Plank Grilling Pointers, Tips and History
Planking probably began with Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest. They tied fish and game to Western Red Cedar and alder planks, then placed them around an open fire to cook over the indirect heat. Over the centuries, the practice of planking has moved from necessity to art, and now meats, poultry, vegetables, cheese, fruits, and even pizza can be cooked on a plank. See our blog on the History of Plank Grilling or read the Why and History of Plank Grilling below.
With thanks and inspiration from Robyn Medlin Lindars and the folks at fix.com, the GrillJunkie team is proud to provide a succulent yet mercifully brief History of Plank Grilling followed by some great Plank Grilling Pointers and Tips including how to Pick a Plank, Meat-to-Plank Matching and Plank Grilling Instructions.
First Up: The Why and History of Plank Grilling
In the early days, the catch was hung over open fires or tacked to big wood slabs and then slowly cooked, absorbing the natural flavors from the smoke. As the settlers became more civilized, huts and smokehouses were built to contain and intensify the smoke flavor. As these techniques advanced over the centuries and with the invention of the grill, plank cooking as we know it today was born. The earliest documented recipe for plank cooking appeared in the Boston Cooking School Cookbook in 1911 and was written by Fannie Farmer. This recipe featured planked chicken and duchess potatoes. Today, we have many spices, marinades and sauces to help flavor our foods, but back in the early days wood was the primary source to add flavor. With the evolution of modern smokers and grills, these original methods of smoking have slowly been displaced by easier, quicker techniques. Many traditionalists all over the world still cook over fire pits or in their own hand built smokehouses, but in slightly modified versions. The incredible smoky flavors of wood such as Western Red Cedar, Alder, Sugar Maple, Hickory, Mesquite and Oak from old wine barrels can be infused into your favorite foods as you grill or bake. We highly recommend western red cedar as our choice of wood for plank cooking. It can be used for all types of fish, beef, chicken, pork, even fruits and vegetables.
However, we encourage you to experiment and try other woods on your own. Try to stay away from woods that contain a lot of sap such as Pine. Use of this type of wood will not produce a desirable flavor and could be harmful to your health.
We hope that you will try plank cooking and that you will enjoy one of the most exciting cooking methods in the world. See for yourself why this technique of cooking has become one of the hottest methods of gourmet cooking. Take a look at our Grilled Salmon recipe using Fire & Flavor Cedar Grilling Planks!!
Today, chefs and home cooks alike prize the simple, straightforward style of plank roasting that adds complex flavors and moist texture to a range of foods. Plank cooking works because the porous wood surface absorbs moisture at room temperature and then releases the moisture and a smoky aroma to flavor foods as they’re slowly cooked in a hot oven or on a BBQ grill. As a result, plank-cooked foods are juicier, more flavorful and less susceptible to nutrient loss with a complex layering of flavors. An added benefit for health-conscious cooks: most recipes can be prepared using less fat or oil, sauces or liquid.
Plank Grilling – Wood to Food Matchup
Pick a Plank: The type of food and the type of flavor influences the best wood choice for the plank. However, all planks should be untreated wood. Also, avoid planks made from trees that have sap; the resulting taste will be bitter.
The six most popular wood types used for planks include:
Alder is best used with seafood. It produces a light sweet flavor that doesn’t overpower. Alder is similar to cedar.
Cedar is the most well known type of plank. Commonly used with salmon, cedar pairs well with almost all seafood.
Cherry has a mild, fruitlike flavor. It can be used with a variety of meat, including beef, pork, and poultry. Fruits and vegetables are also a good match for cherry.
Hickory produces one of the strongest smoky flavors. Poultry and beef are excellent choices to pair with hickory.
Maple has a sweet and subtle smoky flavor that’s not as powerful as hickory or oak. Pork and poultry are the best selections for a maple plank. A maple plank also enhances fruits such as peaches and cheese such as Brie.
Oak produces a medium, nutty, smoky flavor stronger than maple but not as powerful as hickory. Beef, pork, and poultry all benefit from oak planks.
After wood type, plank thickness is the second key factor in a successful plank-grilled meal. The shorter the time an item needs to be cooked, the thinner the plank.
- Pork Roasts, Prime Ribs & Whole Fish
- Cooking Time – 1 to 2 hours
- Plank Thickness – 1″+
- Pork Roasts, Prime Ribs & Whole Fish
- Chicken, Pork Chops, Steaks, Salmon & Tuna
- Plank Thickness – 3/4″
- Desserts, Fruits & Vegetables
- Cooking Time – 20 to 30 minutes
- Plank Thickness – 1/4″ to 1/2″
Plank Grilling – Preparation
Prepare the Plank: Before cooking with planks, you must soak them in water for at least 30 minutes. Soaking the planks eliminates the fire risk from using wood on the grill.
Prepare a grill for medium heat, with both direct and indirect cooking zones. There are differences related to Charcoal versus Gas when it comes setting up grilling zones when plank grilling. Create cooking zones on a charcoal grill by moving the charcoal to one side: the side with no charcoal is the indirect cooking side. On a gas grill, simply leave two burners off.
The planks are placed on the “indirect” side of the grill; the food roasts on the planks while absorbing the smoky flavor from the wood. Grilling time varies, based on the food.
Planking Practice Recipes: For the recipes below, prepare planks and grill as instructed above, then serve the finished food still on the plank.
Smoked Cheese: Place Brie or Camembert on a cedar plank and smoke for up to 20 minutes until the cheese begins to brown and melt. Add fresh herbs, nuts, dates, craisins, balsamic glaze, or other toppings as desired.
Cedar-Planked Salmon: Melt butter, mix in fresh dill, salt, and pepper, and brush over salmon. Grill at 350 degrees Fahrenheit on indirect heat until an internal-read thermometer reads 140 degrees. Grill lemons on direct heat until char marks form; serve with the salmon.
Alder-Smoked Shrimp: Drizzle shrimp with olive oil, salt, pepper, and a dash of cumin. Smoke for five minutes or until shrimp turns pink. Finish with fresh-squeezed lemon.
Maple-Planked Chicken: Make a seasoning paste of orange zest, oregano, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Rub this on chicken thighs. Cook on a plank until an internal-read thermometer reads 170 degrees.
Planked Flatbread Pizzas: Generously spray the plank with nonstick cooking spray and then dust with cornmeal so the dough does not stick. Use store-bought or homemade dough; roll out on plank. Grill the planked pizza dough until it begins to rise – about 5 minutes or so – and then add cheese and other toppings, perhaps including precooked meat. Grill pizza for another five minutes or until the cheese begins to melt and gets bubbly.
Planked Dessert Fruit: Drizzle stone fruit such as peaches with honey and cinnamon and grill until the fruit begins to caramelize. Serve with ice cream, if desired.
Reusing Planks: Planks can be reused two to four times. Since the flavor of the food may transfer to the plank, reuse planks with the same type of food. Do not use soap; scrub the planks with a brush and water, then let them air dry to prevent mold. Store them in an airtight container until the next use.
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