Father Christopher Pollard (and His Super-Sized Smoker) Brings BBQ to the Masses
“I learned from two fellow priests who were into smoking meat and barbecuing. I admit that I was interested more in eating than in cooking.”
Sitting in the shade on the church grounds, Father Christopher Pollard was keeping an eye on his super-sized smoker, prepping meat for an upcoming parish event. The pastor of St. John the Beloved Catholic Church in McLean, Virginia, Father Pollard has earned kudos from his parishioners and family members for the fabulous BBQ he prepares. But his smoking habits were learned as a parish priest, not at home with his parents.
But he does credit his mom for his basic cooking skills. “She sent me to college with a cast-iron skillet and some family recipes,” he said. “Over the years, I would ask her to explain some cooking techniques.”
A native of Northern Virginia and raised by two very devout Catholic converts, Father Pollard started thinking about becoming a priest even when he was in the third grade. “I was in a public school located next to St. Ambrose CatholicChurch,” he said. “My friends were talking about what they wanted to do as adults, and I said I wanted to be a priest. From the third grade until my last year in college, becoming a priest was always either Plan A or Plan B,” he said, adding that a three-day silent retreat, which became an annual event in ninth grade, seriously helped his discernment. It was not until college, however, that he told his parents and parish priests.
In the end, he attended the seminary at Catholic University for one year, and then spent four years in Rome as a seminarian at the Pontifical North American College and the Pontifical Gregorian University.
Returning to the United States, Father Pollard spent several years in various Virginia parishes. Before his three years at the Holy See in the United Nations in New York, while at St. Isidore the Farmer parish in Orange, Virginia, his BBQ pastime began. “The smoking started then with no help in the rectory,” he said. “I was the chief cook and laundryman, and I learned from two fellow priests who were into smoking meat and barbecuing. I admit that I was interested more in eating than in cooking.”
Father Pollard started cooking for parishioners early on when he was assigned to St. Agnes Catholic Church in Arlington, Virginia. “I cooked venison,” he said, “and the goal was to do it so well that they thought they were eating steak. I didn’t know that that would eventually turn into an auction item for the parish school,” adding that for some auctions he offered to take a few parishioners hunting, which he did once or twice a year out in the Shenandoah Valley.
Over the years, Father Pollard has smoked meats for various parish events, including the Fall Festival, which grew so large that it has become a community event with a band. Later, he brought the Knights of Columbus on board to learn how to smoke and barbecue. “For about two years,” he added, “we would sell barbecue one Sunday a month after Mass.” And every year for the March for Life with participants from Ave Maria University, they would offer a big smoking donation. “For the first year, I cooked it on a small smoker on the rectory patio,” he said.
Unfortunately, during one of those March for Life smokes, his small smoker blew up, causing Father Pollard some very serious burn injuries. That is when parishioners and friends decided he needed a much larger smoker, which they purchased and have dubbed “The Holy Smoker.”
Although he rarely cooks for himself and he usually needs a good reason to pull an all-nighter with the smoker, he still helps with large events, and is delighted that parishioners want to buy leftovers after any big smoke.
Smoked Beef Brisket
About the brisket, Father Pollard said, “We prefer briskets (with the point and the flat) weighing no more than 12 pounds total. The 18- and 20-pound briskets are old and tough. Beef broth and extra slow cooking can make them delicious, but they can take up to 24 hours to smoke.”
- Rub equal measures of Kosher Salt, Ground Black Pepper, Smoked Paprika and Garlic Powder (preferably very fine), as well as a half measure of Dry Mustard Powder.
- Apply rub in an even but not too thin coating (such that all meat is barely not visible anymore).
- Apply Worcestershire Sauce generously with a spray bottle so that all rub on both sides is moist (done most easily after brisket is placed on the smoker).
- Inject with beef broth (optional for small briskets but imperative for those larger then 16 pounds).
- Smoke at 225-275°F with Hickory, Oak or Mesquite wood.
- Place in smoker fat side down.
- Wrap well in foil after at least 6 hours.
- Expect cook time of at least one hour per pound, more if the fat has not been trimmed down to a quarter-inch thickness.
- Remove when internal temp reaches at least 200°F.
- Feel free to leave in cooler for several hours before slicing flat and pulling the point.
- Gently separate point from flat and scrape off all fat in between them.