At Bobby’s BBQ in Fountain Inn, Tay Nelson fires up some darn good barbecue.
It all started with a seasoning blend. In 2010, while working at GE testing turbine engines, Octavius (Tay) Nelson created Bobby’s All-Purpose Seasoning as a side hustle, inspired by blends his father, Bobby, had made. The seasoning was named in honor of his father, who passed away in 2008, and his brother, also named Bobby, who died the following year.
Growing up in Fountain Inn, Nelson always liked to cook, an affinity he credits to the influence of his father, who owned a local restaurant. One day in 2014, when his pregnant wife, Sarah, was at a baby shower, he got a craving for barbecue ribs. He went on YouTube to search for DIY videos and came across “this cool nerdy guy” who was cooking up Central Texas ’cue. Nelson didn’t know it then, but that guy turned out to be Aaron Franklin, one of the most acclaimed pitmasters in the country.
Following Franklin’s instructions on the video as closely as he could, Nelson whipped up some pork butt and a rack of pork ribs. “[Franklin] had a smoker, and I had a $100 charcoal grill from Walmart,” Nelson notes. Despite the difference in equipment, Sarah’s praise for her husband’s efforts spurred him to start experimenting with barbecue.
Finding Aaron Franklin further stoked the nascent pitmaster’s passion, and as part of his research, he traveled around Texas meeting with storied barbecue chefs and learning everything he could about smoking meat. Fast forward to October 2018, when Nelson quit his full-time job at GE and opened Bobby’s BBQ on Main Street in Fountain Inn. Today his award-winning brisket, ribs, and house-made sausages are all cooked in wood-fired smokers over white oak and red oak from South Carolina.
Nelson aims to build community through food at his homey restaurant, where a sign on the wall reminds folks: “Here we are all family.” One of the best pieces of advice his father gave him about the restaurant business was, “people work hard for their money; when they come in, you should give them the best experience possible.”
And so he does. Bobby’s meltingly tender brisket requires up to 16 hours to cook. “It’s a labor of love,” reports Nelson, who stands over his smokers in the sweltering summer heat and the winter cold alike. “There are three [flavor] components to all our barbecue, but especially our brisket: you taste the mild smoke of the wood, our seasoning, and the quality of the prime meat we use.”
Of course, you can’t have barbecue without sides, and Nelson credits those to Sarah. It’s difficult to choose between the likes of sweet potato crunch, cheesy potato casserole, corn pudding, and Ellie’s baked beans, many based on family recipes.
Tending the smokers, Nelson shares, “I love the crackling of the wood, I love the smell of it. It’s barbecue, but it touches the soul. That’s true soul food.”
Preserving the Pit at Bobby’s BBQ
Tay Nelson added another notch to his barbecue belt this spring, when he was chosen as one of six recipients of a national fellowship through Kingsford’s Preserve the Pit program. Part of an effort to preserve the culture and history of Black barbecue in America and to invest in its future, the program pairs pitmasters with more experienced mentors around the country. During his fellowship, Nelson will work with Amy Mills, owner of 17th Street Barbecue in Murphysboro, Illinois.
Trying your hand cooking barbecue at home? Check out Bobby’s BBQ tutorials on YouTube, and heed the pitmaster’s following advice:
- Do some research beforehand so you understand what you’re doing, and start with something that has a shorter cooking time than brisket (which smokes for at least 10 hours).
- Use a digital thermometer to check the temperature of your meat (Nelson uses the ThermoWorks Thermopen ONE).
- Keep a barbecue journal: note the type of protein you’re cooking, the time it took, the temperature outside, what fuel source you used, how you prepped the meat, and what you thought of the result.
- Be patient with yourself; it takes time to master the art of barbecue.
- Once you pick a barbecue style you like, stick with that until you’re comfortable with it, before tackling something else.
Spice It Up
From the original Bobby’s All-Purpose Seasoning, the line has grown to include two additional blends: BBQ Rub and Citrus Rub. The “OG,” as Nelson calls it, can be used as a table seasoning and a marinade. “Earthy and savory with a little heat at the end,” is how he describes it. BBQ Rub is great on burgers, pulled pork, and other meats, while the Citrus Rub complements smoked turkey breast, chicken, and seafood. Nelson is also working on a new line of barbecue sauces based on the three he serves at his restaurant.
Find Nelson’s seasoning blends at Bobby’s BBQ in Fountain Inn, at local Lowe’s Foods stores, or online at eatbobbys.com.
Bobby’s BBQ, 1301 N. Main St., Fountain Inn, 864.409.2379, eatbobbys.com
Bobby’s BBQ Homestyle Coleslaw
From Tay Nelson, owner and pitmaster, Bobby’s BBQ
- ½ cup of mayo (we love Dukes!)
- 2 Tbsp white vinegar
- 1 ½ tsp Bobby’s Original All-Purpose Seasoning (available online at eatbobbys.com or locally at Lowe’s Foods)
- 1 ½ tsp white sugar
- 6 cups (combined) shredded red and green cabbage and carrots
Place the first four ingredients in a large bowl and whisk until fully mixed. Add the cabbage and carrots, and toss until fully coated with mayo dressing. Set in refrigerator to chill for 1–2 hours (or overnight) until ready to serve. (Coleslaw may be stored up to 48 hours after mixing.)