Plank grilling is a fantastic way to enhance your grilling skills! Wood planks provide a steady cooking surface that infuses food with a subtle smoky flavor. It’s also a great way to cook delicate, flaky fish without it falling apart on the grill.
Grilling fish can be tricky. Sure, grilling is easy, but a flaky fish fillet just doesn’t sit well on the standard grill grate. It goes on easily enough, but when it comes time to flip it, the whole fillet falls apart, and the fire ends up being the only thing to enjoy your investment. Many types of fish are just too delicate to grill under normal conditions, and that’s where wood planks come in handy.
Where did plank cooking come from?
The indigenous peoples of the American Northwest came up with the perfect solution for cooking the salmon that was so plentiful. They placed fresh fillets on thin cedar planks soaked in seawater and then placed the planks directly on the fire. The wood smoldered and smoked as the salmon cooked. This method re-emerged in the Northwest and, with the growth in popularity of outdoor cooking, has spread worldwide. Now, wood grilling planks can be found in most grocery stores.
What most people don’t realize is that you can do so much more with a plank than grill salmon.
While this grilling method is perfect for any delicate item like fish or seafood, it provides the perfect platform for small or delicate items that could fall apart on the grill. It is also an ideal method for indirect grilling. Foods roast over the heat, picking up wood flavors without being directly exposed to the flame. While it won’t produce grill marks, this method allows foods to cook evenly and safely.
Quick Tip: Always wash wood planks to remove any dust. Also, examine them for loose splinters that might get into foods.
How to select a plank for grilling.
As I said, grilling planks are widely available, and generally, there isn’t much difference between them. They are available in various wood “flavors” and sizes. Size is important. Ensure the plank is large enough to accommodate the food placed on it. The plank should be one-half to one inch larger on all sides. Food shouldn’t hang over the sides, or it will burn. As for the flavor of the wood, there are guidelines for matching wood with food, but the best recommendation is to use the wood you enjoy the most. I recommend experimenting to find the type that best suits the food. Don’t worry, though. The wood will not dramatically overpower the food being prepared.
Planks can be expensive when considering that they can only be used once. Spending five dollars a plank might seem high. It is best to buy them in packs of six to a dozen to reduce the per-unit cost. Of course, many people ask why they can’t just buy a board at a lumber yard. Most building-grade wood is treated to preserve its shape, color and to reduce wear over time. The chemicals used to treat this wood are toxic if ingested. It is possible to find untreated wood, however. If you can be certain that wood is raw and untreated, it can be used for plank grilling. It should be cut to shape and sanded smooth before use.
Quick Tip: Adding a tablespoon of vinegar and salt to the water the planks soak in is recommended. This will help to draw out their unique flavors and enhance the overall taste of your dish.
Preparing the Plank
Soak wood planks in water for at least one hour before using them. Ideally, it should be two to four hours. That allows the wood to absorb as much moisture as possible and keep it from catching fire on the grill. The risk of a plank catching fire is low, but the board can burn if the food contains an oil-based marinade or sauce and the wood is dry.
Once the plank is thoroughly soaked, remove it and pat dry with paper towels. Now the food can be placed on the plank, and the plank put on the preheated grill.
In most cases, the plank should sit directly over the fire, whether charcoal or gas. The plank can take the heat. The only instance where indirect grilling should be used with plank grilling is for low and slow roasting or smoking. For example, when grilling a large fillet of salmon, the direct cooking method is preferred. However, indirect is better if smoke-roasting the salmon for a prolonged time at 250 degrees F. This will allow the salmon to cook slowly, preventing the board from drying out and cracking.
Once the food has reached the desired level of doneness, remove the whole plank. It is best to use fire-safe gloves to do this. The bottom of the plank may be charred, so place the plank with the food on a sheet of aluminum foil so that it doesn’t leave ash and burnt wood on everything. Now it can be placed on a hot pad or trivet and served directly off the board. Planks make for a great presentation and are sure to impress the guests.