Chances are, you’re probably not soaking your grilling plank in fresh mountain spring water like the picture above. Instead, it probably involves a cookie sheet, a mason jar to weigh the plank down, and tap water. Here are a few tips that can help you grasp the big picture.

To craft a meal with grilling planks is to engage with all the elements.

  • Earth – natural wood
  • Wind – air within the oven or grill
  • Fire – heat from coals, gas, or oven
  • Water – moisture collected by the plank during the soaking process

When we think of wood-fired cooking, we think of the crackle of flame and the smolder of coals. We seek a deep and complex flavor. The fire tender is on a quest to create the perfect smoke.

Grilling with Smoke and Steam

Smoke is the amalgam of solids, liquid, and gas emitted when wood fiber is bared to the right balance of heat and air. Smoke is the primary essence we seek when cooking with natural wood. But smoke is not the only element we engage when cooking with grilling planks.

Steam is water in a condensed vapor state. Steaming is a subtler technique than smoking. Water is clear and steam is invisible, while smoke is rich and flavorful. When unadulterated, steam is tasteless, adding only texture to the ingredients it touches.

The astute cook can employ the power of both methods – smoke and steam.  When applied well, a wood-fired meal has layers of flavor and texture.

How do Grilling Planks flavor Food?

Grilling planks cook and flavor food in two ways. First comes smoke. The combination of swirling air and flame through the grill grates cause the plank to smolder, releasing aromatic wafts of toasted wood.

Next is steam. Grilling planks should be soaked in water prior to use. This step allows the naturally porous cellulosic elements to seep that moisture into the wood fiber. Once applied to the heat, the grilling plank releases it in the form of hot water vapor along with the natural oils from the wood. This process infuses your food with a moist and subtle taste of the wood’s natural tannin.

How to Soak a Grilling Plank in Water

For the basics about how to soak your grilling planks (including the debated topic of how long to soak your grilling planks), check out our Soaking Planks 101.

To put it simply however, the plank should be soaked in warm water for 15 minutes. This allows the wood to retain as much of it’s natural flavor as possible while still absorbing a sufficient amount of water.

Always keep a spray bottle of water on hand for the flare-ups and keep on grilling.