Sep 032009

Welcome back, plankers. In our first thrilling episode we talked about what kind of wood you should select for planking, and where to get it. Today we will discuss two absolutely cruicial concepts: plank thickness, and plank preparation. The two items are closely related and getting your head around both of them is crucial for your planking success. So – in a nutshell, here it is:

  1. The more delicate the food, the thinner the plank you want – we touched on this briefly in part one, but it is worth repeating on it’s own.
  2. If your food needs a thick plank, it also needs to be prepped. This is the step most beginners mess up.

So – details. As far as thickness goes, deciding whether or not a food is “delicate” and needs a thin plank can be generally summed up as thus:

Animal flesh = thicker plank.
Not animal flesh (ie: fruit, cheese, Twinkies, whatever) = thinner plank.

If you follow this generally simple rule, you will do just fine. Beef, pork, fish, chicken, turkey, emu … if it ate and pooped, it counts as an animal and goes on the thick plank. Anything else, thin is in.

Now – if you picked the thick plank (ie: the food you are cooking used to eat and poop) then you also need to properly prep the plank the get the proper cooking result. Luckily, the prep part is easy. Soak it (the plank, not the food) and then burn it (again, the plank and not the food).

Soaking is easy – just run a sink or pail or bathtub or some other suitable vessel of water, and let the plank sit in it for 20 or 30 minutes. Clever types among you will have probably figured out that the plank is going to float, so be sure to pile something on top of it (a plate, a brick, your dog, whatever) to make sure it gets submerged.

Burning the plank is also pretty easy. Just before you want to put your food on to cook, and when the grill is nice and hot (and yes, we are talking about cooking over direct heat here, so grillheads rejoice) put the plank on the grill for about 5 minutes. You want to get a surface char on one side, but not dry the plank out. Once you have a char on the bottom of the thing, and some wisps of smoke coming off, turn the plank over and put the food on the charred side. This is the crucial bit that most beginners don’t grok on their own, and it is the key to building the layers of flavour that you want to achieve here.

Thin-thick, soak, char. Dwell on these sage bits of truth for a few days, and in the final installment of our adventure in planking I will pony up a couple of recipes you can try. And yes, there will be Twinkies.

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.

Jul 072009

UPDATE: I have changed the cutting pattern to a far more useful (and more obvious, I don’t know what I was thinking before) layout that gives four equal portions and is easier to finish. New pictures included!
GRILLHEAD ALERT: This one is a pure grilling recipe and takes direct heat, so all of you non-barbeque guys can jump on board today. You will knock your guests out when you serve this up as either an after-meal treat or as an appetizer.

This is a super-simple combination of pineapple, maple syrup, cinnamon, and a hot grill. It brings a smorgasbord or bold and subtle flavours to the party, and looks fabulous on the plate. It gets served in it’s own skin and looks faboo. The only real challenge here is the cutting, and anyone with a couple of sharp knives will do just fine.

Continue reading »

Jun 172009

Okay, grillheads, listen up – this one is for you. Just because you aren’t cooking barbeque doesn’t mean you cant benefit from some barbeque techniques and lore. So fire up those grills, get out the ground chuck, and take heed:

  • Never use lean ground beef. I shouldn’t have to tell you this, but I see lemmings at the grocery store buying “lean” and “extra lean” ground and it just makes me cringe. Barbeque aficionados know that fat = flavour. Period. Get regular ground, and don’t just get any old ground beef. Get a ground mix of brisket, short ribs, and bacon. If the place you shop wont give it to you, go elsewhere. Try going to a real butcher instead of some big box Supr-Save-Mart. If you can’t find someone to do this for you, the desperate emergency fallback is ground chuck. But you really want to make the effort to get the real thing.
  • Don’t compress your patty. I’m not talking about on the grill, i am talking about when you make the damn things. Don’t press them flat! Don’t use a patty stacker or some other K-Tel tomfoolery. Rule of thumb with beef – the more you handle it, the tougher it gets. And this goes double for ground meat. Gently pat them into shape – your patties should be loose. If you are worried about them falling apart, put them in the freezer for 20 minutes before you grill.
  • Baste your meat. People seem to forget the basic principles of cooking with fire when it comes to burgers. Here is a super easy mix that will knock your socks off: Blend one part dark ale, one part barbeque sauce (this one would do nicely) and one part melted butter. If you use a quarter cup of each, that will be good for two good-sized patties – adjust the amounts as needed for your feast. 3/4 of a cup for two patties seems like a lot, but remember that this isn’t a sauce – it is a baste or a mop – so you will need quite a bit as each coat soaks into the patty. Gently baste your burgers once a minute the entire time they are on the grill. You will go mental for the result.
  • Buttter your buns. Really. If you toast your buns on the grill, butter the cut sides first, and put them butter-down on the grill. Don’t argue, just do it. If you only follow one tip here, this is the one.

Okay. Commit this stuff to memory, and then get grilling. Spatulas, ho!

(NOTE: This list originally specified ground chuck as the go-to for hamburger beef. It has been updated to reflect the fact that the brisket-shortrib blend makes ground chuck seem like sawdust.)

Jun 142009


This is a super simple side dish that has four ingredients (disclaimer: I used six ingredients here, but you dont have to), tastes like a million bucks, and has serious potential when paired with anything that likes either onions or cheese or both. Big convenience factor, too – you can make it a long way ahead if you need to, and just toss it into the pit when you are ready.

GRILLHEAD ALERT: This works fine on the grill too, and makes a killer burger topping – just remember not to put it over direct heat.

Continue reading »

Jun 062009

Let’s be clear: Grilling isn’t any sort of great evil. Grilling often results in some quick and tasty food, and in some cases (hot dogs, hamburgers*, steaks, yummy vegetables) grilling is pretty much the correct way to cook. So – while I am going to remain pretty hardcore about the fact that grilling is not barbeque, I am also going to be giving grilling it’s proper due … talking about it, doing it, and sharing some ideas. It helps that the Egg is not only a fabulous inderect cooker and smoker, but an incredible grill.

There is no shame in grilling., Just make sure you call it what it is, and don’t use the “b” word when talking about it.

*NOTE: While grilling makes generally excellent hamburgers, I have been using the smoker to take sliders to a whole new level this year. Details and photos to come.