Dinner just tastes better when it’s done on the grill–doesn’t it? It seems simple–just light fire, add seasoned or marinated meat and go. You can do that and wind up with a good meal–but with the appropriate equipment (like cedar planks) and a bit of technique you can create something truly exceptional.
I was lucky enough to attend a special grilling workshop with Chef Ernest (Chopped Grill Masters Champ!) and the kind folks from (Western Premium BBQ) when Walmart had the Walmart Moms down to Bentonville last spring. He taught us all to grill using cedar planks, and now I’m going to teach you!
Cedar planks give an amazing scent and smoky flavor to food. Salmon is the classic “planked” dish. I love that this chi-chi sounding technique is actually super simple to do but sure to impress your family and friends.
I headed out shopping to my local Walmart. They had a couple of kinds of cedar planks available in the BBQ section–near the charcoal and lump wood for smoking. There were also a lot of really cool woods to use for smoking and grilling (in chunks in bags) and several types of smoke/flavor infused charcoal that I hadn’t seen before.
I picked up the Western Cedar planks ($5.98 for 2), which are made of untreated cedar wood. They are a one time use item (although Chef Ernest said you can use them multiple times in one grilling session–you just can’t store them and use them again next week). I decided to try my first cedar planking adventure with something I knew would turn out well–frozen shrimp from the seafood section. Then I decided to branch out and experiment with making some cedar planked cheese using Queso Fresco. I couldn’t find much information on planking cheese, but I decided that if anything would work a non melting cheese like Queso Fresco would.
Once I had my supplies it was time to grill. Although all the directions say to soak your planks first (anywhere from 1 hour to 24 hours) Chef Ernest disagreed. He said that you want the heat to warm up the wood and release the scent and taste, and that if you smoke it then the grill first has to evaporate the water and dry the wood before it can start flavoring your food. When he demonstrated for us he said to just use the dry plank.
I was a bit nervous, but that was what I decided to go with. After all, he’s the Chef!
I started out by preheating my propane grill to about 350. On my grill that was the lowest setting for all 3 elements. I wanted the heat to be low to give the cedar plank time to impart it’s magic flavor on the food! I placed the Queso Fresco on one plank and the defrosted shrimp on another. The cheese was plain, but I did sprinkle salt, pepper and garlic powder on the shrimp. Then I set everything on the grill and closed the cover. My gas grill doesn’t have vents, so I didn’t have nice appetizing smoke leaking out of the top like you would with a charcoal grill–but you could still smell the cedar as it cooked.
An interesting note–Chef Ernest taught us that by scooping your hand over the smoke leaking out of a grill and then quickly smelling it you can tell what the food you are grilling is going to taste like when it’s done. Try it the next time you grill–it’s really neat!
I was nervous about how long the cooking would take, so I decided to check the food at 5 minute intervals. After the first 5 minutes I could see that things were happening, but we weren’t anywhere near fully cooked.
At 10 minutes things were looking pretty good, but the shrimp still wasn’t quite done.
I finally gave in to nerves at the 12 minute mark or so and took everything off the grill.
It was so good!. I couldn’t believe how delicious the shrimp were with almost no work at all. The cedar planking gave them a beautiful golden color too–The presentation was so pretty, this was something I’d be proud to serve to any guest in my home. The smoky flavor in the Queso Fresco wasn’t too strong–it just had a slight cedar flavor, warm and tasty! It all disappeared quickly once my taste testers got hold of it!
Of course I can’t use the planks again for grilling–but they still smelled great, so I washed them well and put them out by the wood we use for our campfires. I can just imagine how nice it will smell if I throw the cedar plank on the fire while we are all sitting around some night.
So next time you need to make a quick but impressive meal, I highly recommend trying cedar planks on your grill.
Looking for more great summer grilling ideas? Here’s a ton!
- Spicy Grilled Potato Salad
- Grilled Chimichurri Steak Tacos
- Smoked Shrimp and Asparagus
- Grilled Shrimp with Butter and Herbs
- Argentinean Chimichurri Sauce on Grilled Rib-Eye Steaks
- Easy Grilled Peaches with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream
- Grilled Nectarines and Plums with Almond Cream
- Indoor Grilling: No Guessing When Your Meat is Done
- Cedar Plank Grilled Shrimp
- Cherry Chipotle Pork Ribs
- Shrimp and Queso Fresco
- Grilled Peach Parfait
- Outdoor Grilling Tips
Disclosure: As a participant in the Walmart Moms Program, I’ve received compensation for my time and efforts in creating this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own.