The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

August 2, 2012

Meat and greet: RibFest begins Thursday in Mankato

MANKATO — 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.

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