Food Exploring :: Cedar-Plank Salmon and Veggies

I’m out all week at the Association of the U.S. Army annual event for work, so what better time to go do a little food exploring? The Food Exploring series is a way to revisit adventures I’ve been on around the world that have opened my eyes, inspired me to think in different ways, and often left a serious food impression! This week, let’s talk Alaska!


Cedar-plank grilled salmon sounds somewhat romantic, a dish you’d enjoy at a fine rustic restaurant or at a specialty party.

But to me, King Salmon tells a wilder story. These fish are accomplished world travelers, navigating hundreds of miles of rivers and seas, and they put the most adept whitewater rafters and kayakers to shame.

We watched scores of them navigating their way through Alaska’s waters. And while I feel somewhat guilty now about letting Ketchikan’s fishmongers show us the best ways to catch them and cook them up, it was nice knowing that many were navigating the waterways and we weren’t catching that one salmon who had made it.

Let me give you a little bit of that Alaska flavor today.

That’s part of the purpose of this blog, to invite you and those you host at your table to taste the stories of your food explorations. And grilled cedar plank salmon takes me back to Alaska in a heartbeat.

It’s perfect for the salmon. It’s rustic, it’s a little bit of the wild outdoors, it’s smoky and hearty and just a little salty. Let it transport you and tell its story.

If you’ve never grilled on wood, let me take you through some of the basics. It’s not hard, and in the end, it’s totally worth it.

1. Choose your plank.

Cedar Plank-2

Cedar-plank salmon is my absolute favorite, and it’s probably the one most folks have heard of, but you can use a number of other different planks to add different flavors. Hickory/mesquite, for example, adds a much heavier, smokier flavor to the meat. Maple, on the other hand, lends it a sticky-sweet flavor.

To get a good plank, you can buy a specialty grilling plank at a specialty cooking store {hint: the more times you use specialty in a sentence, the more $$$s it indicates}. Or you can go pick up an untreated plank at your local Home Depot and make your own.

Just in case I didn’t emphasize it enough, make sure it’s untreated. The chemicals used to preserve wood are no good for your food or your stomach.

2. Prep your plank.

Sand your plank to prevent slivers from getting caught in your food, rinse it off to remove dust, and then soak it fully submerged in water for anywhere between 1 and 4 hours. I generally err on the longer time for that just to make sure the wood is fully soaked through. You don’t want your plank to catch fire when you grill.

You can marinate your plank as it soaks also, to give it some extra flavor. I’ve tried extra salt, a healthy splash of apple cider vinegar, orange juice, and even brandy. Depending on what you add, you can tease out some extra nuances in the salmon, which is always fun.

3. Prep your salmon.

You can cook your filet whole, but I prefer to cut my salmon into serving-portions and line them up along the cedar plank.

I season them with a mixture of salt, pepper, and Penzey’s Tuscan Sunset blend, but you can use any other dry rub or marinade that you prefer. If you’re using a cedar plank to grill, though, think of spices that would complement a deep, woody flavor.

4. Let’s grill.

Fire that sucker up. You’ll want your gas grill on medium, and you’ll want your charcoal grill to burn down until the charcoals are just glowing ashy embers. You can adjust heat levels by raising or lowering the lid.

My salmon is usually done in about 15 minutes, but depending on your grill, it could take anywhere between 15 and 25 minutes. Check it frequently.

I check by pressing it with a fork. If it flakes easily, then it’s done. If it just squishes a little, it needs some more time.

When the salmon is close to done, I throw on my veggies to grill with it. I leave the lid up and think of the upper rack as my warming rack.

For my veggies, I use a mixture of chopped broccoli florets, chopped zucchini, chopped onion, and sliced red peppers with the same seasoning mix as I used on the salmon and a few garlic cloves tucked in throughout. It makes a really tasty complement to the smoky spice on the salmon.

So the next time you break out the grill, don’t just throw on burgers and hot-dogs. Take a little trip to the beautiful mountains and wild rivers of the Pacific Northwest and smoke yourself a cedar-plank salmon filet.

Don’t judge my work table. It’s a work in progress.

Have you tried plank grilling before? What’s your favorite method?

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