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How To Use Cedar Planks for Grilling The Perfect Fish

I admit I’ve always been leery of grilling salmon for two reasons – first is a potentially lethal fish allergy I have. Just touching the stuff gives me a rash. Breathing in the cooking fumes of it makes me cough. But second and more importantly is the fact that I never seem to get it right. No matter what I try it always ends up being an expensive mess. That’s why I really dig the idea of using cedar planks for grilling fish.

Why Cedar Planks
Cedar is known for being rather aromatic. The native inhabitants of the Pacific Northwest learned long ago that fish, the staple of their diet, cooked on cedar planks over the fire made the fish turn out moist and delicious with a wonderful smoky flavor to it. Although I am originally from this great region of the United States I had not heard of cedar plank grilling until recently.

But Why Cedar Planks, Not Other Wood?
Well, truth be told, cedar planks are the most popular now. Originally the Pacific Northwest tribes also used alder in addition to cedar, but I gotta tell ya – cedar smells much better. Nowadays people have tried and extol the virtues of oak plank grilling, mesquite plank grilling, maple plank gri… you get the picture. While each variety of wood will infuse the meat with their own unique flavor, cedar planks are pretty much on top right now. That, however, doesn’t mean you can or should only use cedar or you shouldn’t experiment. By all means – go wild!

How Do I Do It?
Well, how you don’t do it is get the cheapest cedar you can find and slap your fish on top of it. That’s a sure way to ruin good fish and maybe send you to the hospital. You’re going to need to find some cedar planks that do not have any chemicals or varnish or anything whatsoever. Safest way – cut down your own cedar tree or buy some planks from a store that is selling them specifically for grilling.

After you’ve got your planks, it’s a good idea to burn them first. Just put them over heat for a few minutes per side and then be done. They’ll be ready to go next time you cook.

Now for the actual grilling, there are a few steps you’re going to want to take.

  • First, soak your fancy new cedar planks in water a few hours before grilling. Some people like to add a bit (or a lot) of wine, sake, apple juice, berry juice, something citrusy – you get the picture. Just something to enhance the smokiness and flavor. Totally up to you.
  • Place salmon or other type of fish fillet skin side down on the plank. Make sure the plank has a bit of room around it for heat and air to flow.
  • Keep a spray bottle with water close at hand so you can squirt out any flames that arise should your lovely new cedar plank start to burn.
  • Keep the lid down as much as possible to enhance the smokiness. Don’t worry – you’re not going to be turning this.
  • 12 – 15 minutes or so is a good time to cook a fish fillet if the heat is medium.
  • Use any seasonings on the fish that you want when cooking. Lemon, pepper, salt – whatever you like.
  • Eat them as soon as they are done.

Pretty easy, actually.

What About the Planks?
Good thing about the cedar planks you use for grilling salmon – they can be reused as long as they aren’t charred and burnt to a crisp. Wash them like you would any other dish with soap and water and set them aside to dry. As long as they aren’t warped or cracked or charred to badly, then keep on using them. Once you start asking yourself “Does this look like it’s too far gone” the answer is probably yes and you’ll need to get yourself some new ones. Break and crumble up your old ones and mix them in with the coals to get some nice extra smokiness if you’re using charcoal.

Is Planking Only For Salmon and Fish?
Truthfully, no. Many people have experimented with beef, pork, and chicken and reported great success. Pretty much any kind of meat you want to use can be planked.

Good luck and let us know how it turns out.