Nothing is quite so fine as the aroma of smoldering, sweet, sugar maple curling from your grill on a cool summer’s eve. With the Black-capped Chickadees in flight, showy white Egrets milling on the pond, and golden sunbeams awash over a freshly cut lawn, we keepers of the pit revel in the ambiance of such. It is our token porthole to tranquility in a land otherwise wrought with haste, and bumper-to-bumper traffic. Indeed, that might be half the reason why we grill year-around in the first place, to re-acquaint ourselves with the natural realm, to feel the sun again on our face, and if they’ll have it, to hear the tweety birds sing so sweetly, where the smoke gently rises.
One of the best means of re-kindling with the out-of-doors, via the grill, is planking. If you have not tried it yet, you’re missing something out of your grilling career. Cooking on planks is nothing new, as the Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest were doing it long before any of our ancestor’s ancestors knew what a plank was even. But here lately, planking has really caught on in the grilling arts, and let it be said, because its true, it is a very fine means of procuring one’s supper over the open flame. Just set your meat on the plank, position it over direct heat, put the lid on your pit, and leave it alone. The less you touch it, the better. You need not even flip the meat over, tho instinct may barter otherwise. In return, your chosen spoils get intimately acquainted with the smoldering plank below, as the steam and smoke and some natural tree oils permeate your meaty affair. It works. And it does so exceedingly well.
Enter Superior Planks. Superior on a multiple of levels, and I’ll tell you why. First the obvious. These planks are grown, harvested, and produced by the Eco Wood Company Inc. A family owned business way up north, on Lake Superior. On a quaint little island, known as Madeline Island, which is one of many islands making up Wisconsin’s very own fresh water archipelago, better known as the Apostle Islands. It is here amid the fragrant stands of Cedar, Oak, and Maple, that Superior Planks are born. Let me tell you more.
When I first got into planking, like many of you, I went to the local big box store, and like most men I was drawn by some uncanny tractor beam towards the grilling section. It happens so frequently, it’s just something I have learned not to fight. Anyways, there was a bundle of cedar planks there, of which I snapped up and later that evening, planked up some Salmon. Very tasty it was, giving the salmon a nice woodsy flavor, but I was a little dismayed that my newly beloved Cedar plank had gone way of the unworthy, as it was charred and curled beyond resemblance of its former self, despite soaking it for the recommended hour. I was hoping maybe they’d last longer than one cook, but it was not to be. The end result tasted good, and I guess that’s the main thing, but it would have been nice to be able to reuse the planks a little more. I wasn’t convinced they were worth the money the big stores were charging.
Then here lately, I contacted the friendly folks at Superior Planks, and asked them to send me some of theirs. And boy what a difference. Their planks were at once a noticeably robust affair. 11 1/2 x 5 1/2 x 1/2 inch thick. The kind I got at the box store were maybe a 1/4 inch thick, which I suspect attributed to its unsightly, and premature demise. The folks at Superior Planks fancy their planks to last anywhere from 5 to 12 cooks, depending on how long you soak them. The longer you soak, the longer they last. Logical. They recommend two hours for their planks. I was impatient tho, and soaked it only one. And it still survived the fires with ten times the integrity of the cheaper box store planks. I was impressed. Part of the reason they last so long is pretty interesting actually. It has to do with density.
You see, way up north on the Apostle Islands of Lake Superior, the growing season is disturbingly short. And tho some might think of that as a bum deal, the folks at Eco Wood Company Inc. see it as something as a blessing. You know how there are rings in a tree, if you look at it from a cross-section point of view? And each ring equals a year of growth. Well, the shorter growing season on Madeline Island means the rings of a tree grown there are closer together than trees grown other places more hospitable. And this makes the wood more dense. And that is why they last as long as they do in the fiery confines of your grill. The Maple and Oak planks last the longest, at 5 to 12 cooks. The Cedar planks for what ever reason, do their own thing, and only last around 3 cooks. There’s always a rebel in the bunch.
As I read a little more about Superior Planks, they started to impress me on other levels too. Here is a little family owned operation producing top-notch planks, and doing it with a degree of respect for the environment I surely wasn’t expecting. Turns out they were doing all sorts of things, going out of their way in point of fact, to lessen their footprint. For example, the packaging they ship the planks to you in, is all recycled materials, the ink too, and even the plastic wrap! But that is just the beginning for these stewards of the land. Every tree they haul about up there, to make us our planks is done so by a horse. Yup, you read that right. They employ old trigger as a tractor of sorts, to do their bidding. Say what you will, but this makes for some mighty fine conversation around the pit while planking up some dinner. These folks also run their milling equipment off of bio-diesel, which I thought was pretty cool. Their facility, naturally, is heated by their scrap wood, in an efficient boiler system. And so on. You get the idea. As I learned, and now you have to, these folk are not afraid to be different. And in that alone sets them apart. And it sort of dawns on you, the way good things always do, that they are doing so much more than just making quality planks. Bless these guys.
Check them out when you’re in the mood for some quality planking at your next BBQ. The planks come in Smokey Red Oak, Classic Northern Cedar, and Sweet Sugar Maple.