If you’re ready to take your grilling techniques to the next level, add a plank or a wrap the next time you grill. Backyard barbecuers know that two simple, inexpensive tools can expand their repertoire of healthful and delicious dishes prepared on the grill.
The use of a plank — simply a piece of wood that doubles as a flavor agent and a cooking surface — offers several advantages to plain, old grilling.
1. It adds the subtle flavor of the wood to whatever is being grilled on top of it.
2. It provides a barrier against the flames, allowing foods to cook more slowly and evenly.
3. It provides a solid platform for delicate foods that can easily break apart and fall into the open spaces of a regular grill surface.
4. It does all this without adding one single calorie to your food.
Want to give plank grilling a try? Here’s what you need to know:
1. Plank grilling is used most often to cook fish. Salmon is a favorite, but Arctic char, trout, tilapia or mahi mahi would work fine, too. (Please remember to make sure your seafood is sustainable.)
2. Choose wood that has an aroma and flavor that works with what you’re grilling. The most commonly used woods are cedar, hickory, maple, hickory, cherry or apple. Also, only use wood that’s untreated, as well as stain and paint free.
3. Immerse the wood in water and soak for a minimum of one hour before grilling. This will help prevent it from catching fire. You can also add wine, apple juice or citrus to the water to intensify the flavor.
4. When the plank is finished soaking, rub a light coat of oil on the top surface. The oil will add a few calories, but it will prevent the fish from sticking to the plank. Then place the fish on the plank and whatever seasoning you prefer. (Some chefs prefer to warm the plank on the grill first, before adding the fish, to prevent warping.)
5. Put the plank with the fish directly on the grill and close the lid. Count on it taking up to 50 percent longer to cook because it’s cooking indirectly; this is also why you don’t need to flip it over on its other side.
6. You may want to baste the fish as it’s cooking with the same wine or juice that you used to season the plank. But you don’t have to.
7. Have a spray bottle filled with clean water standing by. If the plank catches fire; don’t panic. Just give it a spritz to extinguish the flame.
8. When the fish is cooked, remove it from the plank and serve.
9. The plank can be reused, if it’s still in good shape. Just soak in water to clean and allow to dry completely before storing.
How To Grill On A Plank
Step 1: Choose a grilling plank
Cedar lends the most intense, aromatic flavor to salmon, but other woods are excellent for plank-grilling, too.
Here are some examples:
Alder: Adds a mild, mellow flavor
Cherry: Imparts a rich woody flavor
Hickory: Gives food a strong, smoky flavor
Maple: Adds a mild and sweet flavor
Tip: Look for grilling planks at specialty cookware stores, hardware stores, and grilling supply outlets.
Step 2: Prepare the plank
Plank-grilling gives salmon the flavor imparted by a smoker with the convenience of a grill. Be sure to prepare the wood properly to increase moisture for cooking and prevent burning.
Take these steps to prepare your wooden grilling plank:
Rinse the plank with water to remove any dust.
Fill a sink or other large container with water.
Submerge the plank in the water, placing a weight on top of it. Soak the plank for 1 to 4 hours.
Enhance the plank’s flavor by adding 1 tablespoon salt to the water. If desired, you may also stir in 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar, white wine vinegar, citrus or berry juice or flavored liqueur to add more flavor.
Step 3: Prepare the fish (for example-salmon)
Leave the salmon filet whole or cut it into serving-size portions or use individual salmon steaks. You can add a dry rub, marinade or herb mixture to flavor the salmon. Apply rubs to the salmon up to 24 hours in advance. Add marinades or herb mixtures to the salmon 2 hours or less before cooking.
Step 4: Prepare the grill for direct grilling
For a charcoal grill:
Light coals using lighter fluid, an electric starter or a chimney starter. (If using lighter fluid, wait 1 minute before igniting the fire.) Let the fire burn until the coals are covered with a light coating of gray ash. Arrange coals evenly across the bottom of the grill, covering an area 3 inches larger on all sides than the plank.
For a gas grill:
To light a gas grill, open the lid. Turn the gas valve to “on” and ignite the grill as directed by the manufacturer. Turn the burners on high. Close the lid and preheat the grill for 10 to 15 minutes.
Step 5: Time to grill
Reduce heat to medium.
Place the plank on the grill rack and allow it to preheat for about 5 minutes or until it begins to crackle and smoke.
Lay the salmon on the plank, cover the grill and allow the salmon to cook for 18 to 22 minutes, depending on its thickness.
To test for doneness, insert a fork into the thickest part of the salmon. If it flakes easily, it’s finished cooking.
Tip: The plank should be approximately 8 inches from the heat. If you do not have control over the plank height, closely monitor the salmon while on the grill to make sure it doesn’t overcook.
Another way to add flavor and prolong cooking time is by wrapping the food before grilling it.
What to wrap it in? Consider these ideas:
1. Aluminum foil — Assemble a simple pocket of aluminum foil and you’re ready to make a Grilled Tuna Melt, Corn or Potato Packets or Grilled Chicken and Vegetable Packets. No calories added.
2. Corn husks — Besides grilling corn on the cob inside its own husk (just soak the corn cobs in cold water for a couple of hours, then grill, husks on, for 30 minutes), you can also use husks to create wraps for fish or chicken.
3. Tortillas — Wrap a whole grain tortilla around some turkey pepperoni, a little tomato sauce and shredded mozzarella, for healthy grilled pizza quesadillas.
4. Banana leaves — Available at most Asian grocers, banana leaves are wonderful for wrapping around a light and flaky fish. The moisture from the leaves will give the fish a light steaming, and the subtle taste of banana provides a hint of sweetness.
5. Cedar wraps — Sometimes you want the flavor of smoked wood in your food, but you may need a little more shelter than a plank can provide. Use cedar wraps – wafer thin strips of wood that wrap around individual servings of shrimp or fish. Tie them up with scallion greens and they look like presents for your dinner guests.
Cedar Paper Grilling Wraps:
Grilling with cedar paper grilling wraps is a healthy way to cook seafood, meat and vegetables. Cedar paper grilling wraps are great on the grill and even great in the oven, where the cedar paper infuses a smoky cedar flavor into your food. Cedar paper grilling wraps are made from red cedar from the Pacific Northwest.
Soak the cedar paper grilling wraps in water, wine or apple juice in a dish, or oversize zip lock bag for 10 minutes.
Heat the grill or a grill pan to medium-high (about 375 degrees F).
Place the food face down in the center of soaked cedar paper grilling wraps in same direction as the grain of wood. Fold the cedar paper’s edges towards each other until they overlap. Tie the cedar paper grilling wrap with butcher’s twine string (you can also used soaked scallion greens) and place on grill, seam side up.
Smoke your food in the cedar paper wraps directly on the grill grates or grill pan, close the lid (if using a grill), and cook for 8-10 minutes or until the food is cooked to your liking. If you are using a gas grill; do notkeep the lid open.
Serve cedar paper grilled wrapped foods straight on a plate or remove food from cedar paper wraps and garnish food with chives.
Cooking Tip #1:
Keep open bottles of alcohol away from heat source.
Cooking Tip #2
Leave the cedar paper grilling wraps seam side up and do not turn them over. This way juices remain in the cedar paper wrap and natrual steam keeps your food moist.
Recipes Using A Plank
Salmon on a Plank with Rosemary and Garlic
This healthy grilled salmon recipe gets flavor from the smoking cedar plank under it and from fresh rosemary sprigs and garlic.
Yield: Serves 4 to 6
1 2-pound salmon fillet
8 cloves garlic, minced
3 sprigs fresh rosemary
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 tablespoons black pepper
1 untreated cedar plank
Soak cedar plank in water for 30 minutes. Preheat the grill. Place the salmon fillet on the cedar plank. Pour lemon juice over the fish. Evenly coat the fillet with garlic and black pepper. Place rosemary sprigs on top and place on the grill over medium heat.
Watch to make sure that the cedar wood doesn’t catch fire. You can pour small amounts of water on the wood around the edges if it starts to get too charred. Cook salmon for about 20 minutes, as directed above in the tips.
Cedar Plank Smoked Burgers
1 pound lean ground beef
2 drops liquid smoke
1 large onion, cut into four 1/2-inch slices
2 ounces Havarti cheese or smoked Gouda cheese, shredded
4 hamburger rolls
Heat grill to high. Mix ground beef with liquid smoke and shape into 4 burger patties.
Place soaked cedar plank on the grill. Turn heat under plank down to low. Place patties onto plank (you may need to use two planks depending on how big your cedar planks are).
Place onion slices on greased grill grates. Lower heat to medium. Lower lid and cook to desired degree of doneness. (Gently turn onions halfway through cooking time; if they are done before burgers, move to a plate and cover with foil.)
Place 1 onion slice on top of each burger and top with 1/2 ounce shredded cheese. Lower lid and let cheese melt slightly. Serve immediately.
BBQ Chicken on Cedar Plank
Chicken Dry Rub
Mix all the rub ingredients together in a small bowl. Coat the chicken with the rub, cover it and refrigerate overnight.
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons powdered yellow mustard
1 teaspoon dried sage
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon black pepper
Grilling the Chicken:
Once your grill is at the right temperature and (all the coals are grey or a gas grill reads medium), put the whole chicken, breast side up, on the cedar plank and put it in the center of the grill, directly over the heat. You want good heat directly under the cedar plank so the cedar will smoke through the whole cooking process.
Chicken should be cooked (depending on size) in 45 minutes to 1 hour and 15 minutes. You can use a meat thermometer to check the chicken temperature (160-165°F). Remove to a serving plate and carve.
Wrap Grilling Recipes
Cedar Grilled Shrimp
1 lb shrimp peeled and deveined.
2 limes, squeezed
1/4 teaspoon of sea salt
1/4 teaspoon of freshly ground pepper
3 cloves of organic garlic – pressed through a garlic presser
1/4 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1 small orange, unpeeled
1 each: green onion, zucchini slice and rosemary sprig
Soak cedar paper grilling wraps and butcher twine or scallion green in water for 20 minutes.
While the cedar paper grilling wraps are soaking, combine all ingredients and mix well and let mixture stand for 15 minutes. Cut orange in circular slices.
Lay down two orange slices on the cedar paper and then place 4 or 5 shrimp on top of the orange slices. Next lay a piece of green onion, zucchini and rosemary on top.
Wrap both ends of the cedar paper grilling wraps together and tie. Cut and remove any excess twine. (You can also use chives or scallion greens soaked in water to tie the wraps.)
Heat grill to 400 degrees F (medium hot). Then Place cedar paper grilling wraps on the grill grate for 12-15 minutes; cover with the grill lid. Peek at the shrimp and if they are pink, they are cooked.
After shrimp is cooked. Remove and let rest for 1 minute.
Serve in cedar paper grilling wraps.
Foil Potato Packets on the Grill
Great side dish.
Yield: 4-6 servings
8 red potatoes, scrubbed and quartered
Other seasonings of choice (e.g., Oregano, Rosemary, Italian seasoning, Parsley etc.)
Place the diced potatoes in a medium bowl and drizzle with olive oil. Season with salt, pepper and other seasonings of choice.
Tear off 8 sheets of foil into sizes that are big enough to hold and wrap around 1/4 of the potatoes. Place two sheets of foil on top of each other to make a double layer, so you have 4 groups.
Spray the foil with cooking spray, then layer 1/4 of the potatoes in the middle of each double-layer foil sheet. Fold the foil up over the potatoes and twist the edges to seal.
Cook on the grill over direct medium heat for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender. Be very careful when opening the packets, as the steam will be very hot.
Grease unheated grill rack and heat coals or gas grill for direct heat.
Place each chicken breast in the center of a 12-inch by 18-inch piece of foil. Divide bell peppers and onion evenly over the chicken breasts.
In small bowl, stir together barbecue sauce, orange juice, salt, black pepper and red pepper. Evenly drizzle over chicken and vegetables.
Bring up 2 long sides of each piece of foil and double-fold with a 1-inch wide fold. Double-fold each end to form a packet.
Place packets, seam side up, on grill grate. Cover and grill packets over medium heat, 20 to 25 minutes or until vegetables are tender and instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest portion of the chicken breast reads 160-165°F and juices run clear. Place packets on plates. Cut a large X across top of packet; fold back foil. Be careful of the hot steam.
Parents start the year with the best intentions for lunchtime organization. This is going to be the year that we plan ahead, that lunches are healthy, that our mornings will be stress-free when it comes to getting out the door with well-rounded nutrition in hand. Then, about the third week in September, you find yourself stuck on a Thursday morning when your family has already eaten all of the week’s lunch supplies. You stuff Oreo cookies and Nacho chips in a plastic bag, make a jelly sandwich on the ends of the bread and throw a Hi-C juice box in the lunch box.
This is the year to turn it around. Get organized and skip the Lunchables and the pre-packaged chips and sugar-stuffed granola bars. Being organized can also mean saving money. By planning ahead, you can avoid resorting to expensive pre-packaged portions and instead fill reusable containers at the beginning of the week and have them at hand.
I recommend just planning one week at a time to keep things simple and lessen the chance of food spoiling or not getting eaten. Decide on what meals you want to have for the week, create a grocery list and go shopping.
Make lunches the night before. Please don’t save this task for the morning. You have way too much too much to do: dragging those sleepy-eyed kiddos out of bed, feeding them breakfast, brushing their teeth, gathering their backpacks and making sure you get them off to school on time!
Pick meals and snacks that are easy to prepare. Save the complicated meals for dinner time or for the weekends. The important thing is to make the lunches healthy.
Have designated containers that fit in the lunchbox, so you don’t have to dig around the Tupperware drawer at 6 AM trying to find a matching lid. After washing them, place them back in the lunchbox. Use BPA-free containers, to foster a more sustainable lifestyle for the whole family such as:
Organize your lunches
• Buy large packages of baked chips, baby carrots, low sugar canned fruit, cookies, etc., and create individual portions at home. Take time on Sunday to pack for the entire week.
• Use a shallow plastic storage container in the refrigerator to keep all your lunch supplies in one place — juice boxes, yogurt, cheese, fruit, cut vegetables, etc. These foods are off limits except for packing lunch.
• Try to cut down on sugar. Prepackaged foods like granola bars and some yogurts and drinks may seem like healthy choices, but you might as well be giving them cookies and ice cream. A healthy lunch sets the stage for a productive and successful afternoon. Plain yogurt has no added sugar, yet a 6-ounce container has about 12 grams of naturally-occurring sugar in the form of lactose. Fruit-flavored yogurt varies in the amount of sugar added, so it’s important that you read the Nutrition Facts panel. On average, the added fruit and sweeteners contribute about 14 grams of sugar, making the total sugars about 26 grams in a 6-ounce container.
• Let kids help! They are more likely to eat what they help prepare.
• Don’t worry about what anyone thinks. If your child loves the same lunch every day, give them the same lunch.
School Lunch Ideas
As a former educator, I am well aware that nut allergies are a problem at most schools and nut products should not be sent to school. The majority of schools do not allow peanut butter, almond butter, nutella or any nut products or seeds. Here are some suggestions for school lunches that don’t include nuts or nut products:
Protein, such as, slices of lean ham, turkey or leftover meatloaf
Leftovers that taste good the next day, such as, pasta (especially if it has been prepared with pesto) or oven fried chicken from last night’s dinner
Fruit – apple slices + any seasonal or on-sale fruit, usually, grapes, kiwi, oranges, melon. Put some chopped fruit in a container with a lid and place it in the freezer the night before. It will be partially defrosted by lunchtime and will seem like a slushy.
Fruit combinations – mango and strawberries or watermelon with grapes
Bread -choose whole grain breads or crackers without nuts or seeds
Multigrain or whole-corn tortillas (for example, La Tortilla Factory) spread with reduced fat, flavored cream cheese and chopped peppers, or sliced turkey or chicken with thin slices of cantaloupe
Resource for more school lunch ideas: http://www.bentolunch.net/ which offers a collection of ideas from across the web, from simple embellishments on old standards — such as impressing pictures on sandwiches with cookie cutters — to elaborate lunch sculptures worthy of Food Network competitions.
Some Lunch Box Recipes
Alphabet Pasta Salad
1 cup uncooked whole wheat alphabet pasta, stars, orzo or any shape your child likes
1/2 cup vegetables (whatever your child likes, such as peas, broccoli, corn or green beans
1/2 cup reduced fat shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup diced fresh tomatoes
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon powdered garlic
Cook pasta in salted water according to package instructions (usually about 9- 10 minutes) and add vegetables during the last 5 minutes. Drain.
In a mixing bowl combine lemon juice, oil and seasonings with a whisk. Fold in pasta and vegetables carefully so as not to break up the letters.
Mix in cheese and tomatoes. Chill. Pour into individual lunch box containers.
Can be made up to two days ahead. Makes 2 cups.
Creamy Alouette Spread and Deli Turkey Wrap
2 whole wheat sandwich wraps or tortillas
2 ounces light Alouette cheese spread
2 ounces deli turkey slices
Cucumber, carrot and red bell pepper sticks
Spread wraps with Alouette cheese. Place turkey on top of cheese. Place vegetable sticks on top of turkey. Roll up.
Pair mini muffins with yogurt or low fat cottage cheese, veggie sticks and cut up fruit. Store in the freezer and take one out for the lunch box when you pack the lunch.
Pumpkin Applesauce Mini Muffins
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour (you can use all-purpose flour also)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup canned pumpkin
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/2 cup canola oil
1 tablespoon vanilla
Preheat oven to 325 degree. Spray a 24 cup mini-muffin pan with non-stick cooking spray.
In a large bowl combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Whisk together to combine. Set aside.
In a smaller bowl, combine applesauce, canola oil, vanilla, and canned pumpkin. Stir until all ingredients are combined.
Add wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. Stir until all ingredients are mixed through.
Using a small spoon or a melon ball scooper, scoop the muffin batter into the muffin tin. Only fill each cup 3/4 full.
Bake for 15-20 minutes rotating pan once halfway through cooking.
Banana Chocolate Chip Mini Muffins
1/2 cup mashed banana (2 small, ripe bananas)
3/4 cup plain low fat yogurt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon. baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup sugar or 1/4 cup light sugar alternative
1/4 cup egg substitute
3/4 cup mini chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Spray a 24-cup miniature muffin tin with vegetable cooking spray.
Mix banana, yogurt, and vanilla in a small bowl.
Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.
Beat oil and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Add egg substitute and beat until smooth.
Reduce speed to low and beat in one third of the dry ingredients, then half the yogurt mixture. Add another one third of the dry ingredients, then remaining yogurt, and remaining dry ingredients, beating until batter is just smooth. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until batter light and fluffy, about 30 seconds. Stir in chips.
Completely fill each muffin cup with batter. Bake on oven rack adjusted to middle of oven until golden brown, 12-14 minutes.
Set pan on a wire rack to cool slightly. Remove muffins to a cooling rack.
Easy Low Fat Chocolate Cookies
Make a batch of these cookies and freeze them so they will be handy and fresh for lunch boxes. They will defrost long before lunchtime in the lunch box.
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/3 cup canola oil
1/2 cup egg substitute
3/4 cup sugar or 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons light sugar alternative
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2-2/3 cups all-purpose flour or Eagle Ultra Grain flour
1/2 cup unsweetened baking cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips
In a large bowl of an electric mixer, combine the applesauce, oil and egg substitute. Beat in sugars and vanilla.
Combine the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt in a separate bowl. Gradually add to applesauce mixture and mix well.
Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours or until slightly firm.
Drop dough by rounded teaspoons 2 in. apart onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper or coated with cooking spray. Sprinkle each cookie with a few chocolate chips.
Bake at 350° F for 8-10 minutes or until set. Remove to wire racks.
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