Food & Drink | May 23, 2022 7:00 am

This Ancho-Mesquite Smoked Brisket Recipe Blends Canada and the Caymans

Executive Chef Massimo De Francesca's recipe also incorporates flavors that nod to his love for Mexican and Southwestern cuisine

The brisket chef Massimo De Francesca carves up in the Cayman Islands
The brisket chef Massimo De Francesca carves up in the Cayman Islands.
Massimo De Francesca

A Toronto native, chef Massimo De Francesca has spent nearly 20 years cooking his way through kitchens in Canada, Italy, the United States and the Caribbean. Along the way, De Francesca has added ammunition to his culinary arsenal as well as picked up a few phrases that weren’t previously on his mouth’s menu. One of them? Beef butter.

“I don’t really like to say the word fat. It sounds pretty terrible and not appetizing. So, I call it beef butter,” he tells InsideHook.

De Francesca’s favorite source of beef butter is what’s produced when he cooks ancho-mesquite smoked brisket for patrons of the Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa, the hotel in the Grand Cayman Islands where he serves as executive chef. Seasoned with ingredients like mustard and maple syrup that pay tribute to De Francesca’s Canadian roots and doctored up with Caribbean rum and Cuban coffee in a nod to his current Caymanian lifestyle, the veteran chef’s ancho-mesquite smoked brisket is marinated overnight and then rubbed down with a special spice blend before being cooked.

“Brisket, in my humble opinion, is probably the best cut of any protein. My mouth is watering just speaking about it,” De Francesca says. “With this recipe, you mix brisket with the syrup and rum overnight in what I would call a wash. That immediately starts to open up the muscle fibers and slowly starts tenderizing it. Not only does it add flavor and tenderize, but it adds a really nice coated texture on this cut specifically because of that long, slow process of cooking.”

Chef Massimo's brisket is rubbed down with a special spice blend before being cooked
Chef Massimo’s brisket is rubbed down with a special spice blend before being cooked.
Massimo De Francesca

That cooking process — ideally four hours in the oven before an additional two hours in the smoker with apple and mesquite wood — is a procedure De Francesca fell in love with while experimenting with outdoor cooking while working in the dry heat of the Arizona desert.

“That’s where my love grew for slow smoking and using local woods like hickory and pecan and all these really unique flavoring woods,” he says. “I really fell in love with smoking more than grilling in Arizona while I was there That’s also where I learned about the ancho chile pepper, which in my opinion is one of the most beautiful peppers you can use for grilling and smoking because it’s a natural smokeable. It just has this really beautiful, chocolatey, smoked flavor. It’s really, really nice. In my earlier days, this recipe would’ve been just maple syrup and mustard and some spices. It has evolved.”

As part of that evolution, the aforementioned Caribbean rum got into the mix. “I had a love for rum before I even lived here, but it’s a plus,” De Francesca says. “Rum is a flavor profile you can’t get just by adding syrup or sugar for that matter. You’re talking about an ingredient that’s been aged in a wooden cask for three to five to 10 years and really takes on that flavor. It’s really unique when used in savory applications. When I was in Arizona I probably would have stopped at just the spices and the smoke. This is definitely more of a modernized recipe.”

And here it is.

Massimo De Francesca’s Ancho-Mesquite Brisket

Ingredients

  • 10-12 lbs – brisket, cleaned, trimmed
  • 1 cup – maple syrup
  • 1 cup – Caribbean rum
  • ​​4 tbsp of grainy dijon mustard 
  • 1 cup – vegetable oil
  • ½ cup freshly, finely ground espresso
  • 3 tbsp ancho chili powder
  • 3 tbsp granulated garlic
  • 3 tbsp granulated onion
  • 3 tbsp coriander powder
  • 2 tbsp mild chili powder
  • 2 tbsp smoked paprika
  • 2 tbsp black pepper
  • 1tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • ¼ cup Kosher salt

Instructions

  1. Mix the maple syrup with the rum until smooth. 
  2. Add dijon mustard to the rum and maple syrup portion.
  3. Rub and cover the entire brisket. Let marinate for 6-8 hours, overnight.
  4. In a medium bowl, add the oil and all other ingredients and incorporate them well.
  5. Evenly rub the brisket and leave it in the refrigerator uncovered, for up to 24 hours.
  6. Preheat an oven to 450F then bring it down to 335F.
  7. Bake for 6 hours and let rest for 30 minutes. 
  8. Alternatively, you can bake it for 75% of the time then slowly finish on a char broiler or smoker for the rest of the required cooking time. Ideally, this brisket is cooked in the oven for 4 hours, then smoked for 2 hours with apple and mesquite wood.
  9. Sprinkle with some sea salt and cracked black pepper and enjoy.