Grilling can make heroes out of humble hot dogs and hamburgers. And when that firepower is put in the hands of talented chefs, the resulting magic is much more than smoke and mirrors.
For Toby McCracken, Executive Chef of the Stock Farm Club in Hamilton, Mont., outdoor cooking is all about the game. Whether it’s with wild boar, buffalo, elk, venison, caribou or quail, McCracken wows his members at dinners and other special events from Memorial Day through Labor Day with flavorful cuts, prepared in the smoker and on the grill, of what might be considered elsewhere to be exotic meats.
|Summing It Up
• Advance preparation of meats using sous vide equipment can help impart deep flavors and speed up grill time.
• In-house-made seasonings and rubs can add signature styles.
• Be creative with ingredients and cooking techniques.
• Turn grilling into theater.
“This is Montana, and a lot of the game we use is local,” he explains. “The club is especially well-known for our wild boar, which we serve on a roll or as a quesadilla.”
A grilled buffalo-and-fennel pairing is always a crowd pleaser, McCracken notes, and an easy meal to mass-produce for banquets. That’s not to say Stock Farm members aren’t also delighted to see such barbeque classics as baby back ribs, which McCracken smokes and then grills; marinated flank steak; chicken, and seafood. He also features duck and, particularly for golf tournaments, a whole pig on a spit.
To speed up and ensure even cooking, McCracken will often put cuts of meat in sous vide circulators prior to grilling. All of the spice blends for grilling, smoking and brining are made in-house. His go-to grilling blend, which he calls “Steak Shake,” is a blend of kosher salt, coarsely ground pepper, granulated garlic and mesquite seasoning. For saucing grilled meats, he likes to use a chimichurri made with Italian parsley, green bell pepper, green onion, olive oil, sherry vinegar, lime juice and seasonings.
“We also make a chimichurri cream by mixing in some yogurt or a combination of sour cream and mayonnaise,” he notes.
Most of the grilling at Stock Farm is done on the club’s back terrace, using four huge gas grills and a spit roaster. For deeper flavor, the meat may spend some time in a smoker before it is finished on the grill. Wood can also be used on the grill to add a richer, smoky flavor. McCracken prefers to use apple, mesquite and cherry woods.
When the spit is used, it is set out on the service dock, so McCracken can keep an eye on it while working in the kitchen. At the time of service, the grill can be hooked onto a car and taken to the club’s event lawn.
Using All the Space
Baltimore Country Club has two clubhouses about eight miles apart—one in the Maryland city, and the other in the suburb of Lutherville. Executive Chef Richard Jallet cooks outdoors at both. One clubhouse, which serves the golf course, pool and tennis courts, offers comfort foods like burgers, crab feasts or a Mexican buffet featuring carne asada (steak marinated for a day or two with olive oil, cilantro and onions) with tomatillo salsa on tortillas.
Grilled individual pizzas are a favorite at the pool. The dough is par-baked, topped to order, and takes only three or four minutes to cook on the grill. “You can’t put on too many toppings or the crusts will burn before they’re heated,” Jallet cautions. “We use par-baked crusts to make sure the pizzas will be thoroughly cooked without burning.”
“How-To”s for ‘Que
Teenage members of Baltimore Country Club can learn to grill like pros when Executive Chef Richard Jallet holds his outdoor cooking classes for ages 16 and up. The instruction includes coverage of basic knife-handling and grill safety and cooking skills.
Last year’s class was small, with six students, which worked well to ensure one-on-one interaction with the chef. After the last class, the teens competed against one another to see who could do the best ‘que.
“They were very excited about both the classes and the competition, and so were their families,” Jallet says.
At the Stock Farm Club in Hamilton, Mont., Executive Chef Toby McCracken also conducted popular adult outdoor cooking classes last year. The classes, which were also small with about 10 participants, focused on charcoal grilling and smoking. McCracken says he is looking forward to offering them again.
The other clubhouse at Baltimore Country Club is a more formal setting that is often used for weddings and other special occasions. Fancier fare is featured at this location, including lobster, swordfish with oregano and lemon, beef tenderloin wrapped in bacon, and shrimp brochettes with grilled fruit, such as peaches or cantaloupe, that has been infused with simple syrup by using the Cryovac machine. When he cooks steaks, Jallet just uses salt, pepper and frequent brushings with smoked butter (which he makes on the club’s smoker).
For larger cuts, such as beef and pork top rounds, Jallet makes his own brines, marinades and wet and dry rubs. One of his multi-purpose seasoning combinations is a chipotle dry rub made with brown sugar, ground dried chipotle pepper, paprika, dry mustard, ground cumin and salt.
Jallet has four gas grills and a smoker that’s so large and heavy (it weighs somewhere between 400 and 500 pounds) and has performed so well for so long that it’s become a fixture at the club known affectionately as “The Old Beast.” The smoker is fueled by a mixture of charcoal and wood, and is often used to prepare pork bellies and butts.
The Smoker As “Food Truck”
From early spring through late September, Penelope Wong, Executive Chef of Glenmoor Country Club in Cherry Hills Village, Colo., fires up the barbeque and grills burgers, steaks and fish fillets, as well as a couple of different styles of ribs from the smoker.
“We park a very large smoker with a service window—basically a food truck with a custom-built smoker incorporated into it—adjacent to our putting greens during one of the themed events for our member-guest tournament,” Wong says. “It’s usually the most favored night during the whole week.”
This summer, the club is starting bocce ball tournaments on the driving range twice a month, and Wong has been working on some small, easy to eat, hand-held appetizers and snacks to prepare on portable charcoal grills. So far, her bocce tournament menu includes yakitori skewers and charred octopus street tacos.
|Chimichurri and Chimichurri Cream
For the Chimichurri Cream:
Submitted by Toby McCracken, Executive Chef, Stock Farm Club, Hamilton, Mont.
“The average age of our membership is 45 to 47; with a younger membership base we’re able to be a little more eclectic with our menus and creativity,” she says. “Whether indoors or outdoors, our members enjoy most dishes we put out that include fusion and ethnicity.”
As an example, she points to the Asian sticky ribs, an often-offered option that quickly sells out. For a street taco-themed dinner, she served tacos filled with Korean short rib, Cabo-style mahi fish and Thai-influenced, tamarind-glazed shrimp with a spicy green papaya slaw.
For wine and food pairing dinners that Glenmoor hosts two to three times during the warm-weather seasons, as well as for weddings, Wong brings her gas or charcoal grill and/or smoker to create a “makeshift kitchen” and elegant service station on the patio for innovative upscale fare. One memorable wine-pairing menu with an international theme featured charred hamachi sashimi with a lychee salad, hickory-smoked cocoa-rubbed duck leg and paella Valencia. The makeshift kitchen was also recently used out at the pool for a member’s wedding with about 275 guests.
Wong likes to play with flavors, textures and techniques to constantly surprise her club’s membership. That’s apparent in her outdoor menus, which have included such unique creations as grilled candied Colorado elk tenderloin, cedar-smoked Cornish game hen with grilled black plums and cherry vinaigrette, grill-charred sugar cane-skewered prawns, tea-smoked duck breast and grilled butter-soaked pound cake to accompany a semifreddo.
|Chipotle Dry Rub
Submitted by Richard Jallet, Executive Chef, Baltimore (Md.) Country Club
For smoking salmon, Wong keeps a house-made wet rub on hand that’s a combination of smoked paprika, cayenne pepper, chili powder, coriander, brown sugar, nutmeg, sea salt, pepper, chipotle and freshly-squeezed lime juice. Her dry rub for smoking meats mixes together smoked paprika, coriander, cardamom, star anise, fennel seeds, nutmeg, cinnamon, brown sugar, kosher salt, black pepper, onion powder and granulated garlic.
When using wood for cooking, Wong prefers oak for brisket and sausage, hickory or mesquite for turkey, apple for pork, and cherry and maple for elk.
“My absolute favorite combination is to use cherry and maple woods for my candied elk tenderloin,” she said. “I soak the elk tenderloin in a simple sugar and rosemary brine overnight, then smoke it with cherry and maple woods. The aroma is amazing.”
Cedar-Smoked Game Hen with grilled black plum and black cherry vinaigrette
Grilled Soft-Shell Maryland Crab Sandwich with grilled Amish corn
Grilled Buffalo Tenderloin with wild mushroom demi-glace, parsnip puree, smoked salt parsnip chip, grilled baby fennel, baby tomato salad