A decade ago, a meal at the famed Franklin Barbecue in Austin, Texas, eventually led to Milwaukee’s new Sweet Smoke Barbecue pop-up.
Sweet Smoke makes Texas-style beef brisket, pulled pork, turkey and ribs, sides, sandwiches, and occasional specialties like barbacoa tacos and pork belly. It can be found most weekends at Enlightened Brewing Co., 2020 S. Allis St., from noon to 4 p.m. or while supplies last.
And June 29 will be the first Wednesday he appears at Ray’s Wine and Spirits, 8930 W. North Ave., Wauwatosa, from 4:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. or until the barbecue is full. Other dates at Ray’s include July 6, July 20, and July 27. (Sweet Smoke posts its schedule on Instagram.)
Adam Beilke, who operates Sweet Smoke with his wife, Cindi, went to Austin about 10 years ago to meet some friends, one of whom said they should eat at Franklin.
“He mentioned arriving and queuing at 8 a.m., which I thought was absurd because they don’t open until 11 a.m.,” Beilke said.
Once Beilke tried it, he saw the light.
“I couldn’t believe barbecue could taste like this, and I became obsessed with recreating it at home,” he said.
That is, strictly as an amateur, at first. Working in accounting and finance, Bielke said her restaurant experience was limited to McDonald’s in high school and ice cream in college, and cooking at home wasn’t much of a draw.
“My dad was always a good cook and tried to get me interested in it. I turned him down,” Beilke said.
In the beginning, anyway.
The first quirky smoker Beilke saw, the kind generally preferred by serious barbecue enthusiasts, was a little one his dad had to make ribs.
Later, her father bought her a smoker as a wedding present, and it eventually piqued her interest. Then came the trip to Texas.
“I went to Franklin and was blown away, so to speak,” he recalls.
He started building his barbecue and more recently cooking more in general during the pandemic while working from home.
He upgraded his quirky smokehouse to a 500-gallon one by Primitive Pits in Cumming, Georgia; the combustion chamber is a 250 gallon tank welded to it.
It mainly uses hickory wood. “The other antlers that we have locally don’t penetrate that huge piece of meat either,” he said of the brisket.
It keeps the rubs for the different meats simple; brisket is 2 parts pepper to 1 part salt plus seasoned salt from Lowry, for example.
In April, he quit his job as CFO of a travel agency to operate Sweet Smoke full-time. His wife quit her teaching career (with a break while their children were small, working part-time at Three Brothers).
“We are here for the long haul,” he said.
Cindi Beilke does the sides. In the summer, it could be cucumber salad or Mexican street corn. Corn muffins, potato salad or baked beans are other typical accompaniments.
Meats are sold by the half-pound or by the pound; brisket, for example, is $28 a pound, $14 a half pound. They will be served on a platter with slices of white bread, slices of pickle, pickled red onions and the house barbecue sauce, with a hint of mustard.
“It’s always exciting when people order a platter,” said Adam Beilke. “They’re the most fun to put together and they’re the most beautiful.”
Sweet Smoke also serves pulled pork, turkey, and ground or sliced brisket sandwiches ($10 to $12).
Once the new equipment arrives, he’ll go back to making smash burgers and Texas-style hot links. The burgers are made from brisket trimmings, and the crunchy sausages are half pork shoulder and half brisket trimmings.
“The plan is to kind of keep moving forward,” Adam Beilke said. “We are happy to do this for now.”
Sweet Smoke is also lining up for restaurant jobs, and it plans to offer vacuum-smoked turkeys and breast on Thanksgiving and Christmas by advance order, complete with instructions for heating at home.
Meanwhile, Sweet Smoke makes appearances at Ray’s and most weekends at Enlightened, which is housed in a former industrial space that once belonged to the Louis Allis Co.
“It really feels like a beautiful wedding. The space is beautiful, it’s good beer,” Beilke said. “The atmosphere is very pleasant to eat barbecue and drink beer.”