In this series, we’ll be hiking the burger trail to find the latest, greatest and most delicious burgers in Milwaukee. Click here for an explanation of the criteria used to rate each burger. Where have we been? Check out the complete catalog of burger reviews here.
It’s been a hot minute since I last reviewed a burger for the On the Burger Trail series. Truth be told, after eating over 180 burgers, the series had begun to feel a bit stale. No longer inspired to find the next great burger, I decided it was time to take a pause.
But thanks to the rise of a few new burger joints, along with a renewed sense of excitement for indulging in beefy bliss, I decided to bring the series back for Dining Month. If all goes well, I plan to continue adding to the series on at least a monthly basis. I may even revisit some classic burgers and old favorites, just to see how they’ve held up over the years.
Sweet Smoke BBQ Pop-up
Since returning to the Burger Trail, I seem to be having an unusual streak of luck with trying new burgers that truly live up to their reputations. I’m taking it as a sign that restaurants are truly upping their game in the burger realm, and I definitely hope it continues.
So, when I made the decision to visit Sweet Smoke BBQ during one of their Sunday burger days at Enlightened Brewing, I had high hopes that this nascent concept would strike all the right notes with their burger.
Sweet Smoke popped onto the scene this summer. It’s currently a pop-up shop operated by Adam Beilke and his wife, Cindi. Adam is a smoked meat hobbyist-turned-professional whose obsession with barbeque began with a trip to one of the nation’s finest, Franklin BBQ in Austin.
As a result, Sweet Smoke specializes in Texas-style brisket smoked over hickory, along with pulled pork, turkey and ribs. But they also offer occasional specials including BBQ chili, tacos and more.
While Adam handles the smoker, Cindi is the driving force behind the BBQ concept’s seasonal side dishes, which have included offerings like potato salad, smashed cucumber salad, watermelon mint salad, lime street corn and corn muffins.
As for their pop-ups, they make regular appearances at Enlightened Brewing, but have also made appearances at Ray’s Wine & Spirits and various events around town. They post their weekly schedules and menus on Instagram. Burgers are regularly available on Sundays.
Sweet Smoke’s Smoked Brisket Smashburger features two smashed burger patties served on a buttered and toasted bun ($9.50) with American cheese and pickles (+$0.50). We added a side of coleslaw ($3) and chips ($1). Condiments (ketchup, mustard, mayo and BBQ sauce) are available at the counter.
The burger, served open-face in its paper tray was a stunner. The top of the bun sat on the side, showcasing its beautifully golden toasted interior. Meanwhile, two irregularly shaped, visibly caramelized patties sandwiched the American cheese, which lilted over the side. Three very fresh-looking pickles were scattered on top, adding color and gilding the already mouthwatering lily.
As for the bun, it was nothing fancy. But it was fresh and soft with an airy interior and a delicate flavor. Its cut edges were coaxed to a beautiful golden brown thanks to a bit of butter and the heat of the grill. And it was perfectly sized for the patties, with a balanced meat-to-bread ratio.
Great beef is at the heart of every stellar burger. And yes, the cut of beef matters. Sweet Smoke’s are made from chopped brisket trimmings mixed with prime ground brisket and smashed to order, the patties delivered on the rich beefy flavor for which brisket is prized, plus a hint (just a hint) of smoke from the trimmings.
The burgers had a great texture; they were juicy and just fatty enough to make them feel indulgent. And while patties fell just short of exhibiting the extraordinarily crisp crust found on an ideal smash burger, there was definitely a fair amount of caramelization on their exteriors, along with some nice crispy edges.
Basic burgers are trickier than flashy loaded-down burgers because there’s little to hide behind. Each ingredient needs to play a role, and the flavors need to balance. That’s precisely the case here. The American cheese was just melted, allowing each bite a bit of its salty umami flavor. Meanwhile, the classic dill pickles offered bright notes that cut through all the richness of the brisket and cheese.
While condiments were available to add to the burger, I found I didn’t need them. The burger stood up well on its own, with the flavor of the burger presiding, the cheese adding a pop of salt and the pickles rounding things out with their pop of acid.
These days, it’s tough to argue with a $10 burger, especially when it delivers on the flavor front. If you value a burger by how much gustatory satisfaction it brings, Sweet Smoke pretty much hits this one on the head.
The best burgers don’t need frills to make them shine. Such is the case with the Smoked Brisket Smashburger from Sweet Smoke. The fact that it’s only available for a few hours once a week makes the mystique of this burger even more sweet.
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.