Your Guide To Plank Grilling On The BBQ

cedar plank salmon

It’s a mistake to think that plank grilling is difficult. It’s equally wrong to associate it only with barbecuing salmon. Grillers all over the world use planks on the barbecue to cook potatoes, peaches, a variety of meats and even mac and cheese. Yes, people are even grilling rounds of brie cheese on wood planks, too.

Planking is actually an old technique used by Northwest Native Americans to cook meat over open flames but it’s trending in the world of barbecue right now for its ability to infuse smoky flavors into a variety of foods.

If you’re new to the world of plank grilling, we’ll show you how to get started.

What Kind of Wood?

Grilling Planks

First, only use untreated wood planks to avoid toxins entering the food. Treated wood, like what’s used in construction lumber, has chemicals and pesticides in it to prevent rot and pests. You truly could poison yourself and whoever else is eating the food by using treated planks so avoid at all costs.

Grilling planks usually come in 13″ x 7″ sizes but you can use whatever shape or size fits the dish you’re cooking. In fact, it’s better for the food to cover most of the plank’s area but not the end of the world if it doesn’t (less risk of the plank catching fire). There is a company called Afire makes oval-shaped planks with the bark left on them for beautiful presentation and a deeper flavor.

People do cut their own planks, too. If you do shoot for about an inch of thickness.

Taste is subjective so it might be worth picking up a variety of woods to see which you like best with favorite meat and vegetables. As wood is an important factor, we’ll give you rough guidelines here based on what kind of cooking each type is typically used for.

Cedar & Alder Grilling Planks for Mild Flavor

Western red cedar is the most commonly used wood plank as it tends to add a sweet, spicy and mild smoky flavor to fish and vegetables in particular. It’s good for delicate foods and really easy to find.

Take a look at how easy it is to grill a filet of salmon on a cedar plank. All that needs to be done is a light seasoning of salt and pepper on the fish before laying sliced lemon and dill on top. Then, cook for about 15 minutes per pound.

Some people prefer alder to cedar for mild foods but it’s less well-known. The reason is that alder gives off a stronger, smokier flavor that also has hints of vanilla. It takes a bit more effort to find alder (though there are plenty of online retailers) but it is definitely worth trying both woods to see which you prefer.

If you’d like to grill pizza, try it on an alder plank. We hear it’s fantastic.

Maple, Pecan, Cherry & Apple Grilling Planks for Medium Flavor

These woods tend to do best with meats like poultry and pork. Cherry and apple, as you might imagine, impart a sweeter flavor in addition to smoke so tend to pair well with fruit and vegetables.

Oak & Hickory Grilling Planks for Bolder Flavor

Oak and hickory are what you’ll want for beef and thicker cuts of meat. Hickory will produce the strongest smoky flavor. Oak is not quite as powerful but has a nutty flavor to it.

Before Plank Grilling

Grilling Plank

Wood burns so it’s imperative that you soak a plank for an hour in water before placing it on the grill. Make sure to place a weight on the plank to make sure it is completely submerged underwater. Consider adding a touch of flavor to the water, depending on your recipe. It’s common for grillers to add wine, juice, or even tea to the soaking mixture.

Season the plank by letting it sit on the heated grill alone for a few minutes on each side. This helps to prevent warping and gets the smoke flowing in order to intensify the flavor. If the plank starts to crackle, it’s ready.

It’s also a good idea to keep a spray bottle of water near the barbecue in case the wood happens to catch on fire. A quick spray of water is the easiest way to douse it. You want the smoke but not necessarily burning wood.

Be prepared to keep a steady eye on the grill in case the plank does catch on fire. It’s not a good idea to leave things unattended. But, don’t open the lid too often as the smoke is the entire reason for plank grilling. It’s a delicate balance, we realize.

After Plank Grilling

Planks can actually be reused about 2-3 times. As you might imagine, the wood may burn and lose its shape but as long as there is wood left, wash it with water and give it a little scrub to remove cooked on food and dry it in an oven (the heat helps to remove any bacteria before storing). Be sure to store the plank in a dry spot in between use. Then, re-soak it and re-use it.

Also, be sure to browse our tips for best grilling tools and how to clean your barbecue.

Plank Presentation

Grilled Salmon on a plank

Many people serve meat on the plank it was cooked on as an extra flourish. Or, if you have multiple planked dishes happening, go ahead and plate them all on the plank. It’s a great way to cut down on doing the dishes, especially if it’s the plank’s final use.

Can I Use Planks in the Oven

The answer is yes, actually. Soak the plank just like you would for outdoor use, place the food on top of the plank and slide it into the oven. Place a sheet pan on a rack underneath the plank in order to catch excess drippings and avoid unnecessary oven mess. The plank won’t smoke as much as it would on a grill, but it can still infuse a lovely smoke aroma into the food.

Your Turn…

What is your favorite type of grilling plank to use and what do you make on it?


Top photo credit: Flickr/wwworks