A pitmaster’s secret to the best pulled pork at home

Pork shoulder
Once you can touch the pork shoulder without it burning you, pitmaster Daniel Castillo says, “that’s when you know it’s perfect.”
(Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times)

At Heritage Barbecue in San Juan Capistrano, pitmaster and co-owner Daniel Castillo, who owns the restaurant with his wife Brenda, applies a carnitas method to the process of cooking his pork shoulder. “It’s hard to put ‘carnitas’ on the menu because that’s a specific thing,” says Castillo, “but that’s exactly what we’re making, a smoked carnitas.”

But for home cooks, he offers up the best way to get the spoon-tender pulled pork in your oven.

“Start with a good piece of meat and cook it at higher temp, like 400 degrees, to color both sides,” says Castillo. “Then drop the temp down to 250. Once the pork reaches an internal temperature of 200 degrees, you want to wrap it in foil — you want it to continue to roast, not steam — then let it rest in a cooler to retain heat for a minimum of two hours. You won’t get a smoky flavor but will get a really well-cooked piece of meat.”


Castillo stresses the resting period almost as much as the cook time, saying that is the real secret to success.

“Basically, don’t touch the meat until you can do so without the meat burning you,” he says. “That’s when you know it’s perfect.”

Foolproof Pulled Pork

Time14 hours, largely unattended
YieldsServes 8 to 10