Don Nguyen

Years of Participation


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 twelve years before finding his calling: reconciling the dichotomy of
his Asian-American experience through smoke.
A trendsetter in craft barbecue, Don is recognized for spearheading the movement of incorporating
Asian cuisine and ingredients with the techniques and smoked meats of Central Texas barbecue. He
builds on traditional Texas barbecue methods modernized in the late aughts by his fellow Texans: John
Mueller, Aaron Franklin, and John Lewis.
Don honors the craft of classic Texas barbecue 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. His food reflects his childhood and cherished memories
of meals at home cooked by his mom, in Houston’s Little Saigon, and from trips to Vietnam, where he
visited his family in Đà Nẵng.
Self-taught with barbecue, he got his first backyard smoker the week before Hurricane Harvey in 2017.
This coincided with his project to formally document and preserve his mom’s Vietnamese recipes. And
thus, with the help of his brother Theo, Khói Barbecue came to life.
Khói, which means smoke in Vietnamese, started as a pop up and 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 ethnic
cuisines with American barbecue traditions.
As he continued to hone his craft and examine the role of Asian-Americans within the fabric of America,
Don became captivated by the Carolina whole hog style of cooking and its confluence with Chinese &
Vietnamese barbecue culture of roasting hogs. He was first inspired when Houston pitmaster Patrick
Feges brought the technique to Texas.
Don weaves whole hog into dishes like bánh cuốn and broken rice hash, which utilizes methods passed
down to him from his good friend, Hector Garate, of Palmira BBQ in Charleston. The first time Don
cooked a whole hog was for pitmaster Rodney Scott, who, upon eating, expressed disbelief that this was
Don’s first and only time doing so.
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 expressed Don’s work is a “breath of
brilliant barbecue air,” and Bobby Flay remarked Don is “disrupting American barbecue in the best way.”
Don is 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.