If you’re planning to cook fish in a grill or smoker, you should consider using a cedar plank. Also known as planking or plank cooking, it works particularly well for fish. Whether you’re cooking salmon, tuna, trout, tilapia or mahi-mahi, it offers a delicious flavor that complements the natural flavor of your fish.

Planking Explained: How It Works

Planking involves cooking meat, typically fish, on a block of solid cedar wood. You can use either a grill or smoker; the only requirement for planking is that you place your fish on a cedar plank and then place it on the grate. So, instead of touching the grate, your fish will touch the block of solid cedar wood.

The Benefits of Cooking Fish on a Cedar Plank

Cooking fish on a cedar plank rather than placing it directly on your grill’s or smoker’s grate offers two main benefits:

  1. It injects your fish with a rich smoky flavor. Like smoking chunks and cooking wood, cedar planks release flavorful compounds when heated. Cedar planks generally don’t burn quickly. In fact, you can often use them for four or five times. While inside the grill or smoker, however, they’ll heat up to release flavorful compounds that are absorbed by the fish.
  2. It prevents your fish from sticking to the grate. We’ve already discussed several ways to prevent food from sticking to the grate, but cooking on a cedar plank is ideal for fish because of the meat’s delicate skin. It creates a barrier between your fish and the hot grate to prevent the skin from sticking — a common problem encountered by chefs when cooking fish in a grill or smoker.

What You’ll Need to Cook Fish on a Cedar Plank

To cook fish on a cedar plank, you’ll need a few basic items. This includes a functional grill or smoker — along with fuel like charcoal and/or cooking wood — and your preferred fish. You can cook any fish on a cedar plank, but salmon is by far the most popular. Cedar plank-cooked salmon has an amazing flavor, as the natural flavor of cedar wood complements the natural flavor of salmon.

Of course, you’ll also need a cedar plank. Don’t just use any piece of cedar wood. Rather, purchase a cedar grilling or cooking plank. Available for just a few bucks a piece, cedar planks are inexpensive and readily available at most major grocery stores. They feature a convenient shape and size to provide a superior cooking experience.

Choose Kiln-Dried Cooking Wood

Soak Your Cedar Plank

When you’re ready to cook your fish, fill a large bowl or pan with water and place your cedar plank inside it. Soaking your cedar plank for at least an hour in water will prevent it from burning too quickly in your grill or smoker. As the cedar plank soaks, it will absorb some of the water. Granted, it won’t absorb a lot of water in just an hour, but it’s still enough to protect the wood from burning, allowing it to release more flavor as it heats up inside your grill or smoker. Therefore, you should soak your cedar plank in water for at least an hour before placing it on your grill or smoker.

Prepare Your Grill or Smoker

While waiting for your cedar plank to soak, you can prepare your grill or smoker. Cooking fish on a cedar plank requires the same approach as placing it directly on a grate. You’ll need to add charcoal and/or cooking wood to the fuel compartment of your grill or smoker, light it and then wait for it to heat up. Depending on the type of fuel and how much of it you are using, it should heat up in about 15 to 30 minutes.

For added flavor, you can also toss some smoking chunks over the charcoal. Smoking chunks work in a similar way as cedar planks by releasing flavorful compounds when exposed to heat. Tossing just a handful of high-quality smoking chunks over your charcoal will create a stronger, richer flavor that many people prefer. You can even experiment with several types of smoking chunks to see which variety works best for your fish.

Add Your Fish

Once your grill or smoker has warmed up, you can add your fish — on the cedar plank, of course — to the grate. For the best flavor, you should flip your cedar plank at least once. After about 10 minutes, for example, remove the cedar plank and fish from your grill or smoker, flip the cedar plank and then place your fish back on it. After your fish has finished cooking, you can remove it from your grill or smoker.

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