Science

“Cambodian Cowboy” Introduces Texas BBQ With a Twist

With boots, aviators, and a cowboy hat, Chad Phuong looks every inch like a Texan pitmaster. But his story began in the arid plains of the Texas Panhandle—the steamy forests of Southeast Asia.

It has been a long journey for the owner and increasingly renowned chef of Battambong BBQ, now known as the “Cambodian Cowboy”.

His love of Texas-style barbecue comes from the source itself. He originally followed his stepfather to the Lone Star State and worked at a slaughterhouse outside Amarillo. There he learned everything there was to know about the great art of smoking meat. Over time, he adjusted his recipes to create a unique BBQ palate, using the spices and flavors of his childhood.

Changes to his cuisine—which he now serves in Southern California—could be subtle, such as using Cambodian pepper on his brisket, which he smokes for 17 hours, more red oak on periodically glowing embers. Sets the alarm to toss. Or they can go hard, as with their pulled pork “nose bang” sandwich, and their Cambodian take on pork belly—a “game changer,” he calls it.

“You’ve got ginger in there, Chinese five spices, teriyaki sauce, a little bit of salt, a little bit of pepper,” he said.

It is a mark of his prowess in the smoker that his unique take on the Texas classics has been so adopted. People were skeptical at first, he said. She had to give her plenty of free-tasting sausages to-ko. Now, however, the Cambodian staple, made from beef, pork and fermented rice, has gained a fan following.

“What’s the Asian guy doing with some shoes and a hat?” he asks. “Like, trying to sell barbecue as a gimmick and stuff. But they didn’t really understand my story.”

The story is rooted in the horrors of the killing fields of 1970s Cambodia. Her father, a policeman, was murdered by the Khmer Rouge regime, the rest of her family fled, barefoot through the woods to the Thai border, eventually settling in Long Beach, California, the largest Cambodian community outside the country. was home. He said that he remembered every step of his escape.

Phuong became a full-time pitmaster during the COVID-19 pandemic, when he lost his job as a surgical assistant and mortgaged his family’s savings into a custom-built smoker. Now smoky and well-traveled, it pops out at least three times a week to make up for its regular pop-up events at two Long Beach breweries and a weekly farmers market.

Since pulling off his shoes and that ever-present hat, he’s made a name for himself in his hometown. They have their regulars, and those who do drive for over an hour each way to taste their brisket, their pulled pork, and that two-ko sausage.

They have plans for a brick-and-mortar iteration of their hugely successful, sell-out pop-ups in Long Beach, naturally — but when the time comes.

For now, he says, he’s heading to the next pop-up, with a cap on his head and his battered smoker, a cloud of fragrant smoke trailing behind him. A Cambodian shepherd, not at sunset, but towards his bright future.

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