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Meat & Greet

Former Minnesota State Mankato wrestler brings Big Boned BBQ to campus.

Tanner Kent, Mankato Free Press, 8-2-2012

There doesn’t seem to be much in common between col­legiate wrestling and competi­tion barbecue.

But Pat Nelson — owner of Charleston, S.C.-based Big Boned BBQ and a former Minnesota State University wrestler — can think of some similarities.

“ With wrestling, it’s individ­ual and it’s personal,” said Nelson, who wrestled for the Mavericks in the early-1990s under coach Gary Rushing.

“It’s the same way when peo­ple are tasting your food.”

For six months of the year, the MSU alum travels the country, plying his wares at RibFestivals and competitions across the country. ALong the way, he’s earned a smattering of awards for both his meat and his rubs and sauces.

This year’s RibFest in Mankato, however, will be the first time Nelson brings his diesel-powered caravan of hick­ory wood, smokers and sides of meat into the home of his alma mater.

“I’m psyched,” he said. “It’s just never worked out to come to Mankato. This year, the door finally opened.”

Nelson kicks off his return to Mankato with a special visit to MSU today.

From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Nelson will hold court near the fountain on MSU’s mall. He’ll be offering free samples and barbecue tips.

But Nelson said what he’s really looking forward to is the RibFest competition.

“It’s something that just gets in your blood,” he said. “It’s a weird addiction.”

Cooking meat is Nelson’s full-time job and he takes the vocation seriously.

As an advocate of dry barbe­cue, Nelson’s secret is in his rub — a complex combination of 38 different herbs and spices that he developed over six straight months of trial and error.

For each competition, Nelson said he averages about 1,000 racks of ribs as well as up to 500 pounds of pork and 400 pounds of brisket. He carries two commercial smokers with him in a moving truck that also carries enough hickory wood to last the summer.

“It’s a great job,” he said. “But it’s a hard job. A lot harder than people realize.”

Nelson got his start in competition barbecue shortly after college when he was a restaurant manager in the Twin Cities.

As it happened, a friend asked him one day about helping out a guy named Dave with launching a chain of barbecue restaurants. After sampling the menu and visiting with Dave, Nelson agreed. The next thing he knew, Nelson was traveling to Cleveland with Dave Anderson — proprietor of the Famous Dave’s chain of restaurants.

After traveling with Famous Dave’s for a few years, Nelson decided to launch his own venture. He now competes in about 20 events a year and has a host of awards to show for it.

The entire version of this story can be read in a print copy of the Mankato Free Press. Call the Mankato Free Press at 625-4451 or (800) 657-4662 to find out how to purchase a print copy. The Free Press also prints select stories on-line at

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