Aug 112009

You cant watch a cooking show for like 15 seconds now without someone babbling on about “planking”. And no doubt you have seen all sorts of “plank paraphernalia” down at ye olde barbeque store or over at the local big box hardware joint. Now, this is not a bad thing – in general, planking is an excellent concept, and way to bring the benefits of barbeque (moisture and smoke) to all you grillheads out there. The problem is that most of what people try to tell you about planking is either stupid, incomplete, or wrong.

Luckily for you, however, you have stumbled onto the correct resource for this sort of thing. Today we present the first of a three-part extravaganza on how to get planking right. Pay attention – this is important.

Today we talk about the actual planks themselves – what kind to use, and where to get them. The first problem here is that everyone seems to want to start and end with cedar planks. And frankly, cedar is about the last kind of plank you want to use. It has nasty oils in it that carbonize – giving you a less-than-delicious benzine tang to whatever you are cooking – and as a softwood the flavour is just too harsh for pretty much any food that you might want to eat. Stay away from cedar. Even salmon does better on a traditional hardwood like alder or oak. Especially alder. If for some reason you absolutely must have cedar, use papers and not planks.

What you do want to get into is hardwood planking. Maple, oak, and alder are three great places to start. Fruit and nut woods – apple, peach, pecan – are great too, but trying to find planks cut from small gnarly orchard trees is usually an exercise in futility. Stick with the first three for now. Branch out later if you really get into it, but start with the basics.

Now – with an idea of what you want to use settled into the back of your brain, let’s go to the store. Planking used to be an obscure sort of deal, but now you walk in and you are overwhelmed by a veritable plethora of planks. Where do you start?

Where you start, of course, is by walking right past all of this overpriced stuff. You can save a lot of money and gain a lot of flexibility if you don’t buy your planks in the “grilling supplies” section of the store. Head on down to your local home improvement or hardware place, walk past the area with all that crap and go back to where they sell the actual lumber. Here you will find all manner of oak, maple, and alder planks, for about half the price of the fancy packaged ones, and in nice long lengths that you can cut yourself to whatever size you need. Better, you can buy assorted thicknesses – thin ones for short-cook and vaguely delicate items like cheese or twinkies, thicker for big heavy pork loins and the like.
Yes, I said twinkies. More on that in our third installment.

The only real reason for buying the pre-packaged stuff is if you want to get a “cross-cut” plank to jazz up your plating. These things from Montana are pretty cool – they hold more moisture because they are open across the grain, and they look fabulous at the table.
But for work-a-day planking of average stuff, you want to buy your planks at the back of the store. Lay a few in, find your saw, and next time we will talk about plank prep. See you then.

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