BBQ brawl

Rising star Houston pitmaster brings the heat on Food Network BBQ competition show

Rising star pitmaster brings the heat on Food Network BBQ competition

Don Nguyen Khoi Barbecue BBQ  Brawl
Don Nguyen prepares a dish on BBQ Brawl. Courtesy of Food Network

Houstonians will spot two familiar faces on the new season of Food Network’s BBQ Brawl reality cooking show. Chef Michelle Wallace (Gatlin’s BBQ) and Don Nguyen (Khói Barbecue) are among the nine contestants competing for the title of “Master of ‘Cue.”

CultureMap spoke to Nguyen before the first episode aired on Monday, May 9 about his time on the show. Although he still holds a full-time job as commodities trader, Nguyen has earned plenty of his attention for his Vietnamese-inspired barbecue pop-ups, including a CultureMap Tastemaker Awards nomination and an Eater-produced video with almost 1 million views on Youtube.

Of course, he couldn’t divulge how he fares in the competition, but those who have seen the first episode know that his fish sauce caramel chicken wings impressed the show’s three judge panel: barbecue legend Rodney Scott, Top Chef champion Brooke Williamson, and reality TV personality Carson Kressley.

“I saw the opportunity to do something new and step our of my comfort zone and try to showcase what Khói is about, marrying texas barbecue with Vietnamese-Asian flavors and techniques,” Nguyen says about his decision to participate in the show. “Just put myself out there and see how it goes.”

In the first episode, mentor Jet Tila selects Nguyen for his team, but, in a twist, Tila and fellow mentor Anne Burrell are forced to swap contestants when their team lose to Bobby Flay’s squad. Nguyen says he was open to working with any of the three.

As for his fellow contestants, don’t expect too much drama. “It was a really good atmosphere with good vibes. We all got along really well. Everybody brought something different to the table,” he says.

Nguyen expresses similar enthusiasm for Michelle Wallace. He says he didn’t know the Gatlin’s chef personally before the show, but they’ve become friendly since sharing the experience.]
“She’s awesome. She brings something different ot the table than what I do,” he says. “She bakes. It was a really welcome surprise to have the xperience with her.”

Nguyen recently revealed that he’s purchased a property north of downtown for a brick and mortar location of Khói. While it won’t open to the public for awhile, Nguyen plans to use the space for private events and tasting menu collaborations with guest chefs. Regardless, being on the show provides him with important experience as he begins the journey to making barbecue his profession.

“It gave me a lot of confidence in terms of what we’re trying to do with Khói in Houston in terms of marrying East and West, cooking with smoke, and honoring my Vietnamese heritage. It gave me a lot of confidence,’ he says.

“I came in to learn new things. I learned a lot. I accomplished my goal of growing as a person, as a cook, and as a barbecue fan.”


New episodes of BBQ Brawl air Monday nights at 9 pm on Food Network or stream them on discovery+.