A lot of people use cedar planks when grilling. It’s an easy way to get a nice smokey flavor on fish or chicken. Many people wonder though if you can reuse cedar planks after grilling.
The answer is yes you can reuse cedar planks after grilling. In fact, the second or third use can even give you a slightly stronger flavor. Be sure to scrub the top of the cedar plank clean and soak it before each use. You can usually get about 2 or 3 uses out of each cedar plank before the bottom gets too burnt to reuse.
What is a cedar plank?
Cedar planks are untreated pieces of western red cedar. They are normally about fifteen inches long, six inches wide and a little over half an inch thick. They usually come in a pack of 2-5 planks. When used properly cedar wood gives a great smoky flavor to fish, chicken, vegetables and other meats.
This article is about cedar planks but there are several other types of wood that are also used as grilling planks. Hickory, Alder and Maple are other common types of planks used in the grill. All are used the same way but each has its own distinct flavor. Cedar gives that deep hearty smokey flavor and is most used with fish. Alder, on the other hand, is a lighter and sweeter smoke.
How do you use a cedar plank?
You first need to soak your cedar plank for a minimum of thirty minutes. Sixty minutes is better. Make sure the plank is completely submerged so it gets a good soak. Most people soak their planks in a bucket near the grill.
Many people add seasoning ingredients to the water they are soaking the planks in. You can add apple juice, white wine, salt or citrus juices like orange or lime.
Preheat your grill without the plank on it. If you preheat with the plank on it will dry out and catch fire much easier.
If it’s your first time using this plank you need to season it. Put it on a hot grill for 2 minutes flipping it once halfway through. This seasoning prevents the plank from warping and intensifies its flavors.
You can place your foods directly on the plank or you can place seasoning herbs on the plank then your food. The herbs will wilt with the heat and release their oils into the food. Thyme and rosemary are popular herbs to grill with.
Using a cedar planks means that you won’t get those lovely grill marks that we are used to seeing on our grilled foods. I like to start my meats directly on the grill to get those grill marks. I then transfer them to the plank when they are about one third cooked. Best of both worlds.
After a few minutes on the grill it is possible for the plank to start to bow. Meaning the ends will warp down causing the top to push up making a bow shape. For a large cut of meat this is not a problem but be careful of smaller objects, like vegetables, rolling off.
Keep a spray bottle by your grill whenever grilling with planks. You’ll want a quick way to put out any flareups.
Because your food is not on the grill directly it will take extra time to cook. Expect to add about 50% more time. For chicken that would normally take 10-15 minutes expect it to take 20 minutes.
After it has cooled slightly you can place the plank on a plate and serve directly or transfer the food to a plate. Make sure the plank is not smoldering before serving on it!
How to clean cedar planks after use
If you intend to use the wood plank again you’ll need to clean it before putting it away.
If your plank is totally charred on the bottom you should probably just throw it away and start with a fresh one the next time. Charred wood takes longer to smoke and storing it can get messy. You can avoid charring by not putting the plank directly over the coals or burner. This will slow your cooking down and also mean less smoke flavor however.
If the bottom is not totally charred you can wash the plank in the kitchen sink or garage wash basin. Just use warm water and a plastic scrub brush to remove all traces of food.
I’ve seen people recommend using soap to clean planks. I would not do this as the soap can get into the fibers of the wood and dry out the natural oils. It’s possible it will also leave some residue and you’ll taste it the next time you use that plank.
If the plank is questionable as to whether it’s clean or not when you are done just pitch it and start a new plank next time. It’s not worth the savings to risk getting sick.
One tip I read someplace said to always cook the same kind of meat on a plank after you’ve used it. So if you cooked fish on a plank the next time you use that plank cook fish. This makes sense as some of the fishes oils might have gotten into the plank and a fishy steak is not a desired goal.
Why should you use cedar planks?
Using cedar, or other types of planks has many added benefits.
Quick Smokey Flavor
The best way to get smokey flavor is using an actual smoker. If you don’t have a smoker or don’t have the time to cook on one, then planks are a quick and effective substitution.
Because your food is on the plank and not directly on the grill clean up can be much easier. If it’s your last time using that plank you can simply throw it away or put it on the next fire pit fire you have.
Even if it’s not your last time using that plank you can still take it inside and wash it off in the sink. Much easier than cleaning a grill.
Moister meat and veggies
Because your food is in contact with the moist wood, and not the hot grill, it will take longer for it to dry out. This is part of the reason why so many people like to cook vegetables on planks!
Less breakage and loss
Fragile foods like fish that can often break while flipping on a grill will be less likely to break on a plank.
Small and thin foods, like shrimp and asparagus, have a tendency to fall through the grill and be lost. While sitting on a plank that won’t happen. Just be careful if the plank starts to bow as you might have to move the food around to prevent loss.
Best foods to grill using a cedar planks
Some foods naturally lend themselves to grilling with planks.
When grilling with planks is mentioned most people picture grilling fish. Fish is a delicate meat that easily falls apart on a grill. Using a plank means you’re much more likely to end up with the same number of pieces you started with. Fish also seems to absorb the smokey flavor from planks very well.
Vegetables have a tendency to dry out quickly on a hot grill. Using a plank means they are resting on moist wood and will cook a little slower giving them a chance to absorb the smokey flavor.
Not many people think of steaks when they think of grilling with cedar planks but it’s really something you should try.
First put the steak directly on the grill to get the grill marks people love to see. Flip it once to get the marks on the other side. Now you can move the steak to the plank and finish cooking it. Sprinkling a little salt and pepper on the plank before putting the steak on it will add a nice complexity to the final taste. Top off with a pat of butter right before taking it off the grill.
Where can you buy cedar planks?
Cedar planks, as well as other types of wood grilling planks, can be purchased at many locations.
Many large grocery stores carry a small selection near the lighter fluid and charcoal.
Hardware stores that sell grills will probably have planks. Just make sure you are not buying treated wood.
Online is always an option. Check out my Recommended Gear page to see what planks I use and recommend.
We’ve learned a lot about grilling with cedar planks in this article.
We learned why cooking with planks is a great idea that can add a delicious smoky flavor without the hassle of a smoker.
You learned that you can reuse them if they are well taken care of and that cleaning them is pretty simple.
If you’ve never grilled with cedar planks before you owe it to yourself to pick some up and give it a try.