Grill planks 101: Your guide to barbecue bliss


Labor Day!

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As we gear up for the last BBQ of the summer, let's take a refresher course on healthy grilling techniques. Here's everything you need to know about grill planks.

Wrapping just about anything in bacon and throwing it on the grill is a guaranteed way to add flavor — but it adds extra calories and fat, too. For a no-calorie, fat-free flavor technique for your grilled meat, seafood and veggies, look no further than grilling planks.

The method is believed to have originated in the Pacific Northwest when Native Americans grilled salmon on pieces of wood; today, that simple grilling strategy is still one of the most effective ways to take your barbecued foods up a notch.


What to buy
You can buy grill planks at a specialty food store, online, at Target or even at your local hardware store — just make sure to choose untreated wood. The plank should be at least a half an inch thick and wide enough to hold the food you’re grilling without some of it hanging off the sides. It’s best to have at least an inch of space between all edges of the food and the sides of the plank; this ensures that the food is cooked evenly.

If you don’t have a grill, you can also use grill planks in the oven. Choose thicker, larger planks for oven use.

Fancy yourself a lumberjack? You can cut your own wood for grilling, but — once again — make sure it’s untreated. And sand it down before grilling to prevent splinters.


What to do
Before throwing the plank on the grill, you’re going to need to soak it so it doesn’t burn. Submerge it in water, using a heavy pot to weigh it down, for at least an hour, preferably two to three hours. For extra flavor, some people like to soak the plank in wine, fruit juices, apple cider or beer. Feel free to experiment, but the planks add plenty of smoky flavors on their own.

After soaking, let the plank drain until it’s damp but not dripping. Prep your food, place the plank on a medium-hot grill and let it heat up for about three to five minutes. When the underside of the plank starts to smoke a little, flip it, brush some olive oil on the charred side of the board and place your food on it until sufficiently cooked.

It’s not necessary to turn your food while grilling on the planks. Make sure to keep water nearby in case the board catches on fire. (Try to avoid that!)


Depending on the type of plank you use, it can usually be reused about two or three times. After grilling, clean the boards with hot water and some soap; then let them dry completely before storing.

When the board gets to the point where it can’t be used again, break it into pieces and use it as smoking chips.


What kind of planks to use

  • Cedar: Probably the most common; it can be used with any poultry, seafood, meat or vegetable, but it’s best with seafood.
  • Maple: Adds a sweet flavor; best with chicken, turkey and pork
  • Alder: Adds a mild flavor; best with poultry and fish
  • Hickory: Adds a bolder flavor; best with beef and lamb
  • Birch: Best with pork and poultry
  • Beechnut: Best with pork and fish
  • Mesquite: Best with beef and vegetables
  • Cherry: Adds a sweet flavor; best with poultry, pork and beef
  • Oak: Best with red meats, pork and vegetables
  • Pecan: Best with chicken and pork
  • Apple: Adds a sweet flavor; best with chicken and pork