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At KG BBQ, barbecue is high steaks

KG BBQ chef Kareem El Ghayesh traveled ~7,084 miles for his love of barbecue.

Kareem El-Ghayesh standing in front of his black barbecue food truck, KGBBQ.

Although Kareem isn’t advancing to the James Beard Awards finals, KG BBQ has big plans in store.

Photo by ATXtoday

You may think you love smoked meats, but for KG BBQ owner Kareem El-Ghayesh, Texas barbecue is literally “life-changing.”

An avid home cook from Cairo, Egypt, and James Beard-nominated chef, Kareem visited Austin for the first time on a weekend vacation in 2012. After a day at Hamilton Pool, his first experience with Texas barbecue was at Rudy’s, where the smoky cuts had him captivated.

“It was literally a life changing experience, I was blown away by all of what I was absorbing with my senses,” Kareem told ATXtoday. “I’m feeling all the meats falling apart, everything is just smoky, and tender, and flavorful. I grew up loving barbecue in Egypt and the Middle East — it’s very different.”

After his trip, Kareem returned to Cairo and had a successful career in finance, but never forgot about that barbecue. Despite protests from his friends and family, Kareem quit his job, packed up, and booked a flight back to Austin in 2015. By February 2016, Kareem was living in Austin full-time.

With no professional experience in barbecue, Kareem offered to work for free at (now-closed) Kerlin BBQ to learn the ropes. From there, Kareem took jobs at Valentina’s Tex-Mex BBQ, Lamberts, Lone Star Meats, Salt & Time, Interstellar BBQ, and took culinary classes at Austin Community College to learn the craft. On the weekends, Kareem hosted supper parties at his home.

Three dishes on the table at KGBBQ

City Editors London and Figi tried the vegetarian rice bowl, Egyptian mac and cheese, and brisket rice bowl at KG BBQ.

Photo by ATXtoday

“If you can make a (brisket) taco, you can take this cuisine and do so much with it,” Kareem said. “I started thinking of Middle Eastern flavors and dishes that would work with barbecue, and the first one was the the brisket shawarma. The first time I put out the concept of Egyptian barbecue to the public was in a presentation in school.”

Kareem quit his full-time restaurant job a month before the pandemic began to focus on his private supper clubs, where he had gained a reputation. As things settled down, Kareem took his school menu presentation, threw caution to the wind and opened his own truck in October 2022. This time, he was financially supported by family, friends, and his first Texas employer: Bill Kerlin.

KG-BBQ had only been open for three months by the time Kareem was named a semifinalist for the Best Chef: Texas James Beard Award.

“It’s a really reassuring moment for sure, being noticed by James Beard within three months of opening,” Kareem said. “It’s mind blowing. (When the) nomination came out, it probably tripled our business within the following month.”

Barbecue isn’t the only Texas tradition Kareem has embraced — since living in Austin, Kareem has taken up two-step dancing at White Horse and Sage Brush. You might have seen a glimpse of him dancing in Lucktober Fest’s advertisments.

It’s safe to say Kareem has put down roots here in Austin — he is not shy to say he has fallen for the city’s food, music, and people — and with his newfound success, he’s ready to expand with new concepts within the next year.

Don’t worry about the food truck, though — Kareem plans to keep it.

“I have a lot of plans in Austin in the next few years,” Kareem said. “I really want to introduce people to Egypt, and not just its food.”

You can try Kareem’s Egyptian barbecue for yourself at KG BBQ, 3108 Manor Rd., or take a private culinary class from him on Cozymeal.