Grilling salmon on a cedar plank is a fantastic way to reinvigorate your rotation of salmon and grilling recipes. The salmon benefits from the sweet smoldering wood, which becomes a serving tray of sorts—it’s both easy to grill and easy to clean up.
Cooking on a cedar plank is hardly new. It’s a method that has been used by several Native American tribes of the Pacific Northwest. Salmon is a central theme throughout their lives—they are known as The Salmon People.
When I lit my first grill almost 30 years ago, “planking” was around, but it wasn’t mainstream. Today, grilling planks are sold at most grocery and big-box stores. You can even buy salmon pre-loaded on a plank. Not that I recommend doing that!
I have “planked” countless meals on my backyard grills, but nothing brings more joy than to revisit one of the classics: cedar plank salmon. What sounds technically complicated is a forgiving grilling adventure. This recipe yields tender, flaky salmon with the distinct sweet aroma of smoke coupled with the bright tang of lemon and dill. It’s so memorable, I wonder why I don’t grill it more often. I should.
Benefits of Grilling Salmon on a Cedar Plank
There is one benefit of planked salmon guaranteed to catch the ear of any backyard griller who dabbles in seafood: the salmon will not stick to the grates. While not a testament to the final meal, but the cooking process, the ability to grill fish and not worry about half of it clinging to the grates is definitely a selling point.
The salmon doesn’t stick because it is grilled on the plank, which also doubles as a serving tray. The plank also provides a layer of flexibility. Unlike cooking fish directly on the grates where they must be removed when done, the plank extends the cook time allowing you an extra minute or two to get them off in case you are tied up with something else.
When purchasing salmon, I always look for wild-caught. While a whole salmon filet can be planked, you will need a very large plank. I prefer to portion it into 8-ounce filets. The increased surface area of the salmon opens it up to absorb more flavor from the plank and smoke. It’s also easier to serve.
I’ve tried it both ways through the years and have concluded it’s best to leave the skin on. It’s more work to remove the skin, and at the end of the day, the results are negligible.
About the Cedar Wood Plank
Cedar is the most common wood associated with planking. However, this fragrant softwood doesn’t hold the monopoly on the grill. Adler and cherry are also worthy considerations.
The key to cooking on wood is to ensure the wood is food safe. No matter how inviting the local hardware store’s lumber selection is, stick with appropriately sourced wood explicitly made for grilling. You’ll most likely find it at your local grocery store.
Can a plank be reused? Absolutely! I often get two or three cooks from a single plank. Just clean off the skin and any residue with soap and water. As long as the plank didn’t take on too much heat, it’s up for a repeat performance.
Tips for Grilling Cedar Plank Salmon
- Soak the plank in water for 30 minutes before using. This gives it the strength to withstand heat over a longer period. You can grill a plank without soaking but be prepared since it’ll burn much quicker and can’t be left over high heat for long.
- Before cooking the salmon, you need to “cook” the plank. By heating the plank, the stage is set for it to smolder sooner—that’s where most of the flavor and scent comes from—once you add the salmon on top.
- Move the planked salmon between direct and indirect heat to maximize the time the salmon cooks on the plank. The direct heat—right over the lit coals or burners—smolders the plank, creating smoke and flavor. Over indirect heat—with no coals or lit burners underneath—the fish will finish cooking without ending up on a flaming life raft in the middle of the grill.
- The salmon is done when the flesh turns opaque and flakes easily with a fork. For temperature, I look for 135º F with an instant-read thermometer.
One Fish Two Fish Grilled Fish
Cedar Plank Salmon
4 (8-ounce) salmon filets, skin on
2 teaspoons fresh lemon zest
2 teaspoons chopped fresh dill
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 to 2 cedar wood grilling planks, large enough to hold the 4 salmon filets without touching or overlapping
Soak the cedar planks:
Soak the cedar planks in water for at least 30 minutes.
Use a rimmed baking sheet filled with water and a drinking glass or mug on top to keep the plank submerged.
Prepare the grill for two-zone cooking at medium heat, 350º to 450º F:
For a charcoal grill: Light the coals and once they ash over, place them on one half of the grill. Leave the other half without coals.
For a gas grill: Only light half of the burners set to medium heat, 350°F, and keep the other side off.
Grill the plank:
To maximize the scent of the cedar plank, grill it (without the salmon) over direct heat—right above the lit coals or burners—until grill marked and it starts to smolder, about one minute. Remove from the grill.
Prepare the salmon:
Place each salmon filet, skin side-down, on the marked side of the cedar plank. Evenly season the tops with lemon zest, dill, salt, and black pepper.
Grill the salmon:
Grill the planked salmon over direct heat—right above the lit coals or burners—with the grill lid down, until the plank starts to smolder, 10 to 15 minutes. Then, slide the plank to indirect heat—where there is no coal, or the burners are turned off—and continue to cook with the grill lid on.
Be sure to keep the lid on as much as possible throughout the cooking process. Cook until the salmon turns opaque and easily flakes with a fork or until the internal temperature of the salmon reads 135º F with an instant read thermometer.
Serve the salmon:
Transfer the planked salmon onto a heatproof tray or platter, and serve.
Leftovers will keep for 3 to 4 days in the fridge. I do not recommend freezing cooked salmon. Leftovers are great for making salmon cakes or to top salads!
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|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 28g||36%|
|Saturated Fat 5g||27%|
|Total Carbohydrate 0g||0%|
|Dietary Fiber 0g||1%|
|Total Sugars 0g|
|Vitamin C 10mg||49%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|