Cedar plank salmon simulates a pacific northwest potlatch salmon bake on a backyard grill. Cooking salmon on a plank adds a touch of smoky flavor to the fish, and it makes cooking a snap. No fish sticking to the grill - put the plank on the grill, grill roast for about a half an hour, pull the plank off the grill, done.
Now, it's not perfect. You will have to deal with the smoking hot cedar plank. Make sure you have a sheet pan or something like it, and a heat proof trivet to put it on when you are done cooking.
What You’ll Need
To cook salmon on a cedar plank, you need a grill, a piece of salmon, and an untreated cedar plank. The safest way to get untreated cedar is to buy grilling planks at cooking store...but they are expensive, and they tend to be on the small side if you want to cook an entire salmon fillet. The cheaper, but riskier way is your local hardware store. I used to buy untreated cedar 1x8 boards and cut them into 16 inch lengths. But, be aware: there is a risk that untreated hardware store cedar was piled up with treated wood while it was in storage, and the toxic chemicals used to treat that wood have leached into the cedar.
Use your own best judgement. Like I said, I used to buy untreated cedar boards from the hardware store. I've been cooking on cedar planks for years; when I started the ONLY option was the hardware store. Nowadays, I buy cedar planks that are made for grilling. They're more expensive, but I prefer the peace of mind to the savings.
*If you want the best of both worlds, check high end cookware stores at the end of summer. I don't like paying $20 for 4 feet of wood at a cooking store...but at the end of the grilling season, when it's on sale for $5, I snap it up.
How to Make Cedar Plank Salmon
- Soak the plank in water: Put an untreated cedar plank in a pan or dish, cover it with water, and weigh it down with cans. (I use a rimmed baking sheet). Let the cedar soak for at least an hour.
- Prepare the salmon and sour cream sauce: After you have soaked the cedar plank, remove the plank from the water. Put the salmon filet on the plank, skin side down. Sprinkle the salmon with kosher salt, black pepper, brown sugar, and lemon zest. Mix the sour cream sauce ingredients (sour cream, olive oil, fresh lemon juice, chopped capers) in a small bowl.
- Set the grill up for indirect cooking at high heat (450°F or higher): For my Weber Summit gas grill, I preheat the grill for 15 minutes with all the burners on high, then I turn off the middle burners (leaving burners 1 and 6 lit and on high heat). For my Weber Kettle charcoal grill, I light a chimney full of charcoal, let it get covered with ash, then pour the coals into charcoal baskets on two sides of the grill, leaving the center of the charcoal grate clear.
- Cook the plank of salmon: Remove the plank from the grill with tongs. (Heatproof gloves are a good idea too.) Move the plank to a rimmed baking sheet or other fireproof surface, and set that on a heatproof pad. Cut the salmon crosswise into 2 inch wide pieces and serve, passing the sauce at the table.
- Serve: Using tongs, remove the plank to a sheet pan or other fireproof surface, then set on a heatproof pad. Cut the salmon crosswise into 2 inch wide pieces and serve, passing the sauce at the table.
The simplest version of this recipe is salmon, salt and pepper, and the cedar plank. Everything else in the recipe improves the flavor, but simple smoked salmon is still sensational.
Sizing the plank
When I can, I get the plank first, then take it to the grocery store and ask for a piece of salmon that will cover it. If the salmon is a little too wide, I'll trim off the thin side of the fillet so it doesn't hang over the edge.
Different plank woods
If you can find it, Alder is more traditional. It's the original wood used in northwestern salmon cooking. The difference between Alder and Cedar is subtle. I have a slight preference for the flavor of alder over cedar. But, it is hard to find alder planks where I live, and when I can, they are more expensive. So I usually go with cedar wood.
Maple, cherry, and oak planks will also work for this recipe. Again, no matter what type of wood you sue, make sure it is untreated.
When I'm cooking with a plank, I use indirect high heat. Cedar planked salmon, cooked over direct heat chars the board and generates way too much smoke. The cedar taste overwhelms the fish. Also, with indirect heat, I don't have to worry about the plank going up like a torch, taking my salmon with it.
What's that popping sound?
While the plank is on the grill, you will occasionally hear a loud popping noise. This is normal.
Keep an eye on the grill, looking for smoke. A little white smoke rising from the grill is what you want; if you see smoke pouring out of the grill, especially black smoke, the plank is on fire. Use tongs to move the plank away from the heat on the grill, and the plank should extinguish itself.
You are working with a piece of wood on a grill grate over an open fire, so there is the chance the plank will catch on fire. (The hint of danger helps make this recipe a show stopper.) Make sure you have tongs to handle the hot (probably smoldering) cedar plank, and a heat-proof surface to move it to. Also, the charred wood from the plank will make a mess - think of drawing with charcoal on a sidewalk - so I move the wood plank to a rimmed baking sheet, then put that on a heatproof pad to protect whatever is under it.
My other Salmon Recipes
Inspired by: Ted Reader Sticks & Stones: The Art of Grilling on Plank, Vine and Stone (The Game & Fish Mastery Library)Print
Cedar Plank Salmon. Cedar-wood smoked salmon from your backyard grill.
- Salmon fillet (2- to 2½ pounds, about 1¼ inches thick)
- 2 teaspoons Diamond Crystal Kosher salt(or 1 ½ teaspoons fine sea salt)
- ½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- 2 teaspoons brown sugar
- zest of ½ a lemon
Sour Cream and Caper sauce
- ½ cup sour cream
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Juice of ½ a lemon
- 2 tablespoons capers, chopped
- Soak the plank: Put the plank in a large container, weigh it down, and cover with water. (I use a rimmed baking sheet.) Soak for at least one hour, or up to overnight.
- Prepare the salmon and sour cream sauce: Remove the plank from the water, and pat dry. Put the salmon fillet on the plank, skin side down, and sprinkle with the kosher salt, black pepper, brown sugar, and lemon zest. (The brown sugar and zest tend to clump together; gently rub the seasonings onto the fish until it is evenly coated.) Mix the sour cream sauce ingredients in a small bowl.
- Prepare the grill: For my Weber Summit, I preheat the grill for 15 minutes with all the burners on high, then I turn off the middle burners (leaving burners 1 and 6 lit and on high heat). For my Weber Kettle, I light a chimney full of charcoal, let it get covered with ash, then pour the coals into charcoal baskets on two sides of the grill, leaving the center of the charcoal grate clear.
- Cook the plank of salmon: Put the plank on the grill grate over the unlit burners, and cook with the lid closed. Cook until the salmon reads 135ºF in its thickest point, measured with an instant read thermometer, about 30 minutes. (30 minutes is for a 1 ¼ inch thick salmon filet - thicker filets can take up to 40 minutes.)
- Serve: Remove the plank from the grill with tongs. (Heatproof gloves are a good idea too.) Move the plank to a rimmed baking sheet or other fireproof surface, and set that on a heatproof pad. Cut the salmon crosswise into 2 inch wide pieces and serve, passing the sauce at the table.
- Prep Time: 20 minutes
- Cook Time: 30 minutes
- Category: Sunday Dinner
- Method: Grilling
- Cuisine: American
Keywords: Cedar Plank Salmon
What do you think?
Questions? Other ideas? Leave them in the comments section below.
Ted Reader, Sticks & Stones: The Art of Grilling on Plank, Vine and Stone (The Game & Fish Mastery Library)
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