At its core, grilling is the simplest form of cooking. You create extreme heat, you put a piece of food on top of the heat, and then you sit back and watch the magic happen. Yet despite the inherent simplicity in grilling, there are a million ways to make it more complex, more unique, and, yes, even more flavorful.
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My favorite way to elevate grilling is to use wood planks. Wood planks add a certain level of refinement to grilled food, yet they highlight the most important factor of grilling: smokiness.
Despite the fact that wood planks are cheap, easy to use, and absolutely incredible, they're not very commonly used. But they should be!
Wood planks are exactly what they sound like: planks of wood. They are thin slabs of hardwood, and are used as a pan of sorts for grills. They both allow the food to be protected from the direct flame and grates, and they impart the flavor of the wood into the dish.
You can get a variety of different woods, each with a unique flavor (if you want to know what flavor the wood has, just smell it!). My personal favorite wood is cherry, but you really can't go wrong. Heck, if you happen to have some felled hardwood on your property, you can even cut yourself a grilling plank!
You can buy planks at most high-end grocery stores, or at any grilling store. Oftentimes butchers will sell them, and I've even seen them at Home Depot next to the barbecue equipment. That said, most places will only offer one or two kinds of wood. If you're particular about finding a specific wood, your best bet is to order some planks online.
Thankfully, they're incredibly cheap: I buy mine at Whole Foods, where a pack of two costs just $10.
Using a plank is incredibly simple. The first step is to soak it in water, which has a dual effect. First, and most importantly, a wet plank isn't likely to catch on fire. And second, soaking the wood results in steam being released as the plank is heated, which can help keep food moist.
The plank needs to be placed in a pan of water and weighted down so it won't float. It needs at least an hour of soaking, but I prefer to let mine go overnight.
Then when it's time to grill, just remove the plank from the water, place your food on the wood, and rest it on the grill. For foods that will cook super quickly, it's a good idea to put the plank on the grill without the food until the wood is smoking, then flip it over and add the food.
You can put almost anything on a wood plank and the results will be glorious. Fish is particularly good on a plank, because the aforementioned steam keeps the seafood from drying out. My favorite, however, is a whole round of brie, which really benefits from the heat and the smoky flavor.
Summer is grilling season, so I highly recommend that you give planks a try. They're a lot of fun, and, unless you really burn them, you can wash them off and reuse them (don't use soap, though).
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