Our summer temperatures started before summer officially arrived this year. You know what that means? Get out of the kitchen and grill! While many of us feel pinched for time, we know we should also be eating heart-healthy. Here’s an easy solution – cedar plank grilling.
Get started. Purchase cedar grilling planks at your local grocery, hardware and specialty food or kitchen store. Of course, you can always shop online. Another option is your local lumber yard, where you can purchase cedar (preferably Western red cedar), or alder, oak, maple, cherry or apple wood. Be certain to purchase untreated wood to avoid chemical contamination of food. (Remember that most people who shop at the lumber yard are trying to build something with the wood they buy instead of cook on it.) Cut the wood into planks 1 inch thick and long, and wide enough to hold the food you’re planning to grill.
Pre-soak. The first step is to pre-soak the plank from several hours up to overnight. Place the wood plank in a clean kitchen sink and weight it down with a soup can or other heavy object to submerge it completely under water. For a different flavor, you can add white wine, beer, apple cider, fruit juice or fresh herbs to the water, which will impart a delicious flavor to your cooked fish. Soaking the plank adds moisture to the wood to help it resist burning while it’s on the grill. If the soaking liquid is hot, it will shorten the soaking time.
Ready to cook. Dry off the plank and lightly coat the top surface with oil. At this point, you can rub in herbs, garlic or flavored oil. Place the fish on the prepared plank skin-side down. Add your preferred spices or rubs over the top of the fish. Fruit slices or vegetables sprinkled around the fish will help retain moisture and enhance the flavor as well.
Start grilling. Place the plank with the fish on the preheated grill at a temperature between 350 F to 450 F. Close the lid. At this temperature, the grilling plank should give off light to medium smoke within a few minutes. One of the things that make this process so easy is that you don’t need to turn the fish over – but resist the urge to peek! Keeping the lid closed retains the smoke and heat and is responsible for infusing that smoky flavor.
Smoldering vs. flames. Certainly you’ll need to check the fish for doneness, but limit that to no more often than every 5 minutes. Keep a spray bottle of water close at hand in the event you experience a flare-up when you raise the lid. It’s undesirable for the plank to flame excessively, but smoldering is what gives the fish that unique smoky flavor.
Charcoal vs. gas. Either a gas or charcoal grill can be used; however, the outcome is different. Higher temperatures create more smoke and more flavor. If the plank chars to the point of blistering, the life of your plank is limited to only one or two uses. At that point, crumble the plank into the coals of a charcoal grill to be reused as seasoned smoking chips. On outdoor gas grills, the heat is more easily controlled, and planks tend to last longer.
Finale. When the fish is done and ready to be served, consider bringing the plank to the table. Making an entrance with the sizzling, smoking fish makes quite an impression! Don’t forget to use heat-safe gloves and protect the surface of the table.
by Shirley Perryman, MS, RD, Food Science and Human Nutrition Specialist, Colorado State University, Cooperative Extension