measuring cup. Sprinkle on and rub into the tops, bottoms, and sides of the ribs. Set the ribs aside to rest and allow them to come to room temperature for approximately 30 minutes.
3. Make the barbeque sauce while the ribs rest. Combine all the sauce ingredients, except the water, in a pot over high heat. Bring to a boil and reduce to a low simmer. Stir while the sauce thickens, adding water as needed if it becomes too thick. When it is a desirable consistency, remove from the heat and allow to cool. Once cool, blend the sauce until it is smooth, adding a little water if necessary. Refrigerate until ready to use.
4. Prepare the smoker.
4. a) Charcoal Smoker: Set your grill up for indirect smoking. Begin by soaking the wood chips in water for approximately 60 minutes. Light your coals using a charcoal chimney and place the hot coals on one side of the grill. This is the area where the meat will cook indirectly and take on the smoke. Add some of the soaked wood chips directly on top of the hot coals. Close the lid and open the top vent. Allow the smoker or grill to get up to 225°F to 250°F.
4. b) Electric Smoker: Add the maple or apple wood chips to the side tray of the smoker. Fill the water bowl halfway with a combination of dark beer and water. Close the door, open the top vent, and preheat the smoker to 225°F.
5. Place the ribs, meat side up, on the smoker’s wire racks. If too large for the size smoker you have, cut them in half and arrange so that they fit. Cook in the smoker for a total of 3.5 hours. At every 45 minutes spray the ribs with apple cider. Add more coals to the fire, liquid to the bowl, and wood chips every 45 to 60 minutes or when you don’t see any smoke coming through the vent.
6. After 3.5 hours, baste the rib meat with 1/2 the blueberry sauce and smoke for another hour or two until the meat has pulled back from the ends of the bones and is very tender.
7. Remove the ribs to a clean cutting board, baste with the remaining sauce, and tent with foil. Allow the ribs to rest for several minutes, then cut and serve on a large platter with sides. See recipe ideas below for beans and slaw. Start the beans about an hour before the ribs so that they are finished at the same time.
Easy Boston Baked Beans
- 4 cups canned navy beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 small onion, diced
- 4 slices bacon, diced
- 1/2 cup maple syrup
- 3 TBS molasses
- 2 tsps dried mustard
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
Total time: 6 hour 10 min – Prep time: 10 min – Cook time: 6 hour – Serves: 4 people
1. Preheat an oven to 250°F.
2. 2. In a Dutch oven with a lid or a large casserole baking dish, combine all ingredients. Add enough water to just cover the beans.
3. Cover the dish with a lid or tin foil. Bake for 5 hours. Remove the lid and bake for another hour or until the liquid is completely absorbed.
4. Serve with the ribs.
Cabbage and Apple Slaw
- 3 cups prepared green cabbage, shredded using a box grater or a food processor
- 1 cup prepared carrots, shredded using a box grater or a food processor
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 1/4 cup sour cream
- 2 TBS apple cider vinegar
- 1/2 tsp celery salt
- 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1 large unpeeled red apple, cored, quartered, and thinly sliced
Total time: 15 min – Prep time: 15 min Serves: 4 people
1. Whisk together the mayonnaise, sour cream, vinegar, celery salt, and pepper in a large bowl. Add the cabbage and carrots. Toss to combine well. Add the apple slices and toss gently.
2. Cover and place in the refrigerator for at least an hour. Serve with the ribs and beans.