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Houston, TX /
Khoi BBQ

Don Nguyen was born in Saigon, Vietnam and raised in Houston, Texas.

After attending the United States Military Academy West Point and graduating from The University of Texas at Austin where he studied economics and mathematics, Don pursued a career in renewable energy trading and origination for ten years before finding his actual calling: reconciling the dichotomy of the Asian-American experience through barbecue.

A trendsetter in craft barbecue, Don is recognized for spearheading the movement of incorporating ethnic dishes and ingredients with the techniques and smoked meats of Central Texas barbecue. He got his first backyard smoker the week before Hurricane Harvey and quickly found his voice building upon traditional Central Texas barbecue techniques modernized in the late aughts and mid-2010s by John Mueller, Aaron Franklin, and John Lewis.

Don honors the barbecue traditions of Texas while propelling its evolution with deftly smoked brisket, beef ribs, and handcrafted sausages interwoven with ingredients from Vietnamese cuisine like fish sauce, tamarind, and fermented seafood pastes. Taught how to cook by his mom, his food is a reflection of what he grew up eating in Houston’s Little Saigon, Chinatown, and trips to Vietnam visiting his family in Đà Nẵng.

The marriage of Vietnamese and Texas cooking traditions led to the creation of his pop up, Khói Barbecue, with the help of his brother Theo, in 2017. Khói means smoke in Vietnamese. Khói quickly received praise for dishes like brisket phở, beef cheek bánh xèo, and beef rib curry. Daniel Vaughn, barbecue editor for Texas Monthly, asserted “Khói is expanding the boundaries of what barbecue can be.”

These dishes have helped shape the current zeitgeist of integrating flavors and dishes from minority communities with American barbecue traditions.

As he continued to hone his craft and examine the role of Asian-Americans within the fabric of America, Don fell in love with the Carolina whole hog style of cooking after cooking one for the first time for pitmaster Rodney Scott in 2021. Don weaves the technique into Vietnamese dishes like whole hog bánh cuốn and thịt nướng. Scott says of Don’s style of whole hog: “it kind of blew my mind.”

From the early days as a pop up, to evolving into its own culinary corner in Houston, Khói has been acclaimed by Eater and lauded by chefs Brooke Williamson, who expressed Don’s work is a “breath of brilliant barbecue air” and Bobby Flay, who remarked Don is “disrupting American barbecue in the best way.”

Don is a Chartered Financial Analyst (“CFA”) charterholder, a Yeti Ambassador, and is currently reimagining a 1970s bungalow in Houston’s Near Northside neighborhood to build a permanent brick and mortar space for Khói.