We all know the old saying, “if I had a dollar for every time…”

I have seen recommended grilling plank soak times that vary from 5 minutes to 24 hours. After repeatedly being asked the question, “How long should a grilling plank soak for?” I decided to do some serious research.

Why do you need to soak grilling planks at all?

For those of you who have not used grilling planks before, we recommend soaking them in water prior to cooking. And here is why:

First, we must recognize the distinction between smoke flavor and what we call fresh wood flavor.

Smoke flavor is essentially achieved by exposing food to burning wood (for example, meat in a smoker
that uses smoking chips will produce this effect).

Fresh wood flavor can be achieved on a grilling plank by the process of moisture leaving the plank and
passing into the food. If soaked for a period of time the plank absorbs moisture and when exposed to
heat, this moisture rises up and brings the characteristic wood flavor with it.

Ultimately more moisture results in more fresh wood flavor transfer.

Now to answer the question, how long?

Like I said, I did some serious research. An experiment, if you will. Here’s what I did.

I took 5 grilling planks of the same size, weight and grain configuration (which just means the planks were cut from the same part of the tree and the natural tree rings all ran in the same direction).

Basically, I wanted the planks to be as identical as possible.

The planks were soaked for different periods of time:

  • Zero (dry)
  • 5 minutes
  • 15 minutes
  • 30 minuntes
  • 60 minutes

The planks were weighed after soaking to determine levels of absorption.

The food item was unseasoned zucchini and yellow squash, all 5 planks were placed on the grill for 15
minutes at a temperature of 450°F with the lid closed.

Here are the results…

Water was continually absorbed into the plank for the full 60 minutes; however, after 15 minutes the
absorption rate slowed down considerably. Here are the flavor results:

  • The levels of fresh wood flavor were very faint for the un-soaked dry plank.
  • The 5-minute soak produced slightly more flavor.
  • And the 15, 30 and 60-minute soaks produced significant, comparable effects.
  • I also tried a 24-hour soak and found that the plank was leeched of flavor and this was made apparent by the dark color of the soaking liquid and taste of the food.

These are the questions I considered when looking at the results.

The soak time needs to be effective. For example, can the same amount of fresh wood flavor be achieved by a 5-minute soak as well as a 24-hour soak?

  • It seems that no soak and a 5-minute soak was not enough time to produce effective results and
    24 hours was way too much.
  • 15, 30 and 60-minute soak times produced very similar results.

The soak time needs to be practical. How many of you would consider waiting 24 hours for a plank to soak as ‘not worth it’?

So to conclude…

The clear winner was the 15-minute soak time.

A substantial amount of fresh wood flavor can be achieved and there is no time wasted on unnecessary soak times.

15 minutes is the magic number. A substantial amount of fresh wood flavor can be achieved and there is no time wasted on unnecessary soak times.

Matt worked his first kitchen job in the country of Malta at the age of 15. He has worked as a restaurant Chef in Arizona, Maine, Spain, the UK, Oregon and finally North Idaho. Now the Executive Chef at Wildwood Grilling, he thoroughly enjoys his day job.