There are a lot of people who say if you want to learn something about a culture, take a close look at its food. In fact, over the years many people have noted that the food in Texas is an amalgam of cultures that have come to Texas over its long and storied past.
Daniel Vaughn, the barbecue editor at Texas Monthly, came across something rather recent along those lines when he discovered an Egyptian-Texan joint that’s adding some spice to the typical barbecue tray. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:
Texas Standard: Tell us a little bit about this Egyptian-Texas joint. You say it’s actually more like a food truck, right?
Daniel Vaughn: Yes, KG BBQ – it’s in Austin, right next to Oddwood Brewing. It’s run by Kareem El-Ghayesh, who is a native of Cairo, Egypt. He came to Texas not even knowing that the state was known for barbecue. And so the first time he tried it, he was at a Rudy’s Bar-B-Q. He saw the guys cutting back there – cutting the brisket to order on those cutting blocks – and was really just mesmerized by the sight of it. And then he tasted it, and he was really hooked.
So what, he goes back to Egypt and he decides ‘Texas is a place I ought to be’?
Yeah. He went back to Egypt and really bought a smoker. He found a butcher who understood what a brisket was – not a common cut in Egypt. And that guy became his supplier for all of his raw briskets for the many experiments that he had in Egypt. And his plan originally was to open a barbecue joint in Cairo there. I mean, he didn’t have really any competition for Texas barbecue. And he really thought that the flavors of Texas barbecue and the sort of meat-centric menu was something that would be popular in Cairo.
But it wasn’t? Why not?
Well, he actually came to Texas to learn. And, you know, he just decided that maybe this was the place to remain. And he basically just went from barbecue joint to barbecue joint and then started his own sort of underground barbecue dinners to help fund this purchase of a food truck. And he opened it last year.
As anyone who’s ever tried to make barbecue themselves know, this is not the easiest thing to do. I mean, it’s science, but it’s also art. How did he find he had the magic touch?
Well, he found that he had the magic touch because of how popular those underground dinners were. And he figured, you know, yeah, it might sound silly that he could have opened in Cairo, where there’s almost no competition, to instead open in Austin, where there’s, you know, the most competition probably of any city for barbecue. But he just felt like the Egyptian flavors he was going to bring to it – the different ingredients and the different ways that he was going to produce that barbecue and show off that barbecue – was going to be something that was unique in Austin.
Yeah, coming to Austin’s bit like trial by fire, no pun intended. But let’s get into the flavors: KG BBQ serves up these dusted pork ribs. Have you tried them yourself?
Yeah, absolutely. The za’atar seasoning – that’s how he finishes them off – that seasoning mix that’s really popular in Egypt is something that he uses in a lot of his barbecue and in the sides as well. There’s a lot of vinegar in a lot of the things that he makes, a lot of freshness. Tahini is one of the most popular things to add to all of his different side dishes. And then lots of pita bread – you know, good, fluffy pita bread, too – instead of that cheap white bread that you find at so many other barbecue joints.
That already sounds like a like a real step up.
Well, yeah, wait till you get a brisket shawarma.
I was going to ask if brisket was on his menu. Brisket shawarma – tell me more.
Yeah. The brisket shawarma goes on one of those warm pieces of pita bread. He makes a sauce out of that tahini that goes over top. And then he has this baladi salad, which is a really fresh cucumber, tomato and onion salad that goes over top. It might sound a lot different than your standard barbecue sandwich, but it’s got all those same elements like the pickle, the onions, the sauce, the bread and, of course, the brisket.
How’s this going over so far? I mean, to survive as a food truck is difficult no matter what you’re serving up.
It really is going great. You know, he’s already considering adding another pit to the barbecue. He’s got people coming in there pretty much every day of the week to get some of those things that you just can’t find elsewhere. He said actually his most popular is this barbecue brisket rice bowl. And so it’s got rice and like pistachios and cashews and almonds and raisins and pomegranates, like all of these things that you would think of with Egyptian cuisine, but you would never think of as being combined with Texas barbecue. And I think that is what’s really helping him make a name for himself and really just continue gaining that popularity.