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Welcome to This Awful/Awesome Life! My name is Frances Joyce. I am the publisher and editor of this magazine. We'll be exploring different topics each month to inform, entertain and inspire you. Meet new authors, sharpen your brain and pick up a few tips on life, love, entertaining and business. Enjoy and please share!

When in Doubt, Plank it! by Fran Joyce


It’s no secret grilling enhances the flavors of foods. We grill year round with the exception of heavy rains blizzards or ice storms. Our first winter in Chicago, we caused quite a stir at our townhouse community because we shoveled a path to our grill before we cleared our front walk.

My grill is almost 20 years old. It’s been repainted and refitted several times. I know I’ve mentioned in previous articles that I was raised to be frugal – 14 year old mini-vans, 20 year old grills, 30 year old dining room furniture…the list goes on and on.

I have my eye on a Weber propane grill like my oldest son bought for his first ever Father’s Day. I spent many years narrowly avoiding singed eye brows getting my charcoal to light before we bought the grill we have now. I like propane and I would even consider hooking my new grill up to natural gas if I had the extra money in the budget right now.

Recently, I’ve become enamored of grilling planks for adding that special flavor and tenderness to my food. You can enhance the flavor of fruits, vegetables, meats and fish by using a plank while grilling.

Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest are believed to be the first to prepare salmon by pinning it to large wood boards and slow cooking it.

Planks can be used with a gas or charcoal grill and they will work in the oven. In fact, there are special planks for use in the oven that are thicker, larger and more expensive than standard grilling planks.

Choose only untreated western red cedar, hickory, alder, oak, apple, pecan or maple planks for grilling.

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Be sure to soak your planks in water, wine, sake or apple juice/cider for one to two hours before grilling. Place the plank in rimmed sheet pan  and cover completely with liquid. Be sure to weigh down each plank. I use a glass of water in the center of each plank. It’s also a good idea to flip the planks halfway through the soaking time to be sure the liquid is absorbed evenly.

Heat the grill to about 350 degrees

What wood should you use to complement the flavor of each food?

For fish, cedar and alder are most compatible.

Heartier meats like chicken or pork pair well with apple, maple or pecan.

Beef and gamier meats such as venison which have stronger flavors taste great prepared on oak or hickory.          

I also looked on the Internet to see if anyone had tried to prepare tofu or hot dogs, but all I found was a snarky article where the chef threw out the tofu and served the cedar plank instead. Plank these foods at your own risk and let me know how it goes.

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There are several ways to grill with planks; however, three methods are the most popular.

1.       Two zone indirect cooking method – prepare a two zone indirect fire, place food on planks and put the planks on the cool side of the grill and cover – maintain medium heat, so the food cooks slowly and absorbs the flavor of the wood.

2.       Prepare a two zone indirect fire, place empty planks over the hot side of the grill – when the plank starts to blacken and smoke, flip it over, place food on the charred side and move to the cool side of the grill, cover and cook – this will give food a deeper wood flavor.

3.       Preheat grill, place food on plank and grill over direct fire. Keep plank moist, so it will not catch fire. This produces more smoke and a stronger flavor. You can also sear the meat before placing it on the grill.

Always keep a squirt bottle of water handy to wet down the plank if it catches fire.

With methods 1 and 2, you may be able to reuse your wood planks, but you must wash them thoroughly and make sure they dry completely or the wood could mold.

I always play it safe and never reuse my planks.



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