Cooking With Wood Planks

Cooking with wood planks is a "new" trend that actually has roots in Native American cooking. Learn how to pick a plank, and what you can cook on it.
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Food Stylist: Jamie Kimm Prop Stylist: Marina Malchin

Photo by: Jonny Valiant ©Jonny Valiant 2010

Jonny Valiant , Jonny Valiant 2010

Cedar and other wood-plank cooking is probably one of the oldest “new” food trends around. It’s a technique that was used by the Northwest Native Americans to roast fish, meats and fowl. Nowadays, adventurous chefs can choose between baking and barbeque planks in variety of woody flavors. Baking planks may be used again and again to impart subtle flavor while maintaining the natural juices in meats and vegetables alike. Barbeque planks also add truly unique flavor, combining the earthiness of the wood plank and the smokiness of the grill.

When choosing planks, pick only untreated cedar, alder, hickory or maple. Using treated wood may actually poison the food as well as the person enjoying it. Also remember that some woods are bolder than others— cedar is more aromatic and adds stronger woodsy flavor while alder is milder and sweeter, with a very subtle flavor. If you are baking with a cedar plank, be sure to keep temperatures at or below 425°.  For grilling, soak the plank for one to four hours in water, wine, or apple, citrus or berry juices. You could even use tea. This adds moisture to the wood along with complimentary flavors, which prevents the plank from burning on the grill or in the oven.

Lightly toasting the plank on both sides will intensify its smoky flavor and prevent warping. Season a plank being used for the first time by placing it on a preheated grill for 2 minutes, turning once to toast both sides. When the plank starts crackling, it's ready for cooking. Oil the cooking side to avoid sticking. Though salmon is commonly cooked on a wood plank you can also use meat, other fish or vegetables. It's a good idea to keep the lid closed as much as possible to stabilize temperatures and maximize smoke. It is recommended to sear meats and some vegetables prior to placing it on the plank to caramelize the outside and lock in the flavor.

When cooking on a plank, food does not have to be turned during grilling. Keep a spray bottle of water handy to tame any flames that start to burn the plank. While baking planks may last for years and countless uses, grilling planks have a life span of about two or three uses. As a general rule of thumb, if there's wood left, you can still use the plank.

Here are some recipes to try:

And check out this video of Bobby Flay teaching you to use wood planks for grilling.

What is favorite thing to grill or bake with wood planks?
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