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.