There are many ways you can cook salmon, but using cedar planks is one of my favorite.
You get a nice smoky flavor embedded into the delicate fish flesh. Once you give this a try I can guarantee that grilled cedar plank salmon will become one of your go-to fish dishes as well.
If you don’t already have cedar planks, you can get a pack delivered for fairly cheap.
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Selecting the right salmon
Fresh is always best, especially when it comes to seafood.
For this recipe, you can either buy fillets or get a whole fish and then fillet it yourself (or ask your fishmonger).
If you decide to select a whole fish it can be a little easier as you really just need to look at the eyes and if they are not cloudy and there is no real “fishy” smell, it is fresh.
When dealing with fillets, make sure that it smells fresh, none of that overly fishy smell, not greasy to touch. The best way is to go to a fishmonger or market and deal directly with them.
When selecting fillets to cook, I always ask for similar sized pieces, this ensures they will cook evenly and I’m not rotating pieces on the grill or starting some later than others.
If I can, I’ll ask if it is known as the 2nd cut piece. It is located between the tail section which is thinner and the top loin, loin, and belly pieces.
If you cannot get enough second cut pieces, most places will have fillet pieces of top loin, loin, and belly altogether and these will do just fine.
The fish from Crowd Cow is also top quality if you prefer to get yours delivered.
Items that will help you cook these are:
- A hooded BBQ (I’m using a 22” Weber Kettle)
- Lump charcoal
- Various spices
- Cedar planks
- Fish tweezers
- Boning or trimming knife
How to prepare the cedar planks
Raw cedar planks are a great way to get some smokey flavor into salmon for a quick grill.
With this method you aren’t actually smoking the fish, rather you are cooking or baking it fairly quickly.
By laying the fish directly over cedar planks, you get the benefit of the smoky profile we all love.
First things first, we need to soak the planks in water for at least an hour before we use them. This is going to stop them from catching fully alight and ruining your fish.
Once they have been soaking for an hour, place the planks directly over the lit charcoal for 10 minutes to blacken the cedar on one side to the point where the plank starts to split.
Then it is ready to be used.
Once your salmon is ready (see below) you can move the plank away from the direct heat and onto the cooler cooking zone of your BBQ, place the salmon skin-side down on the charred side of the cedar plank.
Preparing and seasoning the salmon
While the cedar plank is soaking in water, you can prepare your salmon and season it.
Salmon pieces can sometimes still have a few small bones in them called pin bones, these aren’t easy to see, but if you gently run your finger over the flesh you can feel them. Using a pair of food tweezers, you can get a hold of them and remove them.
Place the fillets on a tray, now give the salmon a light coating of extra virgin olive oil and then into a bowl, mix up some finely chopped dill, crushed garlic, freshly cracked black pepper, and melted butter.
Give this a quick whisk and pour evenly over each piece of salmon. You can use a silicone basting brush to even it out.
Lastly give the salmon a sprinkle of kosher salt, cover with cling wrap and keep cool in the fridge until needed.
The perfect side for cedar plank salmon
We need something fresh and flavorful to go with this salmon. I can think of nothing better than a celery and parmesan salad that is super quick and easy to make but packs so much flavor.
You need to thinly slice up some celery stalks and place in a bowl, along with some chopped up celery leaves, some extra virgin olive oil, some lemon zest and juice and celery salt and pepper.
This just needs a gentle toss and then add some shaved Parmesan cheese and give the whole lot a gentle mix and place in the fridge until you are ready to serve it.
Setting up the grill to perfectly cook your salmon
I love my Webers, they are so versatile and easy to use. In saying that, any hooded charcoal grill will be able to produce these results.
You’ll need to set up dual-zone cooking, meaning a hot zone and a cooler zone.
Do this is by lighting a chimney starter that is three-quarters full of lump charcoal. Once this is fully lit and all ashed over, transfer it to one side of the cooking grate.
Place the grill in and put the lid on and open up all of the vents, ensuring the lid vent is on the opposite side of the lit fuel. This draws the heat across your food and allows the Weber to cook the way it was intended.
Now take the cedar plank out of the water and place it directly over the lit charcoal for around ten minutes.
It will char up, smolder and start to crack, that is when we need to remove it from the heat and turn it over, exposing the blackened split wood.
We can now remove the salmon from the fridge and place it skin side down on the cedar plank that is now in the cooler cooking zone that should be around 300°F.
Before putting the lid on, I’ll cut a couple of lemons in half, coat the exposed flesh with olive oil and a sprinkle of kosher salt and place these directly over the lit coals, flesh side down.
Now the lid can go back on and let the salmon cook for 15 minutes.
The lemons will start to char up and caramelize. The acidity and bitterness will mellow and they will get sweeter. This is going to be a welcome flavor addition to this dish.
After 15 minutes it’s time to lift the lid and see your creation. You should have salmon pieces that have changed in color, they should be opaque with some browning to the edges.
Remove the entire cedar plank from the grill and place on a heatproof dish or plate. You could serve them straight from the plank but since we made a lovely side dish, we are going to plate this up with our charred lemons.
On a plate add some of that lovely fresh aromatic celery and parmesan salad, top it off with a piece of salmon and a half of the charred lemon. Just before eating, squeeze the charred lemons juice over the entire dish and remember to come back and thank me for what you have just tasted.
Reusing your cedar planks
There is so much wrong information out there on reusing cedar planks.
Salmon needs medium to high heat when being cooked on a cedar plank, the wood needs to get hot enough to release its oils, after the first cook, the oils have pretty much all been used.
If you try reusing them, you’ll actually see no benefit in it. You’d get as much out of using a wooden chopping board to create a smokey flavor as it is the oils in the wood that give the fish its distinctive taste.
Yes, you will be able to clean up the cedar planks, you can even sand them back and remove the initial charring and soak them in water again but you effectively now have a split serving platter.
These are cheap, buy new ones and get the most of every cedar plank salmon dish you cook. You are worth it.
Cedar planked salmon can be served as above with a fresh salad or steamed vegetables, even some fragrant jasmine rice is a nice addition.
Cedar Planked Salmon
- 4 pieces of salmon
- 2 tbsp finely chopped dill
- 1 tsp crushed garlic
- ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tbsp melted unsalted butter
- 2 tsp kosher salt
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 2 lemons halved, oiled and seasoned with kosher salt
Celery and parmesan salad:
- 4 stalks of celery, finely sliced
- ¼ cup chopped celery leaves
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
- ½ tsp celery salt
- 1 oz shaved Parmesan cheese
Cedar planked salmon:
- Clean salmon fillets and remove any pin bones.
- Mix up seasoning in a bowl and coat the salmon evenly with mixture, then sprinkle with kosher salt.
- Cover with cling wrap and put in the fridge until needed.
- Soak cedar planks in water for an hour before use.
- Mix up salad ingredients and place in the fridge until ready to serve.
- Light ¾ of a chimney starter with lump charcoal, place lit fuel on one side of the BBQ to create a dual zone cooking area.
- Place cedar plank directly over lit charcoal and allow to char up and once the wood starts splitting, remove from heat (around 10 minutes).
- Place cedar plank on the cooler cooking zone, charred side facing up and place salmon pieces on the plank, skin side down.
- Place halved lemon pieces directly over charcoal on a cooking grate and put the lid on and cook salmon for 15 minutes.
- Remove from heat, put a serving of salad on a plate, top with a piece of salmon and one charred lemon halve.
- Just before eating, squeeze over charred lemon juice over the entire dish.
- Eat and enjoy.
- With a fresh salad as above or any variety of garden salads.
- With steamed vegetables.
- Also can be served with some fragrant jasmine rice.