Mauro “Max” Chiefari was in the Nile Delta, about a hundred miles north of New Cairo, when he felt his stomach rumble. He had just eaten some raw-milk cheese shared with him while on a search for hardwood to fill the smokers at Longhorn Texas BBQ. It was late 2020, and the restaurant was to open soon. Wood is scarce in Egypt, so Chiefari had answered a Facebook ad promising something better than the old furniture scraps he was sometimes offered. “The drive took six hours,” he recalled, and was mostly off-road, but the person who put out the ad had good acacia and oak. As he loaded the wood, he saw a motorcycle carrying four people being pulled by a donkey. “It was just a different world,” Chiefari said, but such is the life of a globally sought-after barbecue consultant.

Chiefari had left his dream barbecue job in Austin to travel the world and teach the craft of smoking meats the Texas way. His journey began at age 23, when he arrived in New York in 2007 from tiny Soverato, Italy, a seaside town on the sole of the boot. When he first visited Texas, in 2015, he barely knew what smoked brisket was. Much has changed in the nine years since.

“I moved from Soverato to Fifth Avenue and Eighty-first Street in a sixteenth-floor penthouse,” Chiefari said of his first stint in the U.S. He came as the personal trainer of a wealthy family friend, but he needed another job for extra cash. His mother’s side of the family ran restaurants, so Chiefari knew how to cook, and he eventually found work in New York restaurants like Serafina and the Four Seasons. “I worked in the kitchen for the simple fact that I didn’t know how to speak English,” he said, but he loved the work, and he returned to Italy for culinary school.

He took an intensive six-month course at ALMA, a culinary school outside Parma previously led by the late renowned Italian chef Gualtiero Marchesi. His instruction was followed by a required internship at an upscale restaurant. He was assigned the Michelin-starred Duomo, in Ragusa, Sicily, helmed by the exacting Ciccio Sultano. “The most miserable months of my life,” said Chiefari, recalling that he had five hours of free time each night to sleep. “I never worked so much in my life.” His salary was a quarter of his rent, so by the time he graduated, all his savings from those New York kitchen jobs were gone.

After Chiefari spent some years with family back in Italy, New York City called him back. The rent was too high, so he googled the fastest-growing cities in America. “Salt Lake City was too cold, so I went to Austin,” he said. The day he arrived, he went to Franklin Barbecue, not knowing to expect a line of people waiting. “It was a Wednesday at one p.m. The line was by the door,” he said. Then he got his first bite of smoked brisket. “It blew my mind away. I had to learn how to do it.” But Franklin had no job openings. He hiked around town the following day looking for a pit room. Bill Kerlin took him on at the late Kerlin BBQ, and Chiefari was a fast learner. Soon he was trimming, smoking, and cutting the brisket for customers.

While he was learning so much at Kerlin, he still “sent a résumé every month” to Franklin. He smoked small batches of meat every day, and Kerlin didn’t micromanage him. The cutting helped him learn more about smoking, and vice versa. “When you can see your product, you have feedback every day,” Chiefari said. He figures he ate two pounds of brisket a day for the first three months before growing tired of it. From then on, he said, “My diet was Sierra Nevada Torpedo, Doritos, and some potato salad out of the trailer.”

In hindsight, Chiefari realizes why his CV wasn’t too impressive to Austin barbecue joint owners. He included a goofy photo from culinary school of him wearing a tall, white toque, and the text described his grilling skills. In 2016, the late LeAnn Mueller responded, “we don’t grill :):) we smoke.” He was just grateful to hear back. After two years at Kerlin, Chiefari felt more confident branching out, and he needed to make more money.

Chiefari got a job at Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que in Austin, where he cooked the largest variety of meats he has ever worked with. Snow’s BBQ, in Lexington, became a Saturday hangout spot to share stories with others in the industry. “I felt totally welcome in the barbecue environment,” he said. Chiefari had become a minor social media celebrity in Italy after posting pitside barbecue videos, yet his many emails to Franklin Barbecue still went unanswered. Then he saw a job opening at Loro in Austin, a restaurant Aaron Franklin was collaborating on. “If the man is involved,” he said to himself, “sooner or later I’m going to meet the guy.”

Franklin’s first visit to the pit room after Chiefari got the job at Loro was to tell him the brisket seasoning was splotchy and needed to be more uniform. During the third visit, they talked for an hour. “I’ll be honest with you,” Chiefari told him. “I just moved here because I want to work at your place.” He got the job the next day. Chiefari had been working in Austin for two years.

“Franklin was the same execution as high-end cuisine,” Chiefari said, comparing it to the Michelin-starred kitchen he trained in. Standards were high, and Franklin and the staff demanded consistency. “Talk about pressure—you see a couple hundred people in line and know that you’re cooking for them,” he said. Chiefari thrived, learning how to cook at high volume while maintaining multiple fires meticulously. I wondered if the restaurant actually matched the hallowed view of the place. “It was the best place I ever worked,” Chiefari said. “I left prematurely, honestly.”

Eight months after he started at Franklin, Chiefari headed back to New York, this time as a consultant helping to open a new restaurant. He had made good wages at Franklin, but he’d been financially stretched thin for years. “I was tired of being broke,” Chiefari said. So when the owner of Juicy Lucy BBQ, in Staten Island, handed him $7,000 (the equivalent of two months’ wages at the time) to cook brisket for a weekend, he took it. The trip amounted to a professional audition, and he got the part. This was Chiefari’s first official gig as a barbecue consultant.

It took five months to get Juicy Lucy BBQ open in 2019 (it closed for good late last year). Around that time, Chiefari helped Juicy Lucy win the Brisket King of New York title; served thousands at Churrascada, a massive barbecue event in São Paulo, Brazil; and helped Franklin serve a barbecue dinner at the James Beard House, in Manhattan. After Juicy Lucy finally opened, the health department wasn’t keen on the smokers behind the restaurant, so the restaurant built a clandestine smokehouse off-site, in the back of a parking lot for municipal trash trucks.

One night, someone parked a trash truck too close to the chain-link fence surrounding the smokers, right where Chiefari would off-load hot coals from the firebox by the shovelful. “All the ashes started burning the tires,” he said. “The whole back of the truck was in flames.” As the smoke blackened, he found a fire extinguisher. “They were parked so damn close,” he said of the other trucks, and he was certain the whole lot of them would have been in flames if he hadn’t reacted quickly.

On calmer evenings, Chiefari would post instructional videos to his Texicana BBQ YouTube channel. A brisket video from January 2020 racked up more than 62,000 views. One of them came from Tamer Amer, a successful restaurateur known for bringing sushi to Cairo. Amer wanted to tackle American barbecue next. He called Chiefari, asking for advice about the Camelback smokers he’d seen in the Juicy Lucy videos. Then he tried to coax Chiefari overseas with enough money that the pitmaster thought it was a joke. The next day Chiefari found that $20,000 had been wired to his bank account. “I guess we’re going to Egypt,” he thought.

Finding wood was only Chiefari’s first problem. “They didn’t have any reference point for Texas barbecue in Egypt,” he said. Training a staff, finding the right seasonings, and understanding the proteins available to him were additional challenges. He adapted versions of beans, potato salad, and coleslaw to meet the local tastes. That was all before the restaurant, Longhorn Texas BBQ, would open for customers, most of whom had no understanding of Texas-style smoked meats.

Some pitmasters can only deal with the tools they’re used to having at their disposal. The same repetition they’ve used to hone their craft makes it hard to adapt. Chiefari had to do the opposite. He became a barbecue chameleon. “That is very intriguing,” he said. “That really turns me on.” The problem-solving drove him in a way that smoking his umpteenth brisket in the U.S. couldn’t. “You cook brisket a hundred times, and you figure out how,” he said. “How much is left to learn about how to cook this meat?”

He couldn’t get much sleep in the early days of the restaurant. He would lie on the floor for two hours between finishing the cook and cutting for customers. Not being alert in Egypt can be dangerous. “Right in the morning, the first thing you do—you haven’t had your coffee—is you have to cross the street, like, really terrified,” he said, describing a Frogger-like traffic scene in front of the restaurant. “You were running for your life.” He was desperate for sleep. “As soon as I train a cutter, I start sleeping,” he said, so he invited fellow Texas pitmasters Jonny White and Chuck Charnichart to join him. Business at Goldee’s, in Fort Worth, which was takeout-only at the time, was crawling along, so the pair headed to Egypt for a three-month stint at Longhorn Texas BBQ.

Both White and Charnichart found it challenging, but Charnichart had a rough go as a woman in a pit room. The Egyptian staff couldn’t accept that a woman could cook barbecue, but she said Chiefari and White advocated for her. She ended up working alone during the early morning shift, and she smoked countless lamb chops. “I wasn’t allowed to cook them medium rare over there,” she said, but one day she did just that for herself. “I was obsessed with them, and I needed to have them here,” she said, which is why smoked lamb chops were a feature of her Barbs-B-Q menu when the joint opened in Lockhart last year.

There were a few lost-in-translation moments too. The Egyptians Chiefari worked with pronounced brisket “prisket” and pastrami “bastrami.” He left instructions with the staff to prepare all the beef in a tub marked “P,” for pastrami, by injecting the meats with a curing solution. The ones marked “B” were to be trimmed and seasoned for standard smoked brisket. Because of the confusion with the pronunciation, the staff got mixed up. “The next day I had forty-seven pastramis and seven briskets,” Chiefari said.

He spent nearly six months in Egypt, where he witnessed the massive gap between the wealthy and the poor. Restaurants cater to the rich, who don’t expect to wait in line for their food. When Longhorn Texas BBQ opened, it served the same way most joints in Texas do: all customers stand in a line and order from the cutter. “ ‘There is no way you’re going to get a millionaire to wait in line,’ ” Chiefari was told, “but we achieved that.”

As he was leaving Egypt, Chiefari got word from a restaurant group in Los Angeles that it needed help opening some wood-fired concepts. It promised to eventually help him open his own place, focused on Italian salumi. After he and the group opened four restaurants, Chiefari realized he wasn’t getting his. He refocused on his Texicana BBQ brand and got back into the barbecue world.

By this point, Chiefari has helped bring Texas barbecue to several more continents. He’s consulted with Big Don’s Smoked Meats, in Perth, Australia; Phil’s Slow Smoked Barbecue, in Rome; Quintal deBetti, in São Paulo, Brazil; and the Salt Slab, in Curry’s Post, South Africa, where you can see Chiefari wrestle with a brisket the size of a car door on his YouTube channel. Back in the States, he counts Big Pig Barbecue, north of Boston; 2Fifty Texas BBQ, in Maryland; and ABBQ, outside Jacksonville, Florida, as clients.

I caught up with Chiefari recently as he was working at InterStellar BBQ, just outside Cedar Park, north of Austin. The joint needed his skill on the pits rather than any consulting (it’s number two in the state on our most recent Top 50 list), which he was glad to offer. We dodged the bees that were drawn by the peach-tea glaze he doused on the pork bellies. Chiefari just turned forty, and he recently got married. “I’m done with long-term consulting,” he told me, though he’s planning a short trip back to South Africa soon. I asked what lessons he had learned in his travels.

“The most common mistake is lack of patience” from restaurant investors, Chiefari said. They’ve spent a lot of money, and they want it back right away. “They demand returns, which don’t allow for a gradual start to the barbecue,” he said. He warned the younger generation of Texas pitmasters not to expect instant success. Their responsibility is to maintain not just the cuisine, but also the culture that he has earnestly helped spread across the globe over the last several years.

Like a true Italian, Chiefari compared Texas barbecue to a Ferrari built by people like Franklin and Tootsie Tomanetz. “A Ferrari needs maintaining,” he said. “It’s a pain in the ass. It costs a lot of money. It’s a lot of responsibility.” So don’t just make it go fast.