Milwaukee’s BBQ scene still smokin’

All across the nation Americans take pride in barbecue. But in Milwaukee you hear more about brats and cheese curds than their comfort food companions, ribs, pulled pork or some delicious corn bread.

So to help narrow the scope of Milwaukee’s best, we looked at three of the newer barbecue establishments in the city. At these haunts, down home cooking is king, smoking meat is a craft and the perfect sauce is an art form.

Big Daddy’s Brew and Que

5800 N. Bayshore Drive, Glendale

Photo by Trevor Theiss
Photo by Trevor Theiss

This BBQ restaurant, the newest restaurant of the selections, recently opened in February after undergoing renovations. The goal of the Brew and Que is to bring Milwaukee an authentic taste of the South.

It’s renovations give it a homey, comfortable feel with old Winchester ammo boxes to house the restaurant’s wide variety of sauces.

But it’s not all about the sauces for Big Daddy’s Brew and Que’s Executive Smokemaster, Zachary Rosen, for whom barbecuing began as a hobby that bordered on obsession.

“The key to a barbecue is slow and low. I’ve taken briskets and grilled them 14, 15 hours in my backyard or driveway and sit out there all night with a case of beer and stoking the fire every couple of hours” Rosen said.

Rosen’s passion for barbecue ensures Big Daddy’s always has the items on its menu in stock. It also led to what makes Big Daddy’s stand out in the Milwaukee barbecue scene.

“The smoked tenderloin really sets us apart,” Rosen said. “It’s smoked two to three hours and comes out beautiful perfect medium rare and if word got out how good this is… it’d be over”

It’s an item rarely seen on barbecue menus in Milwaukee.

“We’re just trying to do something a little bit different and a little bit better than everyone else out there,” Rosen said.

Big Daddy’s Brew and Que is located in Bayshore mall near the iPic movie theater. The comfortable atmosphere and massive televisions make this a solid choice to watch the Packers, Bears or Marquette game and the classic southern cooking makes a great way to fight off the Milwaukee cold.

Ashley’s Que

124 W. National Ave, Milwaukee

Photo by Trevor Theiss
Photo by Trevor Theiss

The thing about Ashley’s cooking that makes it stand out from other Milwaukee barbecue restaurants is its method and the history behind it.

“We cook with fire.” Jazzmon Hughes, the grandson in this family enterprise, explained. “We actually have a real barbecue pit that we cook in that my grandfather built back in the ’60s that’s actually one of the only functioning indoor barbecue pits in Milwaukee county because you can’t build them anymore in Milwaukee county. But ours was grandfathered in because it’s old; it’s the real deal.”

The second location of this Milwaukee barbecue staple opened last year, but the new BBQ joint marks new territory for the local restaurant. The new branch includes added seating and a dine-in environment, where the original location remains strictly takeout.

While Ashley’s has all the ribs and pulled pork of any barbecue restaurant, its sandwiches are especially noteworthy with “The Prince,” a monster sandwich made with steak and lamb, that stands apart from the rest.

“[The Prince] is something I came up with and my dad likes to take credit for, but it’s a great sandwich. We almost have a fanclub for it; people eat it religiously” Hughes said.

Ashley’s Que also provides entertainment with Milwaukee guitarist Evan Christian playing at the restaurant Tuesday and Friday nights.

 Smoke Shack

332 N. Milwaukee St, Milwaukee

Photo by Trevor Theiss
Photo by Trevor Theiss

Smoke Shack over in the 3rd Ward finds its home in one of the Ward’s oldest buildings, the cozy and rustic space went through several generations of bars near the intersection, but after being transformed in 2011, the building gives a warm feel with a small patio and down home charm.

The Smoke Shack puts a special emphasis on sustainability and the ethical use of meat in the barbecue.

“We do all of our own cutting and bleeds inside of the restaurant so that we are able to use as much of the animal as possible,” Jenna Puffer, a manager at the Smoke Shack, said. “Just because we want to be humane, responsible with the meat we are using. And all of the meats we do use are all hormone free, antibiotic free, and range free so the quality is really high.”

The care taken is reflected in the ribs at Smoke Shack, the most popular item on the menu. “We have spare ribs and baby back ribs,” Puffer said. “They’re both pork and they come out of the smoker everyday at 5 o’clock.”

The restaurant offers five different barbecue sauces to dip, dunk and smother your dinner and offers the best choice for any vegetarians still looking for the flavor of barbecue. The menu includes a roasted portobello mushroom with the signature sauce and a “BBQ Seitan Sammich” with arugula, red onion and, again, that delicious house sauce.

Whatever kind of barbecue you want one of these three ought to be able to supply it. So next time you’re thinking of lighting up the grill in this cold, save yourself the pain and head out for barbecue done right.