Whether the menu features burgers and steaks, luxe lobsters or a succulent suckling pig, just about anything cooked on a barbecue grill or in a smoker is sure to fire up members’ appetites. And for chefs, open-air cooking also opens the way to exercising new creativity with deeply flavorful combinations of woods, seasonings and sauces.
Micheal Armes, Executive Chef of Hound Ears Club in Boone, N.C., isn’t about to let anything come between his members and their sizzling-from-the-grill steaks—even if he has to scale the highest mountain. And that’s exactly what he’s going to do this summer, when the club holds its annual climbing competition high in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
|SUMMING IT UP
• Finding and offering different settings for outdoor cooking and service can add new excitement to a property’s food-and-beverage program.
• Don’t let outdoor cooking be too limiting from either a menu or service standpoint; be ready for special requests, and make sure to have sufficient staffing.
• Create signature seasonings, rubs and sauces that can add extra distinction to your grilling and barbecue efforts.
Last year, Armes and his team fed a couple hundred hungry members and guests at the event. “We set up a buffet table, bar and picnic area at the top, and for non-climbers, we provided shuttles,” Armes explains. “Last year we grilled off-site, but this year we’re stepping it up by bringing along a gas grill and cooking at the top of the mountain.”
For members who hunger for more grounded adventures, Armes offers small group-foraging expeditions, to collect wild mushrooms and watercress to go with the “primitive-style beer can chicken” that he cooks on flat, cast-iron griddle pans over an open campfire.
To upscale his chicken recipe, Armes uses a local IPA beer (although he says any beer will work) and a compound butter with ramps and bourbon (see recipe below). “It’s the best chicken I’ve ever had,” he says.
“The first time I offered this foraging/campfire experience, it took about a day to fill up the reservations; the second time it took only 10 minutes,” Armes notes. “We’re doing two of these events this year, but I’m sure I could easily fill up five or six.”
In May, Hound Ears’ clubhouse reopened after a renovation, sporting a new 25-by-30-foot patio/grill area. This provides plenty of room for cooking on the gas grill, and Armes often adds wood chips to impart an extra element of smoke to the food.
For the first time last year, Armes prepared a New England clambake poolside, towing a four-by-eight-foot, oil drum-turned-pig roaster to the site. To cook the seafood and corn, he lined the roaster with banana leaves and seaweed. The event was such a success, he plans to repeat it this year.
Western North Carolinians are “fanatical” about their barbecue, Armes notes, and especially about the region’s distinctive, vinegar-based sauce. So it’s no surprise that among the club’s most anticipated events are the pig roasts that Armes holds twice a year.
(To keep all of his grills clean and ready for use, Armes uses vinegar and water, explaining that vinegar cuts the grease and evaporates without leaving any soapy residue that can be transferred to the food.)
On a new upper deck at the turn house on Hound Ears’ golf course, Armes is also “in the dreaming stages” of bringing other outdoor-cooking experiences to the club. His wish list includes teriyaki skewers on a hibachi and individual Korean-style grills on burners, which members could use to cook their own food.
Even when the food is outdoor casual, there’s no slacking on the setting or the service at Phoenix (Ariz.) Country Club. Executive Chef Marcus de Koning makes sure that, inside or outside, members always get the sort of upscale experience they have come to expect at the club.
Tables for outdoor dining at Phoenix CC are still set with linen cloths, china, silver and crystal wine glasses, just as they are in the dining room. Multiple full bars are set up and fully staffed, and management makes sure the entrée and dessert buffets are fully stocked and running smoothly at all times, with an adequate number of servers. “No one wants to wait in a long line,” de Koning notes.
In the kitchen, one chef, one sous chef and three cooks continually prep fresh food to send outside. They also grill house-made brioche sesame buns, cook up fresh batches of crispy steak fries (de Koning doesn’t think they hold well on the buffet), and fulfill special requests when asked.
“Even at a barbecue, we want our members to feel they are dining at a top-of-the-line club that cares and provides an excellent dining experience,” he says.
Exploring at the Island
At Catawba Island Club in Port Clinton, Ohio, Executive Chef Susan Davila cooks outside a couple times a week during spring and summer. To bring a new element to cookouts, last year she began grilling a lot of vegetables, including portabella mushrooms, cauliflower steaks and eggplant.
“We have some vegetarian members, but even those who aren’t enjoyed them,” Davila says.
On the smoker, she prepares seafood for the club’s weekly brunches and pre-smokes ribs that are finished on the grill. Last year, Davila worked with a metal fabricator to make a rustic, five-foot-long by four-foot smoker, in which she can now prepare everything from a whole lamb to a half pig to eight briskets. Davila now uses the whole-log-fueled smoker for banquets at least once a week.
In addition to using hickory and apple woods for smoking, she has been experimenting with peach wood, which is readily available from local orchards near the club. “It’s pretty mild with a clean hint of sweetness that makes it perfect for smoking more delicate foods, such as salmon and chicken,” Davila notes.
Davila’s signature rub (see recipe below) is comprised of 14 ingredients, including such unusual ones as Pasilla Negro ground chile, maple sugar, malt powder and Ethiopian berbere. Another favorite rub is made from coffee and ancho chilies.
To save time during the busy season, Davila might smoke pork ribs up to two days in advance of serving, and then finish cooking them the day of the event.
Dining in the Desert
Because outdoor cooking is such an integral part of the lifestyle at Phoenix (Ariz.) Country Club, a good part of the clubhouse’s lower patio is dedicated to grilling, smoking and dining space. The fully equipped patio includes a broiler, propane grill, smoker, small oven, six-burner stove top, refrigerated cold line, coolers, plate warmer, extra refrigerators and even heat lamps for chilly evenings.
According to Executive Chef Marcus de Koning, Phoenix CC’s patio gets heavy use during the spring and fall (summers tend to be too hot, and winters too cool, for cookouts, de Koning says). For Steak Nights, the broiler is used to prepare boneless, Angus dry-aged cuts, 20-oz. bone-in ribeye, or 18-oz. prime New York strip steak.
De Koning liberally sprinkles the steaks with his special “secret” seasoning blend (see recipe below), which is so prized he also offers it as a take-home item for the club’s membership. To finish steaks, he might gild them with parsley and lemon-laced maitre d’hotel butter or a fresh, light chimichurri sauce.
Brisket is another favorite item at Phoenix CC, and de Koning smokes about 90 pounds of it at a time. The meat cooks slowly at 225º over apple and hickory woods for 12 to 14 hours.
In addition to showcasing the barbecued brisket as an entrée, de Koning also features it on nachos tossed in his house sauce and topped with cheese and black bean pico de gallo for his Happy Hour menu, and as one of the items available during football game nights in the club’s grill room.
On Burger Nights, the grill gets a real workout, cooking up patties made from a house blend of brisket, short rib and chuck. To give the burgers a smoky flavor, de Koning soaks apple and hickory chips overnight in water and lays them on top of the grill’s lava rocks.
Even when cooking outside his main kitchen, de Koning goes to great lengths to honor members’ special requests. For non-meat eaters, he offers an array of alternative burgers, including veggie, salmon and ground ahi tuna with chipotle cream and daikon radish sprouts or cherry chipotle jam made with star anise. Another option is a burger made from wild rice and almonds.
On Family Fun Nights at the clubhouse and on the golf course during tournaments, de Koning offers a variety of sliders, including crab cake, jalapeno popper with onion straws, bacon-wrapped, and Hawaiian barbecue chicken. For on-course cooking, he takes a grill, refrigerator and hot box.
Before cooking on his grills, de Koning wipes them down with canola oil, to create a non-stick service. “You must use an oil with a high cooking temperature, to prevent burning,” he points out.
Being located in the desert, seafood is a real treat for Phoenix dwellers. So once a year in April, de Koning puts together an outdoor Lobster Fest. Last year, the event attracted 500 guests who feasted on 650 two-and-a-half-pound lobsters (many went for seconds), as well as clams, shrimp, mussels and corn.
And for members who can’t get enough barbecue, de Koning teaches periodic classes on the art and science of outdoor cooking. “People will come in a little shy and leave after an hour of cooking together as the best of friends, laughing and having a good time while learning recipes from our staff,” he says.