From Brisket Pho to Pork Ribs, Khói Barbecue Well Worth the Wait

The brothers who bring their pop-up to parts across the city are turning heads.

By Timothy Malcolm January 22, 2020

A sample of trinity meats and macaroni and cheese from Khói Barbecue.

I arrived at Baileson Brewing Co. Saturday in the midst of a passing storm. As light rain tapped on my shoulders, I got out of the car, took my daughter's hand, and got into the back of what was already a line of about four-dozen. At the front of the line was a tent for Khói Barbecue, the pop-up pitmasters who serve Central Texas barbecue while also adding the smoked meat into Vietnamese fare—pho, bún bò hue, and whatever else strikes their fancy.

Behind the pop-up are Don and Theo Nguyen, brothers who live in Montrose and operate a 1967 smoker they call Sunday Morning (named after the famous Velvet Underground song) in their backyard. Every couple weeks the guys, who named their barbecue business after the Vietnamese word for smoke, put up the tent and serve their creations to a very hungry public. Khói has built a strong reputation (that Texas Monthly wrote about very recently), taking after other newcomers like Blood Bros. BBQ in Bellaire and Brett's Barbecue Shop in Katy. (Is it coincidence that while standing in line for Khói, I saw multiple people wearing gear from both Blood Bros. and Brett's?) Houston pitmasters are exploring new expressions of 'cue every weekend, and the Nguyen brothers are a crucial part of the corps.

It took the brothers—who had help from a couple friends Saturday—a little longer to start serving their food. Blame it on the rain forcing the warmers to take a quick break, but it didn't appear to change anything except the wait. Spirits were high in line (and thankfully being at a good brewery means there's beer to go around), and after a patient hour, I scored my lunch (and dinner).

Khói's brisket and meatball pho (along with a Baileson juice bomb).

First, Khói's pho (meatball and brisket) was outstanding, sharp and sweet with star anise flavor and wholly comforting—one of the best bowls I've had in the city. It just so happened to have a smoky and soft slab of brisket on top. They were also serving beef rib panang curry, and looking at the bowls made me jealous I didn't also drop money for that. There's always next time.

Along with the specials, Khói goes the traditional Central Texas route with the trinity of meats. The simply seasoned brisket also scored high, with the fatty ends putting me in a brief frenzy. The pork ribs, given a light glaze with just a buzz of heat, were even better. Smoked sausage was snappy and satisfying. The meats were well worth the wait.

The Nguyen brothers prepare their own pickles, including homemade kimchi that refreshes in between bites of fatty brisket. The only misstep was the bland macaroni and cheese, and by the time I got there they had run out of potato salad. Again, there's always next time.

That next time, at least for Khói, is noon Sunday at Baileson. Get there a bit early if you want a front-line spot. 

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