Plank Grilling

January 20, 2020
By Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet

Cooking meats on a wooden board is an old tradition. Some believe it originated with the Native American tribes of the Pacific Northwest. Others believe the practice originated in Scandinavia. For the backyard chef, it matters little who was the first to cook meat on a plank. The important thing is to enjoy the unique process, the impressive presentation and the wood-infused flavor. Plank grilling is easy, and it can be a nice change of pace.

The Basics of Plank Grilling

There are three important rules to plank grilling. Follow all three, and you should have successful results.

  1. Soak the planks in water for at least an hour before cooking. Thicker boards need more time.
  2. Do your cooking in the indirect zone of the grill. The planks should be next to the fire; not over the fire.
  3. Keep the temperature below 500°F. Once the wood becomes dry from the heat of the grill, it is more likely to combust. Most wood will combust somewhere around 450°F. Keeping the temperature below 500°F should greatly reduce the chances of your plank (and your food) catching on fire.

Cedar is the most popular wood species for plank grilling, but we encourage you to try other varieties, especially hardwoods like alder, oak, hickory and maple. Each will infuse your food with its own, distinct perfume and flavor.

The Benefits of Plank Grilling

Any meat or vegetable that can be roasted, can be roasted on a plank. Plank grilling will add a delicious earthy wood flavor to your food, as well as moisture. The water in the soaked planks is released as flavorful steam, resulting in moist, succulent food.

Where to get Your Planks for Grilling

A great place to purchase wood for plank grilling is at a hardwoods store that serves carpenters. As long as the wood is clean, untreated and one of the species mentioned above, it should be safe to cook on. We like to use thick planks because they are less likely to catch fire while cooking. They are also less likely to warp. Purchasing your planks at a hardwoods store has two main benefits: they cost less than pre-processed and packaged grilling planks; and you can choose any size and thickness you desire. Most stores will gladly cut a long board into smaller pieces for you. A typical charge for this service is $0.25 per cut.

What to Grill on a Plank

You’ve probably already tried cedar-planked salmon at least once. You can get the same great results with a cedar-planked whole trout. Try stuffing it with herbs for even more flavor. You can also grill hamburgers, steaks, chicken, lamb and vegetables on a plank. Oak-planked mushrooms are particularly good, as are zucchini and onions.

Here are some plank-grilled recipes from our own Kalamazoo grillmaster:

Step-by-step Instructions

  1. Soak your chosen planks for at least one hour.
  2. For gas grilling, preheat the entire grill, then turn off the burners for the indirect grilling zone.  For charcoal grilling, bank the fire to one side of the grill (and use our premium Kalamazoo Quebracho Charcoal for best results). We suggest mixing chunks of wood of the same species as the plank (only if hardwood, do not do this with cedar) into the charcoal for even more flavor.
  3. Place the plank on the grill above the fire for about a minute to heat the plank. Then flip the plank over and place it in the indirect zone so the preheated side faces upward. Place the food on the plank and close the grill.
  4. Rotate and reposition your planks as often as you need for even cooking. For some foods, like steak, you may want to flip the food on the plank halfway through cooking. As mentioned, keep the air temperature inside the grill below 500°F to reduce the risk of your planks catching on fire.
  5. Keep a spray bottle handy filled with clean water. Use this to douse the flames if your planks do catch on fire.
  6. After use, a plank can be cleaned and used again. Rinse well with water, and then put the plank back into a hot grill for at least 10 minutes to kill any bacteria. It is recommended that a plank used to grill fish should only be reused to cook more fish.

Additional Tips

Because plank grilling produces so much moisture, you may want to sear or brown meats on both sides before placing them on the plank to cook through. You can also pull food off the plank at the end of cooking to brown it over the fire.

It can be fun to prepare an entire meal on planks, with vegetables on the same plank as the protein. Cut up vegetables will likely require less roasting time than a big piece of meat. We suggest adding the vegetables part way through the cooking process so the entire board of food is finished cooking at the same time.

You can also add herbs on top of the plank to create more complex flavors. You can even experiment with soaking planks in herbal tea or beer instead of water.