UP IN SMOKE
PLANKED FISH TECHNIQUES
Summer is here, and the living is easy . . .
That’s how the song goes at least, but for many folks, summertime means burnt chickens, tough steaks, and fish that sticks to the grill grate.
You already know how to fix the first problem. (Beer can chicken, anyone?) I’ll address grilling the perfect steak in a future issue. So let’s focus on one of the easiest, most fail proof, delicious, and downright novel ways to grill fish: on a cedar plank.
The procedure is fantastic for at least four reasons. The hot wet cedar perfumes the fish with an amazing wood flavor. Indirect grilling spares you having to turn the delicate fish fillet, which is always a challenge on the grill. And because you’re grilling on a board, you never have to worry about the fish sticking to the grill grate. Best of all the novel presentation has maximum wow power: eyes truly pop and jaws drop when you present your beautiful fish.
You may be familiar with two planked salmon recipes already: the mustard and brown sugar planked salmon in my Beer-Can Chicken book (pages 223-224) and the lemon dill glazed planked salmon in BBQ USA (pages 456-457). (Or if you tuned into the “Today Show” on July 5th, you may have watched me demonstrate planked salmon.)
But that’s just a start. Check the recipe section below for three more planked seafood ideas.
So where do you get those cedar grilling planks? Check out the “Gear” section in our new BBQ Store!
NEWS & VIEWS
And the news is . . . charcoal is back. Recent interviews with executives from the Chlorox Company (makers of Kingsford Charcoal) and the Weber Stephens and Viking grill companies have confirmed what I’ve been observing as I travel across the U.S. with the Barbecue Bus: More and more Americans are rediscovering the primal pleasure of grilling over charcoal.
Charcoal grills have at least three advantages over gas grills:
Besides, it’s just plain fun to build and play with fire. So even if you’re a diehard gas griller or you own a $5000 gas supergrill, I recommend investing in an inexpensive charcoal grill for smoking.
GRILLS, GEAR, AND FUELS
So what kind of charcoal grill should you get?
Well, it’s hard to beat the foolproof simplicity of the basic kettle grill. The ash catcher, side baskets, and built in thermometer of the Weber One Touch Grill make it the perfect charcoal grill for beginners. Whichever charcoal grill you purchase, just make sure there’s enough room under the lid for a beer can chicken. (In terms of kettle grills, you need one that’s at least 22-1/2 inches across.)
If I could only use one grill for the rest of my life, it would be the Weber Performer, a 22-1/2 inch kettle grill with a propane ignition system set in a stainless steel cart. Light your charcoal with the push of a button (and without petroleum based lighter fluid). The metal cart gives you plenty of work space–always in short supply when grilling.
When it comes to the ultimate charcoal grilling experience, it’s hard to beat the Weber Ranch Grill. Described as a kettle grill on steroids, the Ranch measures 36 inches across (1004 square inches of cooking surface), with a massive, 1/4 inch thick, nickel-plated grill grate. We carry one of these bad boys on the BBQ Bus and it’s large enough to grill 3 briskets, 6 pork shoulders, 8 beer can chickens, or 100 bratwurst at one time.
What about folks with small balconies or terraces? For those who think small is beautiful (a group that includes most of the grill masters in Japan), there’s no better grill than a hibachi. The best one I’ve seen in a long time is made right here in America by the Lodge Manufacturing Co. The 410 Hibachi Iron Sportsman Grill has an adjustable cast iron grate and a nifty coal chute for adding fresh charcoal. Use it for grilling your dinner, or for keeping the food warm on the table.
TIPS AND TECHNIQUES
Planked salmon originated in the Pacific-Northwest, where an abundance of great salmon and cedar and alder trees made its invention almost inevitable. The singular preparation may have been inspired by the traditional salmon “bakes” of the Northwest Indians, who would roast whole fish on cedar stakes in front of a giant bonfire.
To make planked salmon, you simply lay a salmon fillet on a 6 by 12 inch cedar board that’s been soaked for an hour or so in cold water. (You can also do this on alder or oak planks.) Note: you must use untreated lumber. Set up your grill for indirect grilling and preheat to medium-high (about 400 degrees). Place the board with the fish on the grill away from the heat and indirect grill until the fish is cooked, 20 to 30 minutes. I’’s that simple.
OK, so you have your cedar plank. You have your grill. And you have your technique. Here are three quick recipes to put it all together.
Planked trout: Place a whole trout on a cedar plank. Place some capers and lemon slices in the cavity. Generously season the fish inside and out with coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper. Lay strips on smoky bacon on top of and beneath the fish. Indirect grill for 20 to 30 minutes.
Planked scallops: Arrange a dozen or so giant fresh plump sea scallops on the plank. Generously season on both sides with salt and pepper. Place a dollop of garlic parsley butter on top and squeeze a little lemon juice over each. Indirect grill for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the butter is melted and the scallops are just cooked.
Planked bluefish: When bluefish is fresh, there’s no better fish on the planet. Make a simple glaze with 1/2 cup mayonnaise, 1/3 cup Dijon mustard, and any chopped herb you fancy. (A few drops of lemon juice don’t hurt either.) Arrange a generously salted and peppered bluefish fillet on the soaked cedar plank and spread the glaze on top. Indirect grill over medium-high heat until the glaze is golden brown and the fish is cooked through, 20 to 30 minutes. (To test it, insert a metal skewer in the side and leave it in for 15 seconds—the skewer should come out very hot to the touch.)
Do you have a favorite way of grilling on a wood plank. Let us know on the BBQ Board.
MAILBAG: YOUR QUERIES AND QUESTIONS
This is a long newsletter issue, so we only have space for a few questions. If you have a question, by the way, visit the BBQ Board for an immediate response. We have terrific deputies who can answer most questions and the dialogue on the board is truly stimulating. Finally, when asking a question, please tell us where you’re from.
“First, I love The Barbecue Bible,” writes Alice Hoodenpyle. (Thanks, Alice!) “I am brand new to this style of cooking, so my question is: Do you use a rub & also baste with a sauce? Or do you just marinate or only use a rub?”
Great question, Alice. Rubs and marinades go on before you cook. Bastes go on while you’re grilling. You can certainly use both techniques to create multiple layers of flavor.
By the way, I tend to use rubs with fatty foods, like ribs and briskets, and marinades with leaner foods, like tuna and chicken breasts.
“I got The Barbecue Bible as a wedding present five years ago and have cooked out of it at least once a week ever since,” writes Aaron Dees of Westminster, Colorado. “I wanted to share with you a little idea I had on soaking wood chips for the grill. I am terrible about remembering to soak my chips, so I usually just skip it. One evening I decided to try microwaving the chips. I took a handful of chips and placed them in a microwave safe bowl; I then added enough hot water to cover the chips and nuked ’em for about a minute. When I placed them on my charcoal, they smoked up as though I had soaked them for hours. These turbo-charged chips gave me great wood to smoke with in less than five minutes! Feel free to try it out and share with other grill jockeys.”
Thanks, Aaron. I LOVE this tip. Folks out there–let us know how it works!
That’s all for now folks. (Way more than I intended to write, but once I get started on BBQ, nothing can stop me.)
Steven Raichlen's official newsletter, Up in Smoke, is available exclusively on barbecuebible.com. Culled from experiences on the barbecue trail and beyond, Steven brings you reviews you can use, recipes, answers to your questions, special BBQ store discounts, and more. The newsletter is FREE and comes out every week. It is available first only to subscribers to the newsletter and then posted a month later in the newsletter archives. Sign up today!