California’s Offset Smoking King Just Helped Create BBQ’s Ultimate Accessory
Daniel Castillo’s Heritage Barbecue was the first restaurant in Cali to be able to legally cook on the offset barrel smokers used in Texas
Opened in San Juan Capistrano in Orange County in the summer of 2020 as the pandemic was wreaking havoc across the U.S., chef Daniel Castillo’s Heritage Barbecue faced challenges, like many restaurants, from the moment it opened its doors. But, Heritage — which dishes up everything from brisket and spare ribs to smoked tri-tip and char siu pork belly and routinely sells out of its offerings — also had difficulties before launch due to Castillo’s insistence on using traditional offset smokers.
The brainchild of Castillo and his wife Brenda, Heritage had to battle it out with city and state building and safety, health and air quality officials and cut through bushels of red tape for two years in order to get approval to legally use the restaurant’s quartet of 1,000-gallon Texas-style offset barrel smokers. The first BBQ joint in California to get clearance to use offset smokers, Heritage has helped open the door for other offset operators to legally set up shop.
“The offset smoker is the true traditional style of barbecue. It is the correct and the most authentic way to create barbecue,” Castillo, who didn’t grow up in Texas but apprenticed under some of the state’s top pitmasters to hone his craft, tells InsideHook. “There are thousands of barbecue joints in California, but our community of true barbecue here is very limited. Most people choose a smoker that runs on a gas-assisted system or electricity. The traditional way is analog. No power, no gas, just a pitmaster working a real-life fire with no assistance from either of those.”
Attending to meats cooking over that fire for hours — Heritage’s brisket requires up to 14 hours of attention — at a time is long, hard, dirty work requiring tools that are up to the task. That’s why Castillo, one of the few Latino pitmasters in the country, teamed up with the designers at California-based garment maker BlueCut to create a 100% flame-resistant apron that can stand the heat while keeping its owner (relatively) cool.
Constructed from flameproof denim and outfitted with built-in insulation to protect against the heat of the flames, the Pitmaster Apron features a quilted double-layer belly patch Castillo insisted on the BlueCut team building into the garment. “It’s far more labor-intensive working out in the elements with unpredictable, live fire. We can’t just use your average chef apron for the work we do,” Castillo says. “This apron has protective covering across the belly and part of the chest that really keeps the heat away and prevents hurting yourself. It’s not uncommon to go home with a red stomach that you then have to try to sleep on at night It’s not fun. It’s like grabbing a pan nobody told you was hot.”
A seemingly simple piece of equipment, the Pitmaster Apron is a bit more complex than it might appear, according to BlueCut co-founder Chachi Prasad. “In the barbecue world, there wasn’t an apron truly meant for the pitmaster. One hundred and fifty years of innovation have gone into this product. The way it’s cured. The way it’s weaved,” he says. “A great chef prepares dishes and recipes with great ingredients. It’s the same thing with us because it does make a difference in the garment. There is quite a bit of science that goes into developing a pattern, testing the fabric and testing the fit before getting feedback from an expert like Daniel.”
In addition to being flame-resistant and functional, the apron is also fashionable for a pro pitmaster like Castillo. “If you Google ‘barbecue aprons’ all these funky ones with metal clasps and leather come up. They make you look like a rugged chef or a big strong man, but they’re not doing the job. They’re not practical for somebody who is doing this for a living six days a week for 12 hours a day,” he says. “In the world we’re living in now, the apron is the new chef’s coat. This apron fits and represents a true pitmaster in the sense of being a chef too. You look good in this apron and you can definitely tell who’s in charge by the person wearing it.”
It’s very fitting that an offset innovator like Castillo is the first person to do so.
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