The new emphasis on outdoor dining has prompted club chefs to also make al fresco cooking a greater part of their repertoire, and has shed new light on how to turn everyday meals into special events.
The dining room at Reunion Golf & Country Club in Madison, Miss. may have been closed during the pandemic—but when only outdoor dining was allowed, Executive Chef Billy Kistler was determined to make it a spirit-lifting experience or, as he describes it, “an event without being an event.”
Under a tent that was added onto the back of the clubhouse and at the pool, Kistler and his crew have now prepared everything from steaks and burgers on portable six-foot-long and three-foot-wide grills, to Southern crawfish and Low Country boils on large propane-fueled burners.
“We’ll do the crawfish and Low Country boils each twice a year,” Kistler notes. “And we’ll get as many as 400 people coming here for them.”
Recently, Kistler took his grills and portable fryers to the pool for a Caribbean Night featuring jerk pork tenderloin with smoked tomato grits and mango salsa; conch fritters; short-rib croquettes and red snapper Vera Cruz-style (a Mexican-inspired mixture of fresh tomatoes, jalapeno peppers, olives and dried cranberries). One fryer runs on propane, and the other plugs into a natural gas line on the patio.
Pizza and Flatbread Night is also a popular weekly event at Reunion G&CC. To adapt it for cooking on a grill, Kistler had to tweak his usual pizza dough recipe.
Club members have always enjoyed Kistler’s smoked foods, and they are happy that he is now doing more of it. “I’ll smoke brisket, pork shoulder, tomatoes—just about anything,” he says.
During the pandemic shutdown, takeout became a big part of the club’s dinner business, and it continues to account for at least $25,000 a month. Kistler offers just about anything on the menu for takeout, including char-grilled steaks and the crawfish boil that’s cooked outside.
Even as normalcy returns, Kistler says he plans to continue cooking outdoors, because “members love it” and it takes some of the heat off the dining room.
While The Club at Old Hawthorne in Columbia, Mo. did many outdoor service events prior to the pandemic, for Executive Chef Devin Kemp, outdoor cooking was not as prevalent.
In the past year and a half, however, he has become proficient at cooking all over the property— on everything from an open firepit for lamb chops to a portable grill for oysters to a schawarma roaster (a portable vertical rotisserie grill), from which meats such as pork shoulder and a ground lamb-and-beef combination are shaved to order for tacos al pastor.
And at The Club at Old Hawthorne, summer means even more outdoor cooking. “In summer, members love to dine outdoors and have the chance to interact with the chefs and kitchen management,” Kemp says.
Kemp now does a lot of meat smoking outdoors—and be it brisket, pulled pork, chicken wings or quarters, duck breast and even antelope, the smoked meats are very popular with members.
“If they can smell it, they order it,” he says. “They can eat here or order it to go.”
For progressive wine dinners, Kemp sets up cooking stations at picturesque spots around the golf course. Some of the dishes he’s prepared at these stations include grilled rack of lamb and grilled oysters, topped with hot sauce made with vegetables from the club’s garden.
While simple burgers and steaks are always well-received (see box, pg. 36), Kemp likes to get creative with his outdoor equipment. He has set up a mini-smoker to make tea-smoked duck breast and uses his grill for blackened tenderloin medallions with Gouda grits, heirloom tomato and scallops beurre blanc, seasonal vegetables, green onions and spiced pumpkin seeds.
Sometime in the future, Kemp wants to add a gas- or wood-fired pizza oven on a trailer to his outdoor cooking arsenal. Long-range plans also include constructing an indoor/outdoor pavilion with a kitchen at the golf course turn, to prepare food on the go for golfers on the course and driving range.
When outdoor dining became the only option for members who wanted to dine at Sawgrass Country Club in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., Executive Chef Michael Meuse decided that he wanted to embrace the outdoor experience with his cooking as well. And he was well-equipped to do it.
For an Argentinian-themed feast, he prepared three courses on a custom-made, open-flame, oak-burning Urban Asado grill. The first course was provoleta, the Argentinian variant of provolone cheese, with locally made chorizo sausage. Second was a mixed grill consisting of a tomahawk ribeye steak, chicken thighs, prawns, potatoes and asparagus roasted on the grill. Dessert was a grilled butter cake with charred Georgia peaches and house-made bourbon ice cream.
To celebrate the recent opening of Sawgrass’ new clubhouse, Meuse treated members to three different outdoor cooking experiences. On a Patagonia Asado cross-style hearth, which suspends the meat over a live wood fire on an adjustable angle metal rod with adjustable cross arms and hooks, he prepared whole sides of salmon on oak.
“The radiant heat from the hearth cooks the salmon through, and you get a gentle touch of smoke,” he explains.
The cross can also be used to roast a whole pig, goat or lamb, or hanging racks of ribs, Meuse adds. A stainless-steel cage can hold roughly three whole fillets, sub-primal cuts of meat, and vegetables.
Continuing his use of outdoor-cooking equipment, Meuse also cooked a gigantic seafood paella in a three-and-a-half-foot pan over an EVO gas grill. And in a Caja China box, a whole roasting pig sent its irresistible aromas wafting through the air.
“As members worked their way through the clubhouse to the outside, they could smell the woods and cooking meats,” he says. “There was a lot of buzz about what’s coming off the grill and out of the roasting box.”
Aside from special occasions such as the clubhouse opening, Meuse plans to create outdoor dinners two to three times a month, some with unusual themes like Viking Night, which will feature live-fire cooking of whole meats such as chickens and tri-tip, pork ribs, sausages and whole roasted vegetables.
Meuse also made plans to bring Sawgrass’ ever-popular weekly shrimp, fish and hush-puppy fry back outside for the summer, and to respond to members’ requests for smaller but more frequent pig roasts.
For a pop-up, full-moon wine dinner for 25 members on the deck at the back of Sawgrass’ Beach Club, tables were placed in a square around an EVO flattop on which sous vide filets were quickly grilled. On the oceanfront deck, Meuse brought over the portable smoker for a “Smoke on the Water”-themed bourbon and smoked-foods dinner that included prime tri tip, chicken and local sausage.
Using small griddles over the EVOs, he prepares hot sandwiches, including a Saturday lunch special as a quick pick-up item for golfers. Among the most requested are the Cuban and a Philly-style steak sandwich. He also uses the paella pans to cook hot Italian beef with sweet and hot peppers that can also be built into sandwiches.
Meuse recently ordered a Binchotan hibachi-style charcoal grill, to equip stations offering such Japanese specialties as yakitori (skewered pork or chicken) and sate to complement his sushi display. He also plans to use the grill to cook small bites and amuse bouche dishes.
Even the pandemic didn’t stop Meuse and Sawgrass’ culinary team from making full use of outdoor cooking capabilities. For the club’s July 4th celebration in 2020, the grand finale of the day was an outdoor dinner under a tent on the driving range. Six action stations tempted the golfers with 800 pounds of meat, including brisket, chicken and sausages cooking in the 40-foot smoker. Other stations used portable fryers for oysters and turkey fryers for Low Country boils.
And in all cases, Meuse notes, everything that he now cooks outside has been, and will continue to be, 100% available for takeout as well—which often leads to double orders from those who have enjoyed their first portion on site.
Adding to the Arsenal
Five years ago, Kenwood Country Club in Cincinnati, Ohio built a 120-seat Pavilion bar overlooking its pool and the cityscape. But the new dining space did not include an outdoor kitchen. That will change next year, says Sean Sennet, the club’s Executive Chef, when an outdoor kitchenette with plumbing and gas is scheduled to be built.
But the lack of a kitchen at that venue has not slowed Sennet down at all when it comes to outdoor cooking on the Kenwood property. In fact, he is equipped to cook just about anything with a propane pizza oven, two Arteflame firepits with wood-burning planchas, and a smoker that can be pulled by a golf cart.
In addition, a pig roaster that can cook up to 200 lbs. of meat and a charcoal- fueled char-broiler chicken box share a trailer. The pig roaster can be converted into a five-foot-wide, charcoal-burning grill, on which Sennet has cooked everything from lobster to wings to king crab.
Sennet currently sets up his larger equipment in a common area between the Pavilion bar and the pool.
Friday, Saturday and Sunday are Pizza Nights at Kenwood, and those are big nights for takeout. “We do 120 to 145 pizzas a night,” Sennet says.
He also uses the outdoor pizza oven for oysters and shrimp, and has cooked lobster and tenderloin with roasted tomato and red pepper remoulade in the smoker. The planchas are used for Tuesday Taco Nights.
One of Sennet’s best-selling dishes is a beer can-style chicken (see recipe, pg. 36) that he cooks in the smoker. “We sell the hell out of it,” he says.
While the Kenwod dining room was closed during the pandemic, Sennet set up a pop-up barbecue, which he offered by the pint or pound for takeout for the convenience of members and to keep some revenue coming in. They proved to be so popular, he plans to bring them back in the fall.
Burgers Still Thrill
Whether with basic or tricked-out equipment, country club chefs are now turning out some pretty fancy meals such as paella and smoked duck breast as part of their outdoor-cooking repertoire. But it’s still the humble grilled burger that never fails to draw an enthusiastic crowd.
While new ideas continue to spark excitement at Sawgrass Country Club in Ponte Vedra Beach Fla., traditional favorites such as Hamburger and Fries Nights at the Beach Club, cooked with portable grills and fryers every Monday, remain a don’t-miss attraction, reports Michael Meuse, the club’s Executive Chef. “We generally cook about 500 burgers to order each time,” he says.
At The Club at Old Hawthorne in Columbia, Mo., Executive Chef Devin Kemp likes to surprise golfers with “pop up” food offerings on the course—and grilled burgers always get a great response, Kemp notes.
Summing It Up
> Special equipment, including smokers, roasters, boxes, planchas and grills, can be utilized to add variety and unique appeal to outdoor-cooking offerings.
> Make sure takeout service is still offered for meals cooked outdoors—it can often lead to “doubling up” through extra orders placed by on-site diners as they prepare to leave.
> Don’t underestimate or shortchange the value and power of outdoor-cooking basics like burgers, pizza and fish frys.
SNAPPER VERA CRUZ
YIELD: 4 Servings
4 red snapper fillets, 6 ozs. each
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup olive oil
1 Vidalia onion, diced
3 tbsp. roasted garlic
3 cups fresh tomatoes, diced
1 tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup parsley, chopped and squeezed dry
2 tbsp. fresh oregano leaves
1/4 cup Castelveltrano olives (pitted Queen olives may be substituted)
2 tbsp. dried cranberries (raisins may be substituted)
4 jalapeno peppers, grilled
to taste salt and pepper
Submitted by Billy Kistler, Executive Chef, Reunion Golf & Country Club, Madison, Miss.
1. In a large sauce pot, add 1/4 cup olive oil to heat. Add onions and sweat until translucent. Add garlic and tomatoes. Let cook on medium heat for about 10 minutes, or until the tomatoes have released all their juices and the mixture is beginning to thicken up.
2. Add vinegar, bay leaves, parsley, oregano, olives and cranberries. Simmer another five minutes or so.
3. While the sauce is simmering, season snapper with salt and pepper and dredge in flour.
4. Heat a cast-iron skillet; add the rest of the olive oil. Once the skillet is almost at smoke point, sear fish quickly on one side, then turn the fish over. Add the tomato sauce mixture to the fish and let simmer until fish is fully cooked and sauce has thickened slightly.
5. Remove fish to a serving plate and pour some sauce on each fillet. Garnish with the grilled jalapeno peppers.
6. Serve with jasmine rice or parsley white potatoes. Always have some nice bread to sop up the juices as well.
YIELD: 20 servings
10 2- to 3-lb. chickens (halved)
5 gal. chicken brine
as needed chicken rub (see recipe below)
1 inch beer
INGREDIENTS FOR THE CHICKEN BRINE:
2 cups granulated garlic
2 cups kosher salt
2 cups granulated sugar
5 gals. water
INGREDIENTS FOR THE CHICKEN RUB*:
1 cup granulated garlic
1 cup black pepper
2 cups dried oregano
3 lbs. kosher salt
1 cup crushed red pepper
1 cup thyme
* Combine all chicken rub ingredients in a container.
1. Combine all ingredients and bring to a simmer.
2. Remove from heat and cool.
3. Add chicken to brine; cover and refrigerate for 6 to 8 hours.
4. Remove chicken from brine and purge in fresh water for an hour.
5. Add beer to a 2-inch-full hotel pan. Place chicken in beer, exposing the top half.
6. Top with chicken rub.
7. Smoke or cook in oven uncovered at 275º F. until internal temperature is 165º (roughly 1 to 1.5 hours).
8. Remove from beer and dip in your favorite barbecue sauce.
9. Crisp skin on a grill.
Submitted by Sean Sennet, Executive Chef, Kenwood Country Club, Cincinnati, Ohio
SALMON AL ASADOR
with Shaved Fennel Salad, Citrus Yellow Tomato Coulis and Sweet Poblano Pepper Crème
Chef’s Note: The hearth pit design is a quick, simple stacking of bricks with a heavy sand bottom. The sand is to protect the turf we are cooking on and can be substituted with brick if needed. The brick offers wind protection and helps to retain the heat and reflect it onto your cooked item.
YIELD: 30 servings
3 sides of wild-caught skinless, boneless salmon, 2 to 3 lbs. each
2 cups house-made chimichurri
to taste Spiceology salt-free lemon-pepper blend
to taste Spiceology fleur de sel
INGREDIENTS FOR THE HOUSE CHIMICHURRI*:
1 cup olive oil
1/2 cup fresh-squeezed lime juice
1/2 cup white vinegar
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. ground black pepper
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped fine
1 tsp. crushed red pepper
6 to 8 cloves garlic, chopped
* Mix all ingredients in a bowl and store covered in the refrigerator. For full flavor, make the day before serving.
1. At least two hours before cooking, lay out on a sheet pan the three sides of salmon. Rub the chimichurri on both sides to coat each fillet.
2. Lightly dust both sides of the fillets with lemon-pepper blend and a light dusting of fleur de sel.
3. Place the fillets between the two cage sides of the cross arm and secure.
4. Store the salmon sides on the sheet pans in the walk-in while you start the fire.
5. Once the coals have turned white and are glowing, attach the cage to the cross, skin-side away from the coals. The cross has three angled settings. Start with the second setting, which gives you a 45-degree angle within two feet facing the coals.
6. Add split oak (you may also choose alder, beechwood or fruit woods such as apple, cherry or maple to add sweet notes) to the coals to enhance the wood-fired essence for the first 30 to 45 minutes.
7. After the first hour, raise the cross and flip the cage to expose the skin side towards the coals. Reset the angle. The fillets should be monitored to reach a minimum of 135º F.
8. Serve the salmon with pickled red onions and heirloom tomato-avocado salad.
Submitted by Michael Meuse, Executive Chef, Sawgrass Country Club, Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
TEA-SMOKED DUCK BREAST
with Sauteed Bok Choi, Wild Mushrooms, Soy-Blood Orange Vinaigrette and Creamy Horseradish Sauce
YIELD: 1 serving
1 6-oz. mallard duck breast
1/2 cup Earl Grey tea leaves
1 head bok choi, rough chop
1 dash red pepper flakes
2 cups wild mushrooms (for example, shimeji, oyster and shiitake)
creamy horseradish sauce
INGREDIENTS FOR THE VINAIGRETTE:
1 oz. blood orange juice
1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
3 ozs. white wine vinegar
1 tbsp. soy sauce
12 ozs. blended olive oil
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar
PROCEDURE FOR THE VINAIGRETTE:
1. Make the vinaigrette using a robot coupe to puree the Dijon mustard with everything else except for the olive oil. Once thoroughly combined, slowly drizzle the oil into the robot coupe to emulsify the vinaigrette.
2. Once thickened, adjust for salt and sugar as necessary.
3. Pour into a squirt bottle.
INGREDIENTS FOR THE CREAMY HORSERADISH SAUCE:
2 tbsp. horseradish
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tbsp. minced garlic
1 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp. lemon juice
to taste salt and pepper
PROCEDURE FOR THE CREAMY HORSERADISH SAUCE:
1. Make the horseradish sauce by combining all of the ingredients into a bowl and whisk to combine. Adjust for seasoning as necessary.
2. Put into a squirt bottle.
1. Score the duck fat using a grid pattern and sear the seasoned duck on low heat, slowly rendering the fat out of the breast, until golden brown.
2. Smoke the duck until the internal temperature of the duck reaches 125º F., or medium rare. To cook on an outdoor grill, put the tea leaves in the bottom of a hotel pan and place the duck above the tea leaves inside of a perforated pan insert.
3. While the duck is smoking, saute the bok choy over medium-high heat. Season with salt, pepper and a dash of red pepper flakes.
4. In a separate pan, preheat the pan on high heat. Add olive oil to the pan and saute the wild mushrooms, trying to get as much of a sear as possible. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
5. Once all components have been cooked, lay the bok choy in the bottom of the plate. Add the mushrooms next to the bok choy. Slice the duck, shingling the slices over the vegetables.
6. Zig-zag the vinaigrette and horseradish sauce over the top of the duck in opposite directions.
Submitted by Devin Kemp, Executive Chef, The Club at Old Hawthorne, Columbia, Mo.