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I’m always looking for ways to take staple foods and put a twist on how I prepare them. Salmon is one of those foods that always seems to be in my fridge. It’s healthy, tasty, and so easy to toss a little garlic, lemon, and herbs on and put it in the oven for a hassle free dinner.
Oven baked salmon recipes can get a little mundane though if that’s the only way you prepare it. One of my absolute favorite ways to spruce things up is by cooking cedar plank salmon on the grill.
It might sound exotic, but the process is really simple. All you need is a cedar plank for grilling and to ensure you complete a few easy steps to prepare for your cook! More on that below – read on for our complete guide and cedar plank salmon recipe.
What Makes Cedar Plank Salmon So Great?
Cooking on cedar planks is a technique that actually dates back thousands of years. The appeal of this cooking technique is twofold:
- Cedar planks provide a solid surface area that prevents food from falling into a fire or through your grill grates. This is especially beneficial for fish and seafood which tend to be delicate meat and prone to falling through your grill grates.
- Cooking with a plank adds a beautiful smoky and savory flavor to your food – the flavor profile of cedar also happens to pair really nicely with salmon, fish, seafood, and chicken to name a few.
Planks are soaked before they’re placed on the grill, so to a degree your food will also steam a little bit on the grill when cooked with this technique. Because of this, veggies are also a great choice for grilling on cedar.
It’s also possible to plate salmon with the plank and all for some really cool presentation if you really want to wow your guests.
Tips for Prepping Your Cedar Planks
Nowadays, most grocery stores remain in healthy stock of cedar planks for grilling – so check out the kitchen equipment or grilling section of your local store the next time you’re there. Alternatively they are available at Amazon and other various online retailers if you prefer to get ahold of a pack online.
The only prep work that is absolutely necessary is to soak your plank, but there are a variety of little tips and techniques that can really enhance the experience. Here are a few of our suggestions for getting the most out of your cook:
- Soak your cedar plank in water for at least 3-4 hours in advance of your cook. This will prevent the wood from burning on the grill and it will also help to keep your food moist.
- Put some sort of weight on top of your wood while it soaks to ensure that it’s fully immersed in the water.
- For different zests and flavors, soak your wood in cheap wine or apple juice instead of water.
- Brush your plank lightly with oil to help give it a non-stick property.
- Cure the plank by placing it on your preheated grill grates for 2 minutes per side before you add salmon.
I’ve heard of folks reusing cedar planks 2 or 3 times, however I’m not a huge fan of this practice – most manufacturers specify that their wood is for a single use only. I like to play things safe and stick to that recommendation, especially because the product itself isn’t very expensive.
How to Cook Cedar Plank Salmon
After your cedar planks are nice and prepped, the cooking process itself is pretty easy.
- Season your salmon with salt and pepper and/or any other seasoning combination you prefer (check out our recipe below).
- Place salmon skin side down on your cured planks. Move the planks to a section of your grill where they will not be over a direct flame.
- Close the lid and cook for about 20 minutes.
- Remove from the grill and let the salmon rest before serving!
Salmon is done when it’s flaky and a light pink throughout the fillet – with no more translucence. If you have a probe thermometer handy, measure the internal temperature of your salmon. It’s ready to come off the grill once it reaches a temperature of 145°F.
Cedar Plank Salmon Recipe
- 2 cedar planks*
- 2 salmon fillets 1/2 lb each
- 1/2 tbsp kosher salt
- 1/2 tbsp ground black pepper
- 3-4 lemon slices
- 1 tsp olive oil to baste plank
- 2 tbsp dijon mustard
- 3 tbsp brown sugar
- Soak your cedar planks in water for 3 hours before planned grilling time, ensuring that the planks are completely submerged
- Preheat your grill to 400°F. Ideally you should set up two grilling zones so your salmon planks wont be over flames or direct heat
- Stir glaze ingredients together in a small bowl until smooth
- Baste a light layer of glaze onto each of the salmon fillets. Then sprinkle kosher salt and ground black pepper on top of the salmon
- Place soaked cedar planks on the grill and shut the lid for 2 minutes. Then flip the planks and close the lid again for another 2 minutes. After the 4 total minutes of curing the planks, you should start to smell a smokey smell
- Brush a tiny bit of olive oil on the top side of the planks. Place the salmon on top of the planks, skin side down. Top the salmon fillets with lemon slices
- Cook salmon for about 20 minutes, with the planks sitting on a section of the grate that is not directly over a flame
- Salmon is finished when it has reached an internal temperature of 145°F and easily flakes with a fork
- Remove salmon from grill and let it rest for about 5 minutes before serving. Enjoy!
- Depending on the size of your planks, both salmon fillets might fit on one plank - and it's totally fine to cook with multiple fillets on one plank if that is your preference!
Is Cedar Safe to Cook On?
If you’ve spent time around grilling and smoking, you know that for the most part the wood we use to cook and flavor our food are almost always hardwoods. Woods like hickory, mesquite, oak, apple, and cherry are the staples of BBQ – but what about cedar?
Cedar is actually a softwood – so the question of whether cedar is safe to cook on is a fair one. Especially considering most softwoods are toxic and really bad choices to implement into your cooking process.
Cedar, however is the exception to the softwood rule – and more specifically there are only a few species of cedar that are even safe to cook on. But the answer is yes, cedar is perfectly safe to use for cooking salmon.
Most of the planks you’ll find are constructed of Western Red Cedar, which is native to the Pacific Northwest United States and is non-toxic. It also produces the best smoke flavoring, which makes it the most common and popular type of cedar for cedar planks.
The below cedar species are all safe to cook with, although they will likely impart weaker flavor than the Western Red Cedar:
- White cedar
- Alaskan yellow cedar
- Atlantic cedar
- Northern white cedar
Stay away from everything else – it’s probably toxic! There’s an abundance of Western Red Cedar out there and it does a great job – so there’s really no need to experiment with other species.
What to Serve with Cedar Plank Salmon
This dinner is more versatile than you think – and it goes nicely with a wide variety of sides. Here are just a few suggestions for what to serve alongside your salmon:
- Mashed potatoes
- Cous cous
- Brussels sprouts
- Green beens
- Scalloped potatoes
If you want to make the night a touch classier, you can also pick out lots of wines that will pair very nicely with salmon. Check out our suggestions for the best wine with salmon for some ideas!
While this recipe isn’t exactly reinventing the wheel, it’s a classic take on one of my favorite ways to cook salmon.
Did you try it out at home? Let us know how it went in the comments section below.