Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Thoughts on planks....

No, we're not talking about those bastard things you do at the gym.
A comment in response to our planked shrimp post got us to thinking about smoking planks. Specifically, we've been thinking about natural grilling planks (natural meaning an oval cross-cut out of a log) vs. traditional rectangle smooth planed boards.

We received a few samples of Northern White Cedar natural planks from the good folks at Maine Grilling Woods a number of years ago and used them to cook some salmon. (You can see them in the photo above.) We have a few more in our garage but have never used them again. So, we've been thinking about why.

The planks we used were fairly rough-sawn ovals and it was use once and that's it. You couldn't clean or scrape the surface you cooked on. In fact, since you are cooking on the end grain of the wood, the wood is going to absorb any fluids involved in the cooking, fluids you might wish to include in your next cook. Of course, the other side of the oval plank was charred from the fire so you wouldn't want to put your food on that side for a subsequent cook. Smooth planks can often be cleaned up by scraping the cooking surface so if the planks didn't get too charred, they can be reused a second time. Those natural planks we used were pretty much done after the first use.

Also, these oval planks are pretty thick. You couldn't hope to cross-cut a log into thin slices without the slices cracking, so they have to be cut fairly thick. (In fact, in the photo above, you can see one of the planks has cracked during the cooking process.) The result is that you are paying for a lot of wood you don't really need for cooking purposes. The rectangular traditional planks are usually cut to about 1/4 inch vs. the much thicker natural planks.

And of course, natural planks are relatively small which makes them even more expensive to use as you may need to use two planks instead of one. Being oval in shape also cuts down on the cooking surface vs. the rectangular traditional plank.

We did some poking around on the internet to compare prices and indeed, the natural ovals are more expensive. They ranged from 12.9 to 16.4 cents per square inch, while the traditional planks ranged from 4.2 to 8.3 cents per square inch.

So, all in all, we think nice big planed traditional planks just thick enough to do their jobs seem to be the best choice, both from the standpoint of efficiency and economy. We suppose it might be fun to serve your food on individual ovals in a sort of rustic atmosphere, but in general we think we'll stick to traditional planks.



At April 27, 2011 at 2:12 PM , Anonymous Andy Scalzo said...

I like planking, but I have just as good results cooking on grates and supplementing the smoke with wood chunks...and NOT cedar, but rather alderwood or even pecan, peach or apple. I would rather go with just the natural lump charcoal than using cedar, be it planks or chunks.

At August 3, 2011 at 11:49 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

The oval planks come in sizes up to 6x18, not just individual cuts. Each plank is approximately 3/8" thick. If you want to use it again, simply protect the plank with foil or keep from direct flame. We use ours 2-3 times before tossing on the flame for extra smoke flavor.

The cross cut infuses the dish with the sap flavor of the wood and does not absorb the juices from the meat on the plank.

Also, the oval planks are available in 9 varieties. Hard to find some of those types in regular planks.


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