Cedar Plank Grilling: Unlocking Smoky Flavors on the Grill

Last Updated June 1, 2023
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For thousands of years, Native American tribes in the Pacific Northwest have used cedar planks for their grilling. In addition to imparting flavor, it was a useful way to hold fish and other food in place so that it wouldn’t fall into the fire. Salmon cooked on cedar planks is still a traditional regional dish, but it’s also a simple method to add flavor to many other dishes.

The smoky-savory flavor cedar imparts to the meat as it cooks goes perfectly with shrimp, scallops, and any other shellfish you’d grill. Light white meats, chicken, and pork make excellent planking choices because they readily take on the flavor of the wood. Planking has the additional advantage of infusing steam, which keeps food moist and flavorful.

In addition to being a tasty summer treat, grilling using cedar planks is a healthy way to cook veggies without using a lot of oil. Try combining asparagus or summer squash with peppers, mushrooms, and eggplant. Try hollowing out fresh fruits like peaches, pears, or apples and filling them with dried fruit. Add a little whiskey, or a sweet liqueur for a delicious treat.

Cedar Plank Grilling

History of Grilling on Cedar Planks

Salmon was fire-roasted by Native American tribes cultures in the Pacific Northwest as early as 4000 B.C. when it was fastened to split Western Red Cedar poles (referred to as piquin sticks) with thin cedar pins. Then, these poles were set up at an angle close to substantial alder wood fires.

Shad, a bony, tasty fish related to herring, was being fire-roasted by American Indians along the East Coast at the same time. However, instead of cedar, these tribes employed locally accessible oak poles or boards.

In the late 19th century, hotels throughout the Pacific Northwest served fish that had been roasted in an oven on wood boards.

Since then, cooking on wood planks with conventional grills has evolved along with the use of culinary wood planks. However, historians are currently attempting to establish the precise beginning date of this particular technique.

What Is Plank Grilling?

This grilling method is exactly what it sounds like. You barbecue your food on top of a wooden plank. When you use cedar planks on the grill, a light hint of smoke and a subtle woodsy taste are imparted.

Cedar, cherry, hickory, maple, red oak, and alder are the most popular species of wood used to make grilling planks. Despite having the same behavior on the grill, each wood has a distinct flavor that it imparts to the food. For instance, cedar offers a spicy and fragrant smoky flavor that is frequently coupled with salmon, vegetables, tofu, pork, and even soft cheeses.

Because the skin of your fish (or chicken, or vegetables) immediately contacts the charred plank, plank grilling completely outperforms the conventional woodchip method.

What Advantages Does Plank Grilling Offer?

Plank grilling is advantageous because the planks serve as a barrier to the abrasive, direct heat of grilling, in addition to giving your food a wonderful woodsy aroma. When cooking with thinner or more delicate items that could normally fall through the grates, this can be extremely useful.

This heat barrier can be beneficial for foods that tend to dry out, like chicken breasts or pork. When used with a hot grill, the plank can keep these cuts extremely moist and tasty while still letting you get a crispy crust on the outside.

Grilling planks are an excellent alternative to grill grates since, in addition to adding flavor, they keep your grill clean. Minimizing the need to scrape the grates clean after a grilling session. Additionally, utilizing cedar planks gives your food a beautiful flavor without the need for high-fat marinades and oils, which is beneficial nutritionally. Tasty, fun, and healthy, what more could you want?

The adaptability of plank grilling, which you can use to prepare just about anything, is another fantastic feature. Although this method is more frequently used to prepare items like salmon, you may also cook vegetables, delicate fish, and even shellfish on planks. The tastes go well together, and the gentle cooking method keeps the delicate proteins from breaking down. Most of all, you should just play around with it and have fun.

How to Select the Correct Plank

While there is wood available at your neighborhood hardware store, it is not thought to be food-safe and is frequently treated with chemicals or additives. You should search for untreated, all-natural, and sustainably sourced planks. The ideal choice is to choose wood that has been especially marketed for use as grilling planks, and you should check to make sure the planks have a smooth finish (to prevent food splinters). Lastly, choose goods produced in North America.

Pre-cut wood planks produced specifically for plank grilling are available from many kitchen supply stores. You decide the flavor. Alder, cedar, apple, cherry, hickory, pecan, and maple are all suitable. However, cedar planks are the most widely used.

Consider some of your preferred proteins and smoke flavor combinations, such as hickory-smoked fish or applewood-smoked bacon, when selecting planks based on flavor. These will give you some suggestions for flavors that you might enjoy. If you’re not sure, spend money on a variety pack of planks.

Won’t the Wood Planks Catch on Fire?

Even a novice griller understands that wood burns over an open flame. You must give the plank a thorough soak in water prior to lighting the grill. By doing this, you can reduce the risk of the wood catching fire while cooking. While grilling, take measures and keep a water bottle nearby in case there are any unexpected flare-ups.

Tips for Grilling with Cedar Planks

Cooking on cedar planks gives a distinctive flavor and makes for a lovely presentation of the dish. If you adhere to a few straightforward rules, it’s simple to do.

Tip 1 – Before using a cedar plank to grill food, soak it for one to twelve hours. This helps to keep the food moist while it cooks and prevents the wood from burning. To ensure that the plank is completely submerged, weigh it down with a heavy bowl while it soaks.

Tip 2 – Many people soak their planks in salted water. For a flavor with more zing, try soaking the planks in wine or fruit juice.

Tip 3 – Before grilling, oil the pre-soaked plank, the fish, and any additional food to prevent sticking.

Tip 4 – Place a fresh cedar plank on the grill, close the lid, and cook it for two minutes on each side to cure it. By doing this, the flavor is improved and warping is reduced.

Tip 5 – Place the plank over ash-coated coals when using a charcoal barbecue. Preheat a gas grill to high, then reduce the heat to medium for cooking.

Tip 6 – Plank-cooked items will require a little more time to cook than other grilled foods because wood transmits heat more slowly than your metal grill.

Tip 7 – Salmon and other fish will continue to cook even after the heat source has been turned off. So remove it just before getting to the required temp. Use a good instant-read thermometer to check temps.

Tip 8 – Scrape the plank clean after removing the grilled meal, then soak it in a bucket of warm water without any soap. Doing this allows you to use the plank several times.

Tip 9 – Even burnt planks can be used two or three more times. Break the wood up into fragments and use them as smoking chips if it is fully blistered.

How to Make Cedar Plank-Grilled Salmon

If you want to start grilling on cedar planks, start with a reliable recipe. This is my favorite recipe for plank-grilled salmon.

1 whole salmon fillet with the skin on, weighing between 2 and 2 1/2 pounds, and measuring about three-quarters of an inch thick. Bones removed
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper, one-fourth of a teaspoon
1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon of lemon juice, fresh
1 tablespoon of melted unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

Step 1: Get the planks ready

Make sure there are no splinters in the planks before you start. See a few sharp sticklers around? Not to worry. Sand the wood with sandpaper until it is smooth.

Your planks are now ready for their soaking. The boards should be submerged in water for at least one hour, preferably three or four. Your planks will soak most effectively if you place them in a baking dish or sheet pan with a rim. To prevent them from floating, use a large can placed on top of the planks. To ensure they are equally wet, flip them from time to time.

Advice: To enhance the flavor of the water, consider adding wine or apple juice.

Step 2: Fire Up the Grill

The grill should be set up with one side for direct heat and the other for indirect heat (two-zone cooking). Use a chimney starter to get the coals hot and then contain your hot coals on one side of the grill with a charcoal basket. Above the coals is considered direct heat.

Step 3: Mix Ingredients

Mix the ingredients for the sauce in a small bowl. Put the salmon on a big cutting board with the skin side down. Cut the fish in half along its length, but don’t cut all the way through the skin. Then, cut the salmon crosswise to make six to eight pieces. Again, be careful not to cut through the skin. Spread the glaze evenly over the salmon, making sure some glaze goes into the cuts you’ve made. Salt and pepper should be used to taste.

Step 4: Grill the Fish

Clean the cooking grates with a brush. Put the wet plank directly over the coals and close the lid. When the plank starts to smoke and burn, after 5 to 10 minutes, flip it over. Put the salmon pieces on the plank with the skin side down. Close the lid and cook the salmon for 15 to 25 minutes, or until the outside is lightly browned and the middle is clear but still moist. Move the plank, with the salmon still on it, to a heat-safe surface with strong tongs or a spatula.

Advice: Charring the planks enhances the flavor of the dish with a smokey taste. If you want a slightly less smokey taste skip the burning step and start cooking with indirect heat instead.

Salmon can be served on the plank or in separate portions by dividing the flesh from the skin using a spatula.

What else can you Grill on a Cedar Plank?

You are only constrained by your creativity when it comes to what you can and cannot grill on a cedar plank. Broccoli and asparagus are excellent vegetable choices, and Steven Raichlen’s grilled eggplant parmigiana is one of my favorite more inventive foods to cook on a plank. Due to its capacity to take in smokey tastes, tofu also performs remarkably well.

Fish is the most popular food to barbecue on cedar planks, but you can use a plank to grill almost any protein or vegetable. Consider grilling some steaks, chicken, pork, tofu, or vegetables. Make sure that various meats are kept on separate planks. All varieties of vegetables can share a plank, but don’t let vegetables and meats mix.

Can You Reuse Cedar Planks?

Regarding the reuse of planks, experts have differing perspectives. Some suggest throwing away planks after each use. This is because of worries about food safety as well as flavor (the idea being that utilizing the plank more than once never quite compares to the first time).

Others claim that getting three uses out of a single plank is typical for them. I probably use each board more than 3 times on average. However, this reusing requires skill and expertise because it all comes down to regulating your fire temperature to bring just enough heat to start smoking the planks without igniting them or burning them too quickly to the point at which they become useable afterwards. Once more, it’s essential to read the label or instruction manual that comes with your product and adhere to its recommendations.

There are a few options for disposal when it comes time to throw away your planks. If you’re using a charcoal grill or have an outdoor fire going, you can just let them burn. If the wood is still in good enough condition, you can repurpose the planks into smaller wood pieces and use them as smoking chips instead of breaking them up and putting them in your compost bin.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) – Cedar Plank Grilling

As cedar plank grilling gains popularity among outdoor cooking enthusiasts, it’s natural to have questions about this unique and flavorful cooking technique. To help you embark on your cedar plank grilling adventures with confidence, we have compiled a list of frequently asked questions and provided detailed answers to address any uncertainties you may have. Whether you’re a seasoned griller or a beginner looking to try something new, this FAQ section will provide valuable insights and tips to enhance your cedar plank grilling experience. From preparation and cooking techniques to safety considerations and food options, we’ve got you covered. So, let’s dive into the frequently asked questions surrounding cedar plank grilling and unlock the secrets to achieving mouthwatering, smoky flavors right in your backyard.

What is cedar plank grilling?

Cedar plank grilling is a cooking technique where food, typically fish or other seafood, is placed on a pre-soaked cedar plank and cooked over direct heat on a grill. The cedar plank imparts a unique smoky flavor to the food, enhancing its taste and aroma.

How do I prepare cedar planks for grilling?

To prepare cedar planks for grilling, soak them in water for at least one hour before use. This helps prevent the wood from burning and creates steam, which adds moisture to the food. You can also add flavor by soaking the planks in wine, apple juice, or other liquids.

Can I reuse cedar planks?

Yes, you can reuse cedar planks if they are still in good condition after grilling. Simply clean the planks thoroughly with hot water and a brush to remove any food residue. Avoid using soap, as it can interfere with the plank’s flavor. Allow the planks to dry completely before storing them for future use.

What types of food can be cooked on cedar planks?

While cedar plank grilling is commonly associated with fish and seafood, you can also use it for other foods such as chicken, vegetables, or even cheese. The technique works best with delicate or lean meats that benefit from the additional moisture and flavor infusion.

Can I use cedar planks on a gas grill?

Yes, cedar planks can be used on a gas grill. Preheat your gas grill to medium-high heat and place the soaked cedar plank directly on the grates. Once the plank begins to smoke, you can place the food on top of it and cook as usual.

How long does it take to cook food on cedar planks?

The cooking time will vary depending on the thickness and type of food being cooked. As a general guideline, most fish fillets take around 15-20 minutes, while chicken breasts or vegetables may require 25-30 minutes. It’s essential to monitor the internal temperature of the food to ensure it reaches the desired level of doneness.

Can I use cedar planks in the oven?

Yes, you can use cedar planks in the oven. Soak the planks as usual, then preheat your oven to the desired temperature. Place the soaked cedar plank with the food directly on the oven rack or a baking sheet. Keep a close eye on the cooking process to prevent any potential flare-ups.

Are cedar planks safe to use for grilling?

When used correctly, cedar planks are safe for grilling. Soaking the planks in water before grilling helps prevent them from catching fire. However, it’s essential to follow proper grilling safety practices, including monitoring the grill, keeping a fire extinguisher nearby, and practicing safe handling of hot objects.

Where can I find cedar planks for grilling?

Cedar planks can be found in most well-stocked grocery stores, specialty food stores, or kitchenware retailers. You can also purchase them online from various sources. Make sure to choose planks specifically labeled for grilling or culinary use to ensure they are free from chemicals or treatments.

Can I use other types of wood for plank grilling?

While cedar is the most commonly used wood for plank grilling due to its natural aromatic properties, you can experiment with other hardwoods, such as oak, hickory, or maple. However, be cautious when using woods that have been treated or coated, as they may contain chemicals that can be harmful when heated.

Final Thoughts

It’s enjoyable and simple to add some diversity to your grilling by grilling on wood planks. It enhances the flavor of a range of fish, meats, and vegetables, and keeps delicate dishes from coming apart on the grill. They also make cleanup a breeze.

Have you ever tried grilling on planks of wood? What do you like to cook on planks the most? In the comment section below, please tell me everything. I want your feedback as I always like to experiment.

About Brian Hamilton

Brian Hamilton is a BBQ grilling enthusiast and has the expertise and knowledge to have created GoShindig.com. Brian specializes in all methods of grilling and bbq equipment and is a self-proclaimed backyard Pitmaster. Qualified at degree level he gained a BEng Degree in Engineering in the United Kingdom. Brian is a well-traveled and cultured individual and has lived and worked in several countries in Europe and has gained quite a reputation amongst peers for his skills and commitment on the grilling circuit.

Cedar Plank Grilling: Unlocking Smoky Flavors on the Grill

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