The cold rain tapped across the window pane as I sipped hot tea from an old, blue-enameled cup, whilst the fingers of my other hand tenderly worked the analog dial of my old time short wave radio. It’s been hurricane season as you know, and I was hoping to find some hams out there discoursing on the weather. I know with the inter connected world of the internet, and a few swift keystrokes, I can find out the weather any where in the world much easier than listening to the radio, but I don’t care. I just like the poetry of a good analog radio. The challenge of trying to wring out a signal from across the country, with what by today’s standards is inferior equipment. Like BBQ, I was more into the journey here than anything. The process. The poetry of good things on cold, wet nights. So I was dredging the side-bands if you will, looking for amateur radio operators talking about the weather. But mostly I guess, I was enjoying just being here, listening to the radio and the rain. And thinking off and on about BBQ. And no, my name is not Jim Reitz. He apparently was the previous owner of the radio before I got a hold of it.
Turns out the last BBQ here at the Pond Side Pit was in the rain. There’s been a lot of that lately, which is of no matter to a patron of the pit. We will grill in sheer tropical force monsoons if need be. Lo, it would be a dark day indeed the moment we actually cook on a stove. Anyways, my wife gets in the mood for fish these days, which is new to me. She’s never been particularly fond of the finned foods. But they tell us when you’re raising a newborn to eat more fish, as it is supposed to help your child grow nice and smart. Well, being a proponent of smart children, I did what any proud and new Papa would do, and went out into the wilds and procured a fish for my family. OK, I really went down to the local grocer and plucked a salmon from the ice, but the other way sounds better don’t you reckon?
What You’ll Need
- Brown Sugar
- Miners Mix Wholly Chipotle
We slathered the salmon first in mustard, then packed on some brown sugar, a little salt, a little pepper, and for our secret ingredient, a dash or two of this blend from our friends at Miners Mix. Wholly Chipotle. It is considered one of their hot rubs, so if you’re not a pepper head, just use it sparingly. A little of this stuff goes quite a ways indeed, but adds that sought after kick of heat that some of us occasionally crave. Anyways, after seasoning this fillet up, we brought it out to the pit where the cedar plank was oiled and pre-heated.
The Art of the Plank
If you’ve never had occasion to try planking on your grill yet, you’re definitely missing something out of your life. It’s about as easy as grilling gets, people. Simply put the plank over direct heat. Remember to soak it for an hour or so beforehand. Lightly oil it if you wish, an pre-heat it like you would a frying pan. Then lay your intended protein gently on top. All you gotta do from here is just get out of the way and let the plank do it’s magic. And it will. This form of cooking is so effective you need not even flip the meat. The plank acts as a heat shield which in turn protects your plunder, whilst at the same time creating an even heat environment, not to mention releasing oils and smoke into your food, giving it a flavor reminiscent of the finest restaurants. It’s just good, people. Trust us!
Planks come in many flavors and thickness, from 1/4 inch cedar, to 1/2 inch maple. Thicker ones last longer of course, but tend to run a little more expensive. You can find them in most any big box store these days. Or you can be lazy and grab some off Amazon I suppose. The best planks we ever tested at PotP were Superior Planks, grown and harvested up north of here, on a small island in lake superior. Check out our write up of that here . Anyways, a really fun and tasty way to grill if you haven’t tried it yet. You can cook anything on them too, from burgers to steaks to vegetables. But the best thing to plank, in our opinion, is fish. Ever have your fish fall apart on the grill grate? Problem solved with the good and ever abiding virtues of the plank. Gotta try this people!
There you go. Spicy cedar planked salmon from the pit. Sided with a lovely bouquet of vegetables for to please the lady folk. And a baked potato smothered in butter. Man! Good eating! And maybe even someday a smart baby, if you’re into that kind of thing. Amen.
By the soft light of the old kerosene lamp, I bandied together a few salmon fillets, previously plucked by my lovely bride from the icy straits of Ketchikan, Alaska. They were handsome fish once upon a time, and still were, patron to the grill front this eve. Their deep, orange flesh looked good in the scant light, and would look even better, I wagered, on a plank, over a smoldering bed of coals. And that’s what we did. So grab yourself a lovely beverage and settle in why don’t you, and let me tell you how it went and came to be, this the glory of spicy maple planked salmon, hot off the grill. Man!
Whilst your plank is coming up to temp over a lovely bed coals, (you soaked it for an hour at least didn’t you?) assemble your salmon fillets in one accord, and lightly dash them over with a wee bit of salt, and tad and half of pepper. Then, and just because, we add a dash of dill weed too. Call it instincts. Then, we slathered the top and the sides of each fillet with a good, spicy, Chipotle mustard. Lastly, and with a soft hand, we sprinkled dark brown sugar over it all, and in turn, beneath a crescent moon, all was well. A recipe we cannot take credit for, but rather one adapted some from the Obe Wan Kenobe of professional pit mastering, one, Steve Raichlen. If he can do it, surely any pit jockey can.
Once your plank has curled some, indicating it’s hot enough, with a deft tong, gently place the gussied up fillets where they need to be. The plank, by the way, should be placed directly over the coals, but on the grate, for this culinary procedure. Planking, if you haven’t tried it yet, is a fabulous way to grill your meats and infuse them with smoke at the same time. And we are big fans of it here on this site. It is maybe the easiest grilling you will ever do. The plank acts as a heat shield of sorts, so your spoils do not morph into blackened rubble, whilst at the same time, impregnating your proteins with the pefectly formed smoke, and thus, the savory flavor this heady game is known for.
After the fillets were properly placed, in other words, no parts over-hanging the plank, go ahead and place the cover back on the grill. The hardest part of planking is now done, freeing up the pit master for the more important and often neglected business of drawing a lovely beverage from the refrigerator. Or it might be your style to affix yourself to your favorite man chair, and while away the minutes there, toe-pits up, your favorite tunes aloft in the room. Or maybe it is you need to sally off for the little pit boys room, and get caught up with some appointed tasks there, with a Guns and Ammo magazine in hand. It is all at the discretion of your most viable pit master instincts. Do what you must.
Mind the clock, however, and after 15 minutes or so, maybe even 20, do sidle out the door and check upon your plunder. If it flakes easily with a fork, it is done. If you’ve really done it right, you will find glorious deposits of yum where the brown sugar caramelized. That blended with the occasional spicy kick from the mustard, and the flavors of salmon and maple wood smoke, oh buddy, do you need a bib yet! You do not even need to flip the fish during the cook, because planking is just that easy. Between the heat shield effect of the plank and keeping the lid on the pit, you have basically created an oven with smoke. Something only found at the pit front, people, under the open skies and fragrant breezes. Beneath waxing moons, and cavorting bird song. Another reason grilling outside blows away the finest kitchen range. And why it is, precisely, we do what we do, patron to the pit. Amen.
Spicy Maple Planked Salmon sided with fried potatoes. Spicy yet sweet, and all good where planking salmon is concerned.
Loitering pond-side, the old Weber kettle puffing quietly away, sweet sugar maple smoldering, wafting into the air. I lay aside the pit, in the thick, green grass there, immobile, in a fashion usually reserved for a coronary thrombosis I suppose. But I didn’t care. I was “hanging ten“, as the surfers out way of Waikiki would say. And the world was mine. Just staring up at the clouds as they roll past a beautiful, blue sky. Like Huckleberry Finn on the grassy banks of the Mississippi, I was at ease with everything. A cool summers breeze murmured amid Spruce , and tweety birds on high, serenaded the evening sun. The neighbors are probably used to seeing me “belly-up” in the grass like this, with the ilk of a hobo beside my smoking pits. But I’m slowly getting them trained in, by and by, and the pay off is high. For rarely now, whence I engage in such childish admissions, am I caught there and taken for dead.
On the grill tonight, we’ve got a dandy. Maple planked bacon cheese burgers. Kind of a two-part post, the first part being the recent write-up on Superior planks. Some of you expressed an interest in seeing more how this planking thing is done, and so that is what we’re up to today, at the patron’s pit. Its real easy to do, and will cast the viable illusion also, of being an experienced and highly-gifted pit master. Which is always nice.
The very first order of business when planking is to soak the wood thoroughly. Doesn’t matter how good your plank is, if it ain’t soaked, you will be singing a sorrowful rendition of Kumbaya around your flaming spoils should you neglect this key step. So just do it. An hour in the sink is suitable for most. But the longer the better. Then, whence your coals, or hark, even your gas grill is up and burning, go ahead then and lay the soaked plank on the grate and over direct heat. Let it preheat there a touch if you please, but you don’t even have to do that. Thus, and at last, place your intended vittles over the plank, and pause momentarily to appreciate the oddity of meat on wood. We formed some nice patties from some 80-20 ground beef, and laid a couple of strips of thick bacon on there too, for good measure. No man worth his tongs will ever argue the judicious use of premium bacon, and we weren’t about to tonight. Then place the lid over your grill, and assume your customary BBQ position – in the lawn chair, lovely beverage in hand, toes pointed to the heavens. And with this, you are half done already, and nearly a budding expert in the planking arts.
It is that easy folks. You nary need even touch it now until its done. You will want to, and its fine I suppose if you do flip the burger over, but we did not. It doesn’t need to be. When the lid is on, and the wood is acting like a heat shield of sorts, the grill turns into some what of an oven like atmosphere. Would you flip a burger in the oven? I don’t think so! That is half the magic of planking. The other joy tarries in the smoke. Depending on what flavor of plank you pick out, and some folks even soak them in apple juice, or wine, or what ever, the steam and smoke which rises forth, not to mention a hint of tree oil, dutifully impregnates your spoils with a woodsy authenticness like none other. As one of our readers, Carnivore Confidential, once said in his blog, “You don’t have a smoker? You don’t need one!” And its true. A more primal way of infusing smokey goodness into your supper, you shall not soon divine. Meat on wood over flame. Simplicity at its best. And poetry on the pit!
You can plank darn near anything too. From meats to vegetables to mashed potatoes, and even mushrooms. But perhaps the best use of planks is for the delicate fish fillet. No more dropping through the grate! Just put it on the plank and cook it. No flipping. No mess. No worries. So the next day, and with fish on my mind, I re-soaked the used plank. If you get good thick, hardwood planks, like that of Superior Planks, you can re-use them quite a bit. After a good soak in the sink, I placed the used-plank back on the hot grill along with some Tilapia fillets. Same process. Put the lid on and just let them do their thing. Many hard core plankers forego the seasonings all together, and just let the plank do the talking. And with that wood smoke and natural oils, turns out them old trees have a thing or two to say about good eating. Amen.
Like all fish, when they flake easily with a fork, they are ready for an immediate rendezvous with your belly! Smoked to perfection and kissed by smoldering wood. Man!
Maple Planked Bacon Cheese Burgers and Tilapia too, just because. Two of many things highly suitable for plank cooking. If you haven’t tried it yet, well, what the heck are you waiting for!
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.