Rick Browne, Ph.B.

Rick Browne’s Plankin’ It

Sara Bergthold General Leave a Comment

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First take the plank and soak it in hot water.  Try plankin’ without pre-soaking the wood and you’ll be doing another kind of cooking: incineration, as the planks ignite and burn up that $20 rib eye or $40 salmon.
Put your plank in a large tub and completely cover it with hot water. Since wood floats, you must weigh it down so it stays underwater. If possible, soak the plank for 5-6 hours to make sure it’s real soggy and well moistened. In an emergency you can soak a plank for as little as an hour, just be careful and check more often while it’s cooking to see that it doesn’t flame up.

Some people soak the plank in apple juice, beer, or other flavored liquid. I personally think that’s a waste and would rather drink the apple juice, beer or flavored liquid. (I like my martinis very dry!) I would hazard a somewhat educated guess that using any soak other than water does nothing to enhance the flavor of the food you’re cooking; in fact, if you’re using a sugary liquid like apple juice or an alcoholic beverage, the sugar or alcohol may catch fire easier than just plain wood itself.

When it has thoroughly soaked remove the plank from the water and brush the top surface (the one you’re going to put your food on) with olive or vegetable oil so food won’t stick.  This is especially important if you’re using one of the more expensive re-usable planks.

Have a very hot bed of coals or charcoal, or a gas grill with all burners on HIGH and pre-heat grill for 10-15 minutes so it’s hot. I actually think a gas grill is the best way, since the gas flames generate a continuous and constant high heat that will cook your food evenly. In charcoal or briquette fires there are often uneven hot or cold spots, which can over- or undercook foods.

Place food on the plank and sprinkle it with seasonings if you haven’t used a marinade or rub, and place the plank in the center of the grill. Close the lid and note the time.

Keep a bottle filled with water beside the grill in case the plank breaks into flames, although if you’ve soaked it properly and you’re not cooking something for a long time there should be no problem with the plank catching on fire.  Smoldering, yes, on fire, no!

As the plank heats up and the food begins to bake/broil in the hot grill, several things happen. First, the aromatic wood sends delightful aromas into the food, and anywhere within 1/2 mile of the grill. Cedar is particularly wonderful for this, and that’s why cedar plank salmon is probably the most popular plankin’ dish. The second thing is that the natural fats, oils and juices within the food begin to boil and self-baste it from within, creating tender, moist and very flavorful meat, fish or poultry.

In most cases you can go the entire time without lifting the lid to check the food and plank. In fact, this is highly recommended, as each time you lift the lid you lose precious minutes of cooking time. When you’re only cooking for short periods, this can cause havoc with your food.

The plank will eventually begin to smolder, and that’s okay. The wet wood should smoke a lot and that smoke, plus the fragrance of the wood itself, is what plankin’ is all about. But if you peek and flames are starting, douse the plank with your spray bottle of water. 

Cooking times vary, but the three recipes here—Cedar Plank Swordfish, Oregon Cedar Salmon and Cedar-Planked Sugar Cane Pork Tenderloin—come out wonderfully on a plank in about 30 minutes. The planked veggies take about 22 minutes.

In these days of hurry-up and bustle it’s nice to fall back on an ancient way of doing something. Pull up a chair, grab a book and “set a spell” on your deck or porch while the plank merrily does its job. It’ll be cracklin’, and charrin’ and smokin’ the way we learned from the first Native Americans, sending up 20th century smoke signals that’ll tell everyone—“Hey, we’re plankin’ again!”

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