Cooking food outdoors over an open flame is the oldest form of food preparation
known to man. The caveman was using fire out of necessity, but he created one of the
most enjoyable and satisfying methods of cooking today. Lacking electric ovens and
fancy pans, our ancestors had to make do with cooking equipment found in their
environment and plank cooking was born.
A simple and versatile form of grilling, it imparts a unique smoky quality to
foods. Not only does it add great flavor, it simultaneously “bakes” and “grills” while
maintaining the moistness of the food. You need only a soaked wooden plank and a hot
fire to infuse your grilled favorites with wonderful aromatic flavors.
We love enjoying the taste of the great outdoors right in our own backyard and we
purchase cedar planks—untreated cedar planks— by the gross from the local lumberyard.
(Shingles for sale in the lumberyard may be chemically treated for fire retardation and
repelling insects. Be very clear you’re using the wood planks for food preparation and not
for repairing a roof.) There are grilling planks on the market now that are easy to use,
conveniently packaged, and sized to fit a standard grill. You’ll just pay a little more for
them in the long run as these planks are not designed to be re-used or recycled. Ideally,
the plank should measure about a half inch thick, about six inches wide and twelve inches
long. And you must soak.
Why soak? If you’ve ever attempted to start a fire with damp wood you know it
smokes beautifully. That smoke may not be ideal for your living room, but it is exactly
what we’re after when plank cooking. It adds tremendous flavor and aroma to the food.
You’ll want to soak the wood planks for an hour or so in cold water or some other
flavorful liquid. The absorption of liquid helps prevent the wood from igniting and it
creates the smoky flavor we’re looking for. Simply place a plank on a hot grill and heat
until one side is browned. Turn the plank over and position the food on the charred plank.
Not only will the flavor be more intense, you will have created the ideal atmosphere for
smoking foods. Reduce the temperature of your grill to medium when cooking the food
and be sure to cover to maintain that smoky environment.
Although fish is the original plank-cooked food, just about anything can be
cooked in this manner. A favorite appetizer is Plank-Baked Brie with Mango Chutney.
Simply prepare your plank for cooking on a grill. On the browned side, place a four-inch
wheel of brie and reduce the heat to medium. Lower the grill cover and bake until the
cheese is very soft but not melted, approximately five minutes. Remove the plank from
the grill and place the plank with the cheese on a decorative serving dish. Place a ramekin
filled with a prepared mango chutney on the plank and serve with toasted bread rounds.
To make it even more delicious, quickly grill a few fresh peach halves until very soft and
add to the plank. It is an oh, so memorable way to enjoy the unique flavor of a rich Brie
oozing with a hint of sweet fruit and a touch of smoke.