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Smokin' hot
Check out some of the best barbecue joints in town

Photos by Matt Haas

July 2015

Texas. Carolina. Kansas City. Head to a barbecue-centric destination and then talk to the locals, and they’ll direct you to their personal favorite, along with recommendations on what and how to order it — because every barbecue region has a certain style — wet rub or dry rub, pork or brisket, mustard or vinegar.

But here in Milwaukee, you’ll get any and all of the above. While Milwaukee as a region doesn’t adhere to a single style of barbecue, the city and suburbs do have plenty of good barbecue spots, and in the last few years especially barbecue has become a hot trend. "What makes barbecue so popular is we all have done it," says Darnell Ashley, owner of Ashley’s Que and Ashley’s Bar-B-Que in Milwaukee. "It may not be as good as mine, but you can’t beat sitting outside with your family and eating."

"I think the popularity of barbecue goes with the whole culture of people being more turned on to everyday food, to the whole grass-roots and artisan movements," says Andrew Ruiz, executive chef at Miss Beverly’s Deluxe Barbeque in Greendale. "It’s very primitive — you’re smoking meat."

A decade ago, Milwaukee boasted only a handful of places — now, the area has national chains like Dickey’s moving in and opening up its 500th restaurant, which happened earlier this year.

If you’re looking for some authentic barbecue, here are five great joints to try on a hot summer night.

The Place: Miss Beverly’s Deluxe Barbeque, 5601 Broad St., Greendale, (414) 858-1911,

The Story: Barbecue had been a longtime dream of Bartolotta Restaurant Group’s partner John Wise. "I love barbecue, Joe (Bartolotta) loves barbecue, and it was always in the back of Joe’s mind because John was always chirping about it," says Adam Siegel, executive chef for the Bartolotta Restaurant Group.

The Vibe: Rescue-chic, with the cash register and serve-yourself soda bar made from Lake Park Bistro’s old zinc bar. The old wallpaper on the walls was just painted over in dark blue, with leftover tables from Joey Gerard’s battered for character.

What to Order: Pulled pork, brisket and St. Louis-style ribs. The most popular side is macaroni and cheese, but one of the best sides is the pecan and bourbon-laced sweet potato medallions.

What Else: Try one of the old-fashioned sodas like Green River.

The Place: Milwaukee Smoked BBQ, 3902 S. Whitnall Ave., (414) 882-7340,

The Story: Owners Brian Brieske and Don Michals used to own a motorcycle shop in the same building, but they were big barbecue hobbyists. "We started doing parties for our friends, and near the end of our motorcycle shop days, we just decided to switch to barbecue since that’s what we were doing already," Brieske says.

The Vibe: A former motorcycle shop transformed into a walk-up, old-style barbecue place with a tiny patio. The kind of place you stop in on the way home from work.

What to Order: Brisket and pork shoulder, all done with a dry rub. For a side, try the spicy rice or the baked beans.

What Else: Tuesdays through Thursdays, they serve dinners with sliced meats and two special sides like cheesy potatoes and buffalo mac n’ cheese.


The Place: Atlas BBQ, 1304 12th Ave., Grafton, (262) 618-2181,

The Story: When owner Mike Tsuchihashi and chef Michael Strand were designing Atlas, they sought out inspiration as they traveled across the Midwest in search of great barbecue. "We wanted to make it as authentic as possible," says Tsuchihashi.

The Vibe: Sleek and modern inside, fun tiki deck and patio outside.

What to Order: Pork, brisket and ribs served with five different sauces, including a Korean barbecue version. Also, one of the only Alabama white sauces for chicken. Tomato soup made with smoked tomatoes and a decadent bourbon chocolate pecan pie.

What Else: The smokers are named Jake and Elwood, after the Blues Brothers.


The Place: Smoke Shack, 332 N. Milwaukee St., (414) 431-1119,

The Story: Owner Joe Sorge loved barbecue and saw that it was growing in popularity, and he became one of the first to jump on the trend when he opened the Smoke Shack in January 2012.

The Vibe: Cozy little Third Ward joint with a big patio and boisterous, fun atmosphere.

What to Order: Brisket, baby back ribs and pork shoulder. Most popular side is the four-cheese mac n’ cheese, but the vegetarian beans are also popular, as are the flash-fried corn and sweet potato fries served with brown sugar and salt.

What Else: This place gets packed — very packed — on weekends.


The Place: Ashley’s Que and Ashley’s Bar-B-Que, 124 W. National Ave. and 1501 W. Center St., (414) 276-7666 or (414) 372-7666,

The Vibe: The new: Old-school, done right, with a touch of Walker’s Point hipness. Gorgeous wood floors and an even more impressive wood bar, along with a sweet patio complete the look.

The Original: An authentic, walk-up barbecue place with white- washed walls and the smell of smoked meat wafting in the air.

The Story: The original Ashley’s was opened by Thomas Ashley in the ’60s, and he ran it until he sold it in the early ’90s. Then, 17 years ago, his son Darnell bought it back. "I learned from my father, and he raised me on this," he says. "My mother, Sandra, taught me how to make greens. Everything here is made from scratch, and sometimes, it takes 18 hours to make."

What to Order: The pork shoulder, of course, but also the beef brisket and ribs, done with a combination of dry and wet rubs. On weekends, try the brisket and biscuits. For a side, you can’t go wrong with the beans, and Sandra’s greens are tops. Smothered potatoes, grits and mac n’ cheese are also good options.

What Else: In Walker’s Point, karaoke is on Wednesday nights, and enjoy live music every Friday.


This story ran in the July 2015 issue of: