Master how to grill salmon on a cedar plank to infuse a bonus layer of flavor with no extra ingredients. Plank-grilled salmon is loaded with smoky, aromatic flavor and tastes like something you’d score at a fancy seafood restaurant. Follow these simple steps to ace cedar plank salmon that will have dinner guests raving.

By Karla Walsh
Updated March 11, 2020
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If you've never used wooden grilling planks, don't be intimidated; we'll explain step by step with our directions below. But before we dive into cedar plank salmon 101, you have the opportunity to select a plank-grilled salmon recipe you want to use as flavor inspiration. We recommend our simple yet delicious Lime Barbecue Salmon Sandwiches, but you also can’t go wrong with this anti-inflammatory Tea-Marinated Salmon. Of course, you can choose to simply season salmon and grill it on a plank without a recipe if you're just planning to add plank-grilled salmon to a salad, pasta dish, or flatbread.

Peter Krumhardt

Step 1: Choose a Grilling Plank

Purchase a plank (or a few) from a specialty cookware store, hardware store, grilling supply outlet, or online. Cedar (like that found in the Wildwood Grilling Cedar Planks, $17.99 for two, Bed Bath & Beyond) lends the most intense, aromatic flavor to salmon, but other woods are excellent for plank-grilling, too. You might consider trading cedar plank salmon for:

  • Alder planks: Adds a mild, mellow flavor
  • Cherry planks: Brings a rich, bright flavor
  • Hickory planks: Gives food a strong, smoky flavor
  • Maple planks: Adds a mild and sweet flavor

Step 2: Prepare the Plank

Plank-grilled salmon scores extra flavor from smoke with the convenience of a grill. (Learn how to turn your grill into a smoker for any outdoor cooking adventures you have ahead.) Be sure to prepare your wood properly to increase moisture for cooking and to prevent burning. Take these steps to prepare your wooden grilling plank prior to grilling salmon on a wood 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 1 to 4 hours.
  • Enhance the plank's flavor by adding 1 tablespoon salt to the water. If desired, you may also stir in ½ cup apple cider vinegar, white wine vinegar, citrus or berry juice, or flavored liqueur.

Step 3: Prepare the Salmon

Leave the salmon filet whole, cut it into serving-size portions, or use individual salmon steaks—there’s no wrong option when grilling salmon on a plank. You can add a dry rub, marinade, or herb mixture to flavor the salmon, if desired. 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

This step will vary a bit depending on whether your grill cooks with charcoal or gas.

For a Charcoal Grill

  • Light coals using an electric starter or a chimney starter. Let the fire burn until the coals are covered with a light coating of gray ash. Check out our complete guide to how to light a charcoal grill if you need a refresher.
  • 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 10 to 15 minutes. (While it’s preheating, check out these 9 must-have barbecue tools to ensure you’re all stocked up and good to grill all season long.)
  • Reduce heat to medium.

Test Kitchen Tip: To test the level of heat, carefully place the palm of your hand at the level of the grill rack and count the number of seconds you can hold it in that position. If the heat is low, you should be able to hold your hand in the position for about 6 seconds. If the heat is medium, you should be able to hold your hand in the position for around 4 seconds. If the heat is high, you should be able to hold your hand in the position for 2 seconds.

To Adjust the Heat on a Charcoal Grill

  • If the coals are too hot, raise the grill rack, spread the coals apart, close the vents halfway, or remove some briquettes.
  • If the coals are too cool, use long-handled tongs to tap ashes off the burning coals, move coals together, add briquettes, lower the rack, or open the vents.

To adjust the heat on a gas grill, turn the burners to higher or lower heat settings as needed.

Andy Lyons

Step 5: Grill the Cedar Plank Salmon

  • Place the plank on the grill rack and allow it to preheat about 5 minutes or until it begins to crackle and smoke.
  • Lay the salmon onto the plank, cover the grill, and allow the salmon to cook 12 to 20 minutes, depending on its thickness.
  • To test for doneness, insert a fork into the thickest part of the cedar plank salmon. If it flakes easily, it's finished cooking.

Test Kitchen 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.

Now that you’re a pro at how to grill salmon on a cedar plank, all that’s left to do is select your perfect wine pairing (or mocktail!) and summer side dish to round out the seasonal seafood supper.

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