Cooking outdoors makes any meal a special occasion, and gives clubs and resorts opportunities to showcase their properties and amenities year-round.
Whether it’s a juicy burger at poolside, a hearty gyro on the golf course or a whole suckling pig at the clubhouse pavilion, food cooked outdoors brings added dimensions of fun and excitement to every meal, from a simple weeknight dinner to an elaborate banquet.
At Myers Park Country Club in Charlotte, N.C., even Thursday’s Pizza Night becomes a party when the crispy, from-scratch pies are prepared outdoors in a wood-fired oven, according to Director of Culinary Operations Scott Craig.
Over the course of a couple of hours, Craig typically serves about 60 pies. The oven is mobile, so it can be transported to various parts of the property, such as the golf course halfway house or putting green, the lawn behind the clubhouse, the pool and the tennis courts. On request, Craig will even bring the pizza oven to members’ homes for parties.
One of the most popular wood-fired pies at Myers Park is the Barbecue Pizza topped with pulled pork, white cheddar, crispy tobacco onions and house barbecue sauce.
“Almost anything cooked with live fire is delicious,” Craig says. “The flavor that the burning wood imparts can’t be replicated by any other means, and the smell of smoke and the aesthetic of the open fire calls to something primitive in our DNA that compels us to gather around it.”
When he is preparing pizza, Craig prefers to burn a combination of white oak and hickory in the oven. The white oak allows the oven to achieve a higher temperature, and the hickory imparts a distinctive flavor. Craig’s goal for the deck of the oven is 800º F. and the dome usually maintains a temperature of 1,100º F.
At Myers Park, nine months out of the year are amenable to outdoor cooking, and Craig takes full advantage of the favorable weather. A popular offering is a Carolina Low Country boil, for which he cooks corn, andouille sausage and shrimp in court bouillon in a turkey fryer, then transfers it to a paella pan.
Another outdoor Southern classic at Myers Park is a fried chicken and biscuit bar. For this set-up, the chicken is dredged and steamed off in the kitchen, taken outside to retherm and crisp in a turkey fryer, and tossed in Tabasco honey. Sides such as hush puppies and fries are also cooked in the fryer. The biscuit bar displays butter, honey butter, apple butter, candied bacon, scallions, bacon jam and various other jams and jellies.
For a poutine bar, Craig will offer tater tots prepared to order in the fryer and a selection of toppings such as various cheeses and cheese sauce, bacon, scallions and braised short rib.
“The portable fryer is a versatile piece of equipment and can be set up and broken down quickly,” he notes.
An unusual piece of portable equipment Craig uses is a Konro grill, a heavy ceramic Japanese-style grill. The charcoal he uses is Japanese Binchotan, which, he explains, cooks with very high heat and is relatively smokeless.
For a May Jazz Under the Stars event, he grilled off hanger steak that had been precooked in an immersion circulator. Members also liked when he offered create-your-own grain bowls made on the pool deck with quinoa and barley, baby vegetables and grilled salmon or chicken.
A whole pig cooked outdoors in a roasting box was the star of a recent Myers Park luau. The tropical-inspired menu also featured grilled mahi with sweet chili glaze, mango salsa, sticky rice cake and banana leaf; jerk chicken, and skewers with Thai chili shrimp and pineapple and marinated beef with scallion chimichurri.
Call to the Great Outdoors
To persuade members to come to Olympia Fields (Ill.) Country Club on a weekday and spark their appetites so they’ll want to stay for dinner, Executive Chef John Beck does a “Sip and Shuck” event on Thursdays.
Six or seven different wines are offered for tasting, accompanied by oysters, both raw and grilled over charcoal with compound butters. Sometimes Beck also does three different types of kebabs with “cool sauces” such as Caribbean jerk or homemade barbecue. “The grilled oysters are crazy popular,” he points out.
Beck’s brined and spice-rubbed pork chops are also always a hit with members and guests. “I’ve been told by members that our pork chops are the best around,” he says.
A new concept developed by Carly Sulski, Olympia Fields’ Assistant Clubhouse Manager, is Dinner on the Greens, an event for which a weather shelter on the golf course was transformed into an upscale dining room complete with chandeliers, fairy lights, decorated tables and a violinist. While much of the food was prepared in the kitchen, the sides were cooked outdoors, including Brussels sprouts in a portable deep fryer and asparagus and baby sweet potatoes on propane-fueled planchas (flattop) grills.
On the club’s restaurant patio, Beck has cooked as many as 600 12-oz. strip steaks and 150 32-oz. porterhouses on his charcoal grill for big golf events. For a September Brewfest, he does action “pop-up” stations; ecent ones have offered tacos prepared on planchas, Neapolitan-style pizza from an outdoor wood-fired oven, and ramen made on portable burners. Beck also does pop-ups on Sunday nights, just for the fun of it.
Roasting and Smoking
Poolside at The Bridges at Rancho Santa Fe (Calif.), Executive Chef Jon Hearnsberger has a pizza oven and a large propane grill with a rotisserie that’s just right for slow-roasting large cuts of meat such as whole sirloins, prime rib, pork loins and leg of lamb. In addition to pizza, Hearnsberger uses the oven for cooking mussels and other seafood and brick chicken.
To complement various meats, he’ll choose different wood chips for grilling. For a recent kalua pork cooked in banana leaves, he preferred almond and apple woods for their sweetness. He generally uses cedar or mesquite for beef, lamb or fatty fish such as salmon.
One of Hearnsberger’s favorite meals to cook outdoors is a boneless, butterflied, marinated leg of lamb with a crust made with red wine, cherry jam, rosemary, coriander, extra virgin olive oil and salt and pepper. “The lamb can be marinated the day before, so there’s no fuss the day of the event,” he notes. “And the jam gives it a great crust on the grill. It’s really good for parties, because it can be served at room temperature and it has ‘wow’ visual and flavor factors.”
Hearnsberger uses a big-barrel smoker outside for more than just preparing meats. He has smoked hard-boiled eggs (“These require a hard, fast smoke,” he says) to top an arugula and goat cheese salad. He is also looking forward to doing a smoked version of duck confit.
At the clubhouse pavilion at Chattahoochee Country Club in Gainesville, Ga., Executive Chef Jose Zavala has both charcoal and propane grills and is expecting delivery of a third large grill any day now. He often uses a 36-inch portable hibachi to prepare Asian-style fried rice, shrimp and fish a la minute. A favorite dish that he prepares on this griddle is brown sugar-glazed salmon topped with cucumber and feta salsa.
Last June, Zavala took the hibachi to the golf course and set up a gyro station at one of the holes. For that station, he cooked beef and lamb on the hibachi and served it thinly sliced on pita bread with tzatziki sauce.
In a second kitchen by the pool, Zavala has a full complement of equipment, including an oven, double fryer, charcoal grill, six-burner stove, two coolers and two freezers. He likes to use this location to do big events such as luaus and seafood boils.
To coordinate outdoor cooking events, Hearnsberger works closely with The Bridges’ food and beverage and catering directors. All three department heads fill out forms specifying everything they will need, who should be responsible for each aspect of the event, and maps to show how the food should be laid out. “Two or three days before the event, we start moving décor items and equipment into place and we finish everything we can in terms of presentation the night before,” he says. “This way, the day of the event, all we have to focus on is the food.”
Just this year, Meyers Park’s Craig added a cargo golf cart with a long bed to haul food to outdoor cooking locations. Housekeeping takes care of putting the “infrastructure” of grills and fryers in place, and front-of-the-house staff does the basic dressing of tables, getting them ready for Craig’s decorative accents.
Weather or Not, Cookouts Impress
Last February, Scott Craig, Director of Culinary Operations at Myers Park Country Club in Charlotte, N.C., created a winter fun day as a new outdoor event that called for “tons of bagged ice,” a snow-making machine, and a panini press.
Members were able to sled down a snow-covered hillside right off the clubhouse lawn, taking breaks for soup, salad and pressed-on-the-spot panini sandwiches filled with pimento cheese and bacon jam; gooey grilled cheese; beef short rib, horseradish Havarti and caramelized onion; and turkey Swiss and cranberry aioli on rye bread.
“Each sandwich takes only about 30 seconds to prepare, so we were able to avoid lines at the station,” Craig explains.
For dessert, he fired up the sterno to make s’mores.
“This was a wildly popular event that we created not only to boost member participation during a traditionally slower time of the year, but to give members another unique experience at their club,” Craig says.