Foodal’s Guide to Grilling With Planks

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If you’ve been to a seafood restaurant, you’ve likely seen “Cedar Plank Grilled Salmon” or something similar on the menu.

Plank that has raw salmon with dill leaves on top placed on a cedar plank which is sitting on a BBQ grill

Dishes prepared on a plank, which can be made from essentially any variety of wood, pick up natural flavors from the wood and impart smoky and earthy flavors into the food prepared on them.

Although this method of cooking is almost always done on a charcoal BBQ grill or over an open fire, you can find planks that can be used in a home oven.

Although seafood is most commonly used for this cooking method (we’ve got a recipe for salmon in our “Seafoods of the West Coast” article), it’s great for all kinds of protein, even veggies and countless other foods.

Anything that can be cooked on the grill can benefit from being cooked on a wooden slab to give food even more flavor. This grilling method also gives even heat distribution, as the wood works like a heat conductor.

Varieties of Planks

All planks should be some variety of untreated wood. If you’re not using something that was explicitly sold to you for grilling, make sure to check that it really is untreated.

You don’t want chemical-tainted varnish flavors wrecking your maple-glazed salmon. If there’s a pesky tree in your front yard that needs to come down or you’re chopping some firewood, you could absolutely cut a one yourself.

You can essentially use any type of wood when selecting a plank. Since the primary benefit of grilling with one is the added layer of flavor they impart into food, you should look for a type of wood that has a distinct and appetizing smell.

Common choices include cedar, maple, alder, hickory, and mesquite, along with several others.

Typically, the boards are cut down to 13×7-inch rectangles that are usually about a half-inch thick, but you can find them in a variety of shapes and sizes to suit your needs.

When choosing, consider what food you’re going to be grilling on and fit it best to size, leaving yourself a little room. Keep in mind that the board itself can make a fun and beautiful alternative to a plate.

8 Western Cedar LONG Grilling Planks available on Amazon

We recommend this 8 Pack of Organic Western Red Cedar Planks. At 1/2 inch thick, they last longer and their smooth texture allows for better contact with the food than many other brands.

Rather than doing an entire fillet of fish on one large one, try doing smaller cuts on individual-sized planks. Just let it cool a bit after grilling and pass it right on to your guests! They can also make gorgeous platters. Brie cheese and bread can be warmed right on the plank, then just add a little fruit and nuts and you have the perfect appetizer.

How to Grill with a Plank

Before you head to the grill with that perfect piece of cedar, there are some steps you need to take to make sure your food is prepared correctly and the wood doesn’t burn to a crisp.

Start by rinsing the wooden slab well and scrubbing it with a sponge to remove any foreign bodies. Do not use soap to clean it, otherwise the pork chop you plan to grill will have some sudsy undertones.

Pln with salmon with onions, herbs, and spices placed on top. Plank is setting on grill.

Next, soak it for at least a half hour, but the longer the soaking time, the better. In fact, you may even consider soaking it over night before use. Typically, they’re just soaked in water, but there are some really fun ways to take advantage of how absorbent wood is and impart more flavors into your food.

Consider using a vinegar, like apple cider or red wine vinegar; adding citrus or berries to the water, like lime juice or crushed blueberries; or even soaking in a wine or liquor-spiked water.

To shake up the traditional cedar-planked salmon, water and lemon juice or white wine soaking liquid would be wonderful. Beef and red wine go particularly well together, but are usually only paired in dishes like stews or pot roasts.

Grilling beef kebabs on a red wine-soaked hickory would give the dish some serious richness without needing a sauce.

Preheating the wood is not necessary, although it will speed up the cooking process. If you do decide to preheat it, place it on the grill when preheating the grill and leave it for about ten minutes.

Make sure to be careful when assembling food on the hot board.

plank with grilled kabob and bed of lettuce

The standard method for grilling on top of wood uses indirect heat. Heat one side of your grill and cook the food on the other side of the grill. The more time your food has to cook, the more flavor it’s going to pick up from the wood.

For meat that doesn’t need to be on the rarer side, cook over medium heat to extend the cooking process a little further.

If you do plan to cook good steaks or meat like lamb, try searing them in a cast iron skillet before grilling. These cuts of meat do best with a crust and you won’t be able to achieve that on wood.

To give your food an especially smoky flavor, char the wood over direct high heat a bit then assemble the food on the charred side.

This is a great way to cook ribs and other dishes that are best cooked low and slow. When grilling, keep a squirt bottle nearby so you can easily put out small fires that may start without destroying your meal.

Although less conventional, you can also use your plank in the oven or even in the crockpot. It won’t smoke like it does on the grill, but you’ll still get all the wonderful wood flavors.

Make sure that you’ve thoroughly soaked the board, set it on a baking sheet, and roast food on top of it as you normally would. A roasted spatchcocked chicken is an excellent way to use a plank in the oven.

What to Grill with a Plank

When deciding what you’re going to grill, consider what type of wood you’re working with. Poultry is best grilled on medium-scented woods, like alder, apple, birch, beechnut, cedar, maple, oak, and pecan.

Pork and poultry can be grilled on most of the same woods, but pork is especially good on apple, cherry, and hickory. Fish should be grilled on more gently scented woods, like alder, beechnut, cedar, oak, and pecan.

For beef, look for something that will impart strong flavors, like hickory, mesquite, and walnut.

Variety pack of mixed wood planks available on Amazon

This variety pack includes a mixture of Cedar, Alder, Hickory, Cherry, Maple, and Red Oak and allows you to try various flavors of wood. At 1/2 inch thick, these should also allow for multiple uses.

If you’re soaking in something other than water, really let the natural flavors and soaking liquid do the talking. Don’t overwhelm the meat with too much seasoning or you’ll have trouble picking up on the subtly of the wood’s flavors.

If you’re using a wood that has a strong flavor, play to its strengths. For example, a smoked paprika would be great for pork grilled on hickory.

Wood planked prepared salmon | Foodal.com

It’s easy to limit your plank to just meat, fish, and poultry, but there is so much more that can be prepared on it! Take advantage of the grill for preparing appetizers when your oven is already on double-duty preparing the main course.

Think grill-smoked cheeses, charred peaches, and roasted garlic.

You can even do veggies, either alongside the meat (just make sure they aren’t touching) or all on their own. Don’t stop there, though: you can create an entirely planked meal and even grill your dessert!

Pies, like apple and pumpkin, are perfect for the grill, or you can keep it simple with grilled fruit and homemade ice cream.

Maintaining the Wood

Many consider planks to be disposable, but there’s no reason you can’t reuse yours if there’s still uncharred board left to use and you care for it properly.

Each time you cook with it, the wood will pick up the flavors from the soaking liquid and the dish you cooked on it. Think of it like seasoning a cast iron skillet.

After you’re done grilling, scrub it with a rough sponge and hot water. Again, don’t use soap, or you’ll be imparting some not-so-tasty flavors into the wood. Let it dry completely in open air after washing.

If the wood gets scorched or discolored in spots, sand the damaged area until it’s removed. If the spot is really bad, you may need to sand the whole board to make it even again. This can take a lot of elbow grease and time, but you can save yourself the trouble by thoroughly soaking before using it.

Although your board is made sanitary between uses by cooking it over high heat, if you’re concerned about cooking fish on it one day and beef on it the next, get a few different planks and designate them for different meat and vegetables.

Once your plank is finally completely charred, don’t throw it away! Crumble it up and top it over coals and you’ve got great smoking chips.

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About Chelsea Miller

Chelsea Miller, born and raised in Portland, Oregon, graduated from the University of Oregon where she discovered both her love of football and cooking great food. She's the founder of the food blog "A Duck's Oven" and began writing for Foodal in 2014.

26 thoughts on “Foodal’s Guide to Grilling With Planks

  1. I have never tried grilling with a plank but lately I’ve been noticing cedar plank salmon for sale at my grocery store. I was wondering what that was about. I’d like to try it out on my own. Thank you for these tips! I’m going to experiment soaking it in different liquids. I’m excited to try something new and spice up my grilled fish routine.

  2. Wow, you make grilling look more elegant than it usually is. There are several things to remember just so you don’t burn the wood or the meat you’re trying to grill. Overall, the tips provided are practical and I’m definitely going to attempt this method and have a fun lawn party at the back of our house. Thanks for the lovely article.

    • I tried this tonight and it worked wonderfully. If anything I think grilling on a plank is more forgiving. The heat is less direct so you can easily tell when the fish is done and ready to come off the grill. I highly suggest it. Good luck!

  3. I think I might look into buying one of these planks as well. I like the idea that the wood works as a heat conductor and it doesn’t seem to let the heat through as strong. I love grilling chicken, fish, and beef on my grill and I think this could be a great idea. I’ve always ordered dishes that are “wood grilled” but never have done it myself. I really am looking forward to trying this out.

  4. Whenever I saw “cedar-grilled” anything on menus I assumed that it meant that the meat was grilled over a fire made from cedar but I now stand corrected. This sounds like it would taste wonderful and I’m particularly intrigued by wood grilled cheeses.

  5. Would you recommend a cedar plank as a good all-around starter for different types of meat like chicken, fish and beef? Alternatively, should I be maintaining separate planks for different types of meat?

    Are there any issues with cross contamination if there isn’t any soap being used for cleaning? I assume the heat from cooking will take care of most things, but I’m just not 100% confident that it’d catch absolutely everything, especially for some dishes where the meat may not be fully cooked all the way through.

  6. Would you recommend a cedar plank as a good all-around starter for different types of meat like chicken, fish and beef? Alternatively, should I be maintaining separate planks for different types of meat?

    Are there any issues with cross contamination if there isn’t any soap being used for cleaning? I assume the heat from cooking will take care of most things, but I’m just not 100% confident that it’d catch absolutely everything, especially for some dishes where the meat may not be fully cooked all the way through.

  7. Great tips!!! I’ve never cooked meat or fish that way. But it certainly sounds really interesting. I definitely have to give it a try.

    I just want to add one more tip… For those of you worried about sanitation, research using vinegar as an alternative natural cleanser. Many people use vinegar to clean their home. So, you could soak your board in vinegar overnight for cleansing as well as for extra flavor. Lemon juice and vodka are other well-known natural cleansers.

  8. I’ll definitely give this a try…hoping it won’t backfire on me, am not a 100% fish liking person hence the fear that i might not give it the zeal it requires but as i have said, i’ll give it a try; to try is better than not to attempt at all 😉

  9. I am so not a seafood eater but my husband loves it. This summer I made him cedar planked fish for the first time and just about died. I am going to try to incorporate some of your ideas in my next batch for him. He never complained about mine but some of the things your did sound so good. I can’t wait 🙂

  10. I want to learn to do this. When I eat foods grilled on planks at restaurants I love it. Something extra special about the flavor. Thanks.

  11. Oh, so this is how my uncle does it! I remember when I was a child we used to go to my uncle every day a week for dinner, and he would make us this type of salmon and I absolutely loved it! Paycheck comes and hope I’ll be able to reproduce what my uncle did! Thanks a bunch for the article!

  12. I have never heard of cooking on a plank before! I’m an opus to try this. I think mesquite sounds the best. And I’ll probably take a piece from my yard. Thank you for this info! With my issues cooking fish this is something I can’t wait to try

  13. What an interesting and comprehensive article! I had heard of cooking with planks, but I’ve never tried it. I love the idea of infusing the plank with spices, fruits, etc., that sounds like a great way to flavor your food without overpowering it. The most I’ve done so far, is adding some chips to my fire, and using products like mesquite or hickory charcoal briquets, but this sounds much more hands on and interesting, in my opinion.

  14. I had recently purchased some planks at Costco to cook Salmon on. I have been kind of intimidated by them so on the counter that have sat for the last few weeks. I am really glad I stumbled upon this blog. I had no idea you shouldn’t wash them with soapy water after each use. I also didn’t realize they are just planks of untreated wood. I am pinning this and also sending the link to my husband, the grill master. I will be trying the planks out soon! Thanks so much.

  15. I’ve never heard of plank fried anything before. It looks absolutely gorgeous though! How many times can you get usage from each slab of wood?

  16. I haven’t heard of plank grilling either and I think that I’ll have to try it out now!! It makes for good pictures too 😉 And I second Yosh’s question, how many times can you get usage from each slab? It’d be nice to use one plank a few times, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a one-use thing. I am excited to try this out, I think a red-wine soaked cedar slab and beef kabobs sounds like paradise.

  17. Thanks for the great information! I’ve had planked meats at various restaurants before, and I’ve also seen it done on cooking shows. Though, I’ve never had the courage to try it myself. I would’ve never thought to add any other flavors to the overnight water soaking process. My family is grilling a lot right now through the Summer months. I’m hoping we can try this at least once!

  18. I absolutely love this style. Salmon grilled on applewood is one of my favorite things in the world. I admit, I wasn’t entirely sure on the maintenance of the slabs. I honestly just threw them out most of the time. Comparing them to cast iron made it click. Thanks for the tips!

  19. Is the general rule the thicker the board the more uses it has? In our family the planks were generally used once and then tossed but I never considered this. Also we found that we always had to soak them for at least an hour to make sure it wouldn’t catch on fire. (We’ve made this mistake too many times). But thank you for the article! I’ll definitely be buying ours from who you recommend now! I also didn’t know about cooking veggies on them. Thanks for the tip.

  20. This is so fascinating and fancy. Why have I never heard on cooking on a plank before? I like the idea of using it as wood chips in the grill instead of throwing it away. I bet this must save a few bucks having to buy both wood chips for the grill and planks. I would like to find a place that makes something like salmon on a plank.

  21. I always order salmon when I go to restaurants. While I cook it at home in the oven sometimes it never comes out as good as when someone’s else cooks it. I’ve seen wooden plants in cooking stores before but never paid much attention to them as I thought they were difficult to use. This article actually clears a lot of my questions up. It’s also making me want to try grilling seafood using a plank.

  22. Thank you so much for this article! I’ve been meaning to try grilling this for a while now, and now I have a good recipe to go by! It always confused me how people could just put a plank of wood in the oven and not worry about it catching fire. I can see the reason why now, you have to soak it. I always thought you just put the food on top, stick it in the oven, then the wood starts to smoke and that’s what imparts the flavor. I was like “but how do they keep it smoking just enough to not catch fire?”. I feel like a total idiot now.

  23. Yes I have…huge seafood eater here. I have eaten plenty of swordfish and wondered how they got the woodsy taste..it was a mystery. I was introduced to this type of grilling when I went on my vacation couple years ago in Florida..not sure if they used a plank of wood or not but it was so delicious. Never thought to try and duplicate at home on my grill. My husband is the grill master in my household…so maybe he would wan to try. He loved the taste so much, and to think we can make it at home. Thanks for the tip on the meats that do better with a crust.

  24. This is awesome. I so want to do this now and am wondering if cooking planks are sold everywhere or just in certain stores? I’m glad the article gave complete directions on how to use them and what to do if they get scorched as those were questions I had. I also like the fact that these boards aren’t coated with anything and you can basically go out and cut one of your own. Sounds like a fun project that I could easily do myself, so I will be out there looking around for the perfect slab of wood.

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