The Top Five BBQ Spots in MKE
Photo courtesy John Buchel, Maxie's Southern Comfort
Is there anything better in life than a little smoked meat at the end of summer?
Milwaukeeans love their barbecue just as much as their fish fries, with new restaurants and food trucks popping up all the time. In honor of the Big Gig BBQ and Milwaukee Rally taking place this weekend—we all know HOGs love their smoked meat too—here are five of the best spots to get your barbecue fill.
Ashley's Bar-B-Que is located on 15th and Center St. There's a sister location on National, but I find the 'que at the original Center location to be much better. It's nothing fancy with just a waiting room and an order counter, but don't let that throw you off. Darnell Ashley has been pitmaster for over a decade, taking over from his father who had started the restaurant in the 1960s. You can get some interesting stuff here that you'll have a hard time finding anywhere else, namely goat, pig snout and monster beef ribs. The shoulder is my go to, because unlike most BBQ spots, here the shoulder is sliced, not pulled. It's still plenty tender, but they take it off the smoke right at that moment before it starts to fall apart. The sauce is bright orange and tangy; a perfect compliment to the rich meat.
Sharing a space with Hawthorne Coffee Roasters near the airport, Iron Grate opened only about a year ago, but it's already the favorite of many BBQ fans. Chef Aaron Patin, formerly of Ardent, uses a smoker named Edna to pump out brisket, pork, hot links and ribs. They're not your ordinary ribs though, they're what Patin dubs “Milwaukee ribs.” He buys a rib that has the pork belly still attached, so there's a cap of sticky pork fat and tender meat on each rib. Sides include smoky baked beans, smoked tomato mac and cheese, grits, braised greens and cole slaw. They're only open on the weekends, but keep a lookout for their brand new food truck.
Double B's tends to fly a little under the radar, even for smoked meat connoisseurs. The restaurant, located on Greenfield Ave. in downtown West Allis, is small, but has a lovely secluded patio in the back that's as big as the main dining room. There's the usual ribs, brisket and pork, but my favorite thing here is the smoked chicken wings. Smoking them leaves the skin rendered and sticky with flavorful smoked meat. You get three free on Wednesdays when you purchase an entree. Double B's also does house alcohol infusions for cocktails, great cornbread muffins and a very respectable burger topped with brisket or pork. They just launched a food truck, called Timber's BBQ after pitmaster Mark Timber.
Don't let the fact that Pop's is only a trailer and not a restaurant fool you—they serve some of the best smoked meat in the city. They park regularly in a gas station parking lot at 76th and Good Hope Rd., generally Thursdays through Sundays. Ribs and tips, brisket, pulled pork, turkey legs and smoked brats are generally available, but brisket sells out early. Portions are pretty massive: a “sandwich” of pork or brisket is a square styrofoam takeout container full of meat, easily enough for two or more sandwiches. The standard sauce here is sweet and tangy, but there's a hot one you can request that has a blistering heat that sneaks up on you. Ask for half and half, which makes for a slow burn.
Most people think of Maxie's as a Cajun restaurant, but they consider themselves a Southern restaurant and have expanded their BBQ offerings. Unlike most barbecue spots, you can get various different regional styles of barbecue here, from eastern North Carolina to Kansas City. Pulled pork is my favorite here, with its tangy, vinegar-based NC sauce and baked beans. Ribs come in Memphis and St. Louis style and brisket comes with Kansas City-style sauce. They've got some of the best BBQ sides here, like corn and arugula salad with buttermilk dressing, red beans and rice and maple braised collard greens. The cornbread is of the sweet variety, so while it may make Southerners squirm, it's amazing spread with the accompanying orange honey butter.