Cooking on a cedar plank, or what some call “planking,” is far from a new trend. Years ago, Native American people in the Pacific Northwest regularly cooked their salmon with wooden boards. But just because it’s an old practice doesn’t make it any less delicious.
Grilling with a cedar plank will give your salmon (or other food, for that matter) an incredible smoky, woody flavor. Not only does the meat absorb surface flavors, it also soaks in the flavors of the smoke produced from the smoldering wood. You can test different woods and food items for all kinds of tasty combinations.
Prepping Your Plank
Be sure to use only food-grade wooden planks. You can find these at your grocery store or online. These cuts of wood aren’t treated with chemicals like you might find in wood from the lumber store, and they are sanded down to be smooth. Select a cedar plank that is large enough for the food you’re cooking; a typical plank is rectangular and about 13 x 7 inches.
Before you start cooking, completely soak the cedar in water for at least one hour. Doing so will prevent the wood from catching fire in the grill or oven, instead allowing it to smoke and smolder. Fill your sink a couple inches with warm water, submerge the plank, and place something heavy on top to keep it from floating to the surface. A cup or bowl full of water should be enough. You can use other liquids for soaking your plank as well, including cooking wine, beer, apple cider, and more.
If you want to get prepped ahead of time, you can soak the wood for a few hours and store it in a plastic bag in the freezer until it’s needed.
Cooking on a Plank
Brush the cedar plank with some olive oil and rub it down with salt when you’re ready to get cooking. Prepare your salmon according to the recipe you’ve chosen (you can use almost any recipe on a cedar plank). For a little extra flavor and moisture, try creating a bed of lemons and limes for your salmon to rest on.
While you want to keep the heat consistent in your grill, make sure you check your plank regularly throughout the cook. Have a spray bottle on hand full of water in case the wood starts to burn; spritz to extinguish any flames. All you want is a slow, smoky smolder from your cedar plank.
To prevent flame (and if you want to reuse your plank), you can cook with indirect heat. Do this by firing one burner on your grill, placing your salmon on the opposite side of the grates, and shutting the lid. You can also use an oven for the same effect. And of course, use a food thermometer to see when the thickest part of your salmon filet has reached at least 145° F.
Reusing a Plank
If your cedar plank wasn’t charred from direct heat, you can usually reuse it for another meal. However, you need to clean and sanitize the board between uses.
You can clean your plank by rinsing it with hot water and scraping off any bits of leftover food. Don’t use soap as it can get stuck in the pores of the wood and create an unpleasant flavor. For thorough sanitation, you can place the plank in the dishwasher for a cycle without soap. Just make sure it dries out completely before storing it for a long time—you don’t want a mold problem on your hands.
When the time comes to use that plank again, use the same soaking process, and you’ll enjoy another cookout of smoky, cedar flavors.