Father Nicholas Schierer, With a Recipe for Pork Belly Burnt Ends
The Virginia priest learned the art of barbecue while he was studying in Rome.
Perhaps his most significant and telling words are these: “I am very thankful to be a priest,” says Father Nicholas Schierer, parochial vicar at St. Rita parish in Alexandria, Virginia.
“A beautiful church,” said Father Schierer, “and the parish is almost 100 years old.”
Raised in a devout Catholic family in Northern Virginia and attending Mass regularly at two local churches, Father Schierer recalled that wanting to become a priest had always been in his mind and heart.
“I even thought about it in first grade,” he said, “and the idea stuck with me until the end of high school.”
As happens in life, his motivation shifted elsewhere. His older brother, Father William Schierer, had just entered seminary, and he decided not to follow in his brother’s footsteps. Besides, he said, he wanted to get married and have 17 children.
“And none of that worked out,” he said. “I had dated a girl for six years and I was going to marry her. We both agreed to break up … and to end the relationship.”
Several months later, Father Schierer started to discern the priesthood again, though for several years, he worked in the special events industry and taught theology at Paul VI High School, then located in Fairfax, Virginia. He finally entered the seminary in 2012 and attended St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania, for pre-theology. He then moved to the North American College in Rome, where he studied theology for four years.
He said his experience in Rome was extraordinary.
“It is a very different culture,” he said, “and to be able to be at the heart of the Church, where so many saints walked, and to pray in front of tombs — it was incredible to go to those places.” He was ordained a deacon in Rome in St. Peter’s Basilica, and ordained a priest in 2018 by Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington.
“That changed me,” he said. “It is what God called me to be, a minister of the sacraments and to bring Christ into people’s lives. … It was incredible and a day I will never regret.”
And now at his parish, Father Schierer is making a name for himself as a cook.
“My mom taught us,” he said. “She is a good cook. I grew up with cooking and baking and she helped give me that love of cooking. When I was in Rome, I would cook for myself once in a while. Then I learned to smoke meat and to barbecue. We had this incredible homemade smoker. It was very finicky, and someone before me made a smoker out of an old boiler. A friend in seminary taught me to prepare pork, pork ribs, pork belly, chicken, beef brisket and turkey.”
Father Schierer enjoys cooking and cooks dinner for the rectory. He noted that there is a group of men, so he cooks up lots of meat, and if time allows, he adds rice or potatoes.
“Everybody loves my pork belly (recipe below),” he said. “We eat salad, and I have my own rectory garden behind the church, so we have green beans, squash, cantaloupe, several varieties of sweet peppers, carrots, radishes, cukes, zucchini, okra, broccoli, tomatoes, green onions, potatoes … I find the time to do all that.”
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Recipe: Pork Belly Burnt Ends
As Father Schierer noted: “Everybody loves my pork belly. You smoke it, cut it into cubes, cover them and put on a wire rack and let them smoke for two hours. Then pull them off, put in a pan, cover them with syrup, brown sugar, butter, and put back on the smoker for one hour. Pull off, cover with barbecue glaze and then smoke for another hour. … I typically use apple and/or oak wood but whatever is your favorite.” To spritz the meat during cooking, use a mix to apple cider vinegar and bourbon.
Serve as an appetizer using toothpicks, and it feeds 8 to 10 people.
- 1 cup barbecue sauce
- 1 cup butter.
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
- Maple syrup to taste
Preheat the smoker to 225 degrees Fahrenheit.
Take one pork belly and cube it into 1- to 1.5-inch squares. If your pork belly has the skin on it make sure you trim that off first.
Take the barbecue rub and get your cubes covered. Place them on a wire rack. Put the pork belly on the smoker for 2 to 3 hours. Spritz occasionally. You are looking for the pork belly to turn a nice dark red and for the bark to form nicely.
Transfer the pork belly into a tray. Add in 1 cup butter (cut up), and sprinkle with brown sugar and maple syrup (could substitute honey). Cover tray and put back on the smoker for 60 to 90 minutes.
Prepare your barbecue glaze with 1 cup of your favorite barbecue sauce and 1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar. (I tend to use Sweet Baby Ray’s or something homemade from my mom.) Take the tray off the smoker. Uncover it. Pour in your glaze and coat evenly the pork belly.
Put the tray back in the smoker for 30 minutes to 1 hour uncovered. You are looking for the sauce to thicken up. Enjoy! If you have leftovers, they warm up really well.
Correction: An earlier version of this article said that Paul VI High School was formerly located in Arlington, Virginia; it was actually located in Fairfax before its move to Loudon. The Register regrets the error.