Plank It!

If you think you’re an expert at the grill and you have mastered every technique, it’s time to try planking! Put simply, planking is cooking food directly on a piece of hardwood. When cooked this way, 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!

Salmon is a commonly planked food but in actuality any food cooked on a grill can be planked, from fish to chicken to beef to vegetables.

Grilling planks are cut from a variety of trees. Some, like oak or hickory, have strong flavors and are best used with beef. Others, such as maple, apple and pecan wood are a bit milder and lend themselves to chicken. For delicate foods, like fish, the more gentle flavors of woods like cedar and alder are a good match. Each wood has its own uniqueness, 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.

Plank preparation is very important to achieving smoky but not burnt flavor. Planks 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). It’s best to soak planks for a minimum of an hour, flipping halfway through to ensure they’re evenly and thoroughly soaked. Some experts suggest using other liquids to soak the plank — like apple juice or wine — as they add both extra flavor and aroma to the food being cooked on the plank.

The simplest method for grilling on a plank is to prepare a two-zone cooking area — one hotter than the other. Place the plank over the hot side of the grill. Let it go until it just starts to smoke, then flip the plank, place the food on the charred side, and move it to the cool side of the grill, cover, and cook. Starting on a scorched and smoking plank gives a deep wood flavor.

As long as the plank hasn’t been charred through and through, you can reuse it. To clean a plank, start by scrubbing it down with water and a scouring pad without soap — you don’t want soap soaking into the plank and staying there. If there’s some excess food that just won’t dislodge, then you can use some sandpaper to rub it off until the plank is clean. Let it completely dry out before storing it away to prevent molding.

Once the food is done, either remove the whole plank with a pair of grilling mitts or slide the food onto a platter using a spatula.

Glazed Chicken Thighs

For the glaze:

¾ cup soy sauce

½ cup balsamic vinegar

½ cup packed brown sugar

1 tablespoon crushed garlic

1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

¼ cup toasted sesame oil


10 skinless chicken thighs (with bone), each 5 to 6 ounces


Soak the cedar plank in water for at least 1 hour.

In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, combine the soy sauce, vinegar and sugar. Cook until reduced by half, about 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the garlic, ginger, and red pepper flakes. Cool slightly and then whisk in the oil. Reserve ½ cup of the glaze for basting the chicken.

Put the thighs in a large bowl or zip-lock bag, pour in the glaze, and toss to coat. Refrigerate until you are ready to grill.

Prepare the grill for direct and indirect cooking on medium and low heat. Place the soaked plank over direct medium heat and close the lid. After 5 to 10 minutes, when the plank begins to smoke and char, turn the plank over.

Remove the thighs from the bowl and discard the glaze. Arrange the thighs on the smoking plank and cook over direct medium heat, with the lid closed, for 5 to 10 minutes. Then move the plank over indirect medium heat and continue cooking, with the lid closed, until the juices run clear, 20 to 30 minutes, basting occasionally with the reserved glaze during the last 10 to 15 minutes of grilling time. Remove from the grill and baste with the glaze once more before serving.

Serves 5–6

Planked Maple Salmon

1 cup pure maple syrup

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

4 tablespoons lemon juice

3 tablespoons soy sauce

1 1/2 teaspoons crushed garlic

Salt and pepper to taste

An untreated cedar plank (about 17 by 10 1/2 inches)

2 1/2-pound center-cut whole salmon fillet with skin

1 bunch scallions, checked and sliced lengthwise

In a small, heavy saucepan, simmer maple syrup, mustard, lemon juice, soy sauce, garlic, and salt and pepper to taste until reduced to about 1 cup, about 30 minutes, and let cool. Divide glaze in half — one part to be used on the raw salmon, the other on the cooked.

Prepare the grill for direct and indirect cooking on medium and low heat. Place the soaked plank over direct medium heat and close the lid. After 5 to 10 minutes, when the plank begins to smoke and char, turn the plank over.

Lightly oil the plank and arrange scallions in one layer on plank to form a bed for fish. Place salmon fillet skin-side down on the plank and brush generously with glaze. Season the salmon with salt and freshly ground pepper. Move the plank over cooler side of the grill and continue cooking, with the lid closed, for 20 minutes. Remove plank from grill to serve. Drizzle salmon with reserved sauce.

Serves 6