Octavius (Tay) Nelson, owner of Bobby’s BBQ in Fountain Inn, likes to say that barbecue chose him rather than the other way around. That may be so, but one taste of his meltingly tender smoked brisket will convince you that barbecue is his true calling.
Tay’s path to pitmaster was a winding one, beginning at age 12 when he got a job washing dishes at the restaurant where his father worked. “By the time I was in high school, I was running lunch by myself,” Tay reports. As much as he loved to cook, Tay initially took up a different trade. He earned an associate’s degree in electronics, engineering, and technology and went to work for GE.
In 2008, Tay’s father passed away, followed by his older brother the following year—tragedies that pointed him back to food. In tribute to Bobby Sr. and Bobby Jr. he created Bobby’s All-Purpose Seasoning in 2010, inspired by the seasoning blends his dad had made.
In the summer of 2014, his path took yet another turn. One weekend when Tay’s wife, Sarah, was in Georgia for a baby shower, he decided to surprise her with dinner when she got home by making a pork butt and ribs on their charcoal grill. He went online to search for DIY videos, and eventually happened on a video by “this cool, nerdy guy” with a great technique for barbecue. It wasn’t until six months later that he realized the guy on the video was Aaron Franklin, one of the most influential pitmasters in the United States.
Tay started researching and experimenting, making barbecue peppered with his signature seasoning and sharing it with his colleagues at GE. It wasn’t long before people were clamoring for his smoky meats. The soon-to-be restaurateur began catering small events on the side, and before he knew it, he was obsessed. He stoked his newfound passion for barbecue with advice from such acclaimed pitmasters as John Lewis of Lewis Barbecue in Charleston, Mark and Mike Black of Terry Black’s Barbecue, and Miguel Vidal, co-owner of Valentina’s Tex-Mex BBQ—both in Austin, Texas.
Bobby’s BBQ, which opened on Main Street in Fountain Inn in October 2018, is justifiably famed for their award-winning brisket, cooked in wood-fired smokers (as all their meats are) for 10 to 16 hours. Central Texas-style ’cue is the order of the day here, “a perfect balance between smoke, a little bit of seasoning, and meat,” as Tay describes it. House-made sausages, smoked turkey, pulled pork, and hefty beef ribs called “Flintstones” round out the meat menu—all seasoned with Bobby’s BBQ Rub. While meat is Tay’s strong suit, credit for the popular sweet potato crunch, coleslaw, and other made-from-scratch sides goes to Sarah. Her aunt and mother passed down the recipes for Bobby’s signature cheesy potato casserole and baked beans.
“Something magical happens when you take meat and seasoning and smoke, and you cook it for hours, rendering the fat and breaking down the fibers of the meat,” muses the humble chef. “You can taste the love we put in it.” That’s the delicious magic of barbecue.
Photography by Paul Mehaffey. Bobby’s BBQ, 1301 N Main St, Fountain Inn. (864) 409-2379, eatbobbys.com