2014-11-28 Satay from Thailand 04

Different Barbecue recipes

For all that I've grilled (150-plus recipes and counting), there's always plenty of uncharted territory. One of those areas: planking. There aren't usually many planking recipes in cookbooks, save the ubiquitous planked salmon.

It wasn't until I started seeing Mike Lang over at Another Pint Please plank everything from pork to vegetables to cheese, that my interest in this grilling technique perked. Mike referenced the unassuming as a handy guide. Between that book and Mike's blog, I've finally found my footing in the world of planking, and am loving the results.

So What Is Planking?

Put simply, planking is cooking food directly on a piece of hardwood. When cooking this way, the surface of the food touching the wood picks up some of the plank's natural flavors. Although there's some debate on the origins of planking, it's been documented that Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest pinned their salmon to large wood boards, then slow cooked them—planking.

Since then, the method has been carried down and modified for the home cook, with the grill being primary means of planking, but also adapted for use in the oven as well. (Planks for the oven are usually thicker, larger, and more expensive then those made for the grill.)

Choosing a Plank

Coming in an array of shapes and sizes, the first thing to consider is to pick out a plank best suited for what's being cooked on it. The most common size is a rectangle roughly 13 x 7 inches, which tends to be pretty all-purpose, but squares, ovals, and individual serving sizes are also available for matching plank to food.

If you can't find what you're looking for, or want to save a few bucks, cutting your own planks is an option. Just be sure to use an untreated hardwood and give it a good sanding before using to avoid those nasty splinters. Personally, I've been loving the natural look of the planks Afire provided me, which are cut on the bias with the bark still attached and give an extra boost to the presentation factor of the plank.

Size is just one important factor to consider, with type of wood weighing in pretty equally. Since some of the essence of the wood will be transferred to the food being planked, it's good to know the depth of flavor each wood carries and choose one that might best complement the flavor of the food.

  • Fish: For delicate foods, like many fish, the more gentle flavors of woods like cedar and alder are a good match.
  • Chicken or pork: Take a step up to heartier meats like chicken and pork, and medium woods like maple, apple, and pecan will leave more of an impression without being overpowering.
  • Beef or gamier meats: You can bump up the wood flavor even more to heavier-handed options such as oak and hickory.

Each wood is unique, so it's worth picking up a variety and playing around to see how each imparts a different flavor. Taste here can be incredibly subjective.

Preparing a Plank

Plank preparation is key: It must be soaked in water for at least 30 minutes prior to grilling to avoid over-charring or catching fire. Rimmed sheet pans are perfect for soaking planks—just place a plank in the pan, add enough water to completely cover it, then weigh the plank down to keep it submerged (try using a medium-sized pot for this). I prefer to soak my planks for a minimum of an hour, flipping halfway through to ensure they're evenly and thoroughly soaked.

I've read using other liquids to soak the plank—like apple juice or wine—add both a little flavor and aroma to the food being cooked on the plank.

Grilling with a Plank

Although there are many ways to grill with planks, so far, I've only found use for two methods. The most common is a complete indirect cooking.

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