Chances are you’ve eaten in a restaurant with cedar planked grilled salmon as an entré. In fact, I would say it is impossible to peruse any grilling section within a big chain store or specialty cooking store without seeing cedar planks as an option for purchase right next to the tongs, forks and/or other grilling tools. However, planking food and cooking it over a wood fire is not just for salmon. The options are limitless for this unique way of flavoring and cooking food over a live fire.
Benefits of Planking
Planking food means to cook food by placing it directly on top of a flat piece of wood. This cooking technique most likely originated from Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest where it was common to slow cook salmon by pinning them directly to the surface of large flat pieces of red cedar. However, there are more reasons why this has become such a popular cooking method.
Cooks choose planking for 4 main reasons:
- Stable surface for delicate foods, eliminates the need to “turn” and crumble fish, fruit and/or vegetables
- Avoid dry out, since moistened wood will retain moisture throughout cook time, retaining moisture in the food item(s)
- Infuse smokey/wood flavor directly into the food item(s)
- Provides a unique serving platter from grill to table
Today we traditionally see cedar as the most popular type of wood for planking. However, planking is actually done on many types of wood, often specific to food type.
Cedar is Not the Only Option
As you’ve probably guessed, the main reason to cook food on a wood plank is to impart the wood flavor to the item being cooked. Just like smoking foods, certain types of woods provide a unique flavor to meats, cheeses, fruits and vegetables.
For meats, there are particular recommendations that will enhance and not overpower the natural flavor of the meat. Below is a list of preferred pairings:
- Fish/Shellfish – cedar or alder are suited for these delicate food items
- Chicken/Pork – maple, apple of pecan work well for these hardier meats which can take a stronger, medium flavored wood
- Beef, Lamb, Venison and other gamier meats – oak and hickory which provide a stronger/smokier flavor for these bolder tasting meats
When it comes to prepping and cooking with planks there are many techniques to consider too. It is important to note, there is no “correct” way to cook with a wood plank, it really comes down to personal preference. Planks can be bought or made, but only from untreated wood, free of any kind of chemical-based containment.
Prep and Mind the Flames
When planking food over a wood fired grill, it is important to prep the wood before exposing it to an open flame. Most cooks agree, a wood plank needs to be soaked for a minimum of 30 minutes before use. Water is the popular choice, but some cooks add even more flavor to the wood plank by soaking it in wine, fruit juices or herb infused water.
While cooking, some cooks prefer to allow the plank to char, while others prefer to keep the plank moist throughout the cooking process in order to reuse the plank at a later date.
When deciding to preserve the plank for use another time, it is important to minimize burning/charring the wood and never wash with soap. A good thorough rinse with plain hot water will sufficiently clean the wood for another meal. You can even use sandpaper to remove excess char if most of the plank is intact.
If the wood is too burned for another use, don’t throw it away! Add it to the fire the next time you cook. When burned in the fire, the wood flavor of the plank will still infuse cooking food, but in the form of smoke just like traditional cooking wood does.
Whatever and however you choose to try planking, get ready for a delicious meal infused with a unique, smokey flavor only wood can provide. Remember, planking is not just for salmon!
Premier Firewood Has You Covered for Your Wood Fired Cooking Needs
Whatever food you plan to plank, be sure to use the cleanest, most efficient firewood, kiln dried firewood. Order online or call us at 203-866-4252 today. Connecticut and New York homeowners can kick back and relax as we do the stacking for you.