Having recently written about cooking food on grilling planks, I wanted to talk about a device created by the Companion Group called a plank saver.
The principle is simple: place a soaked, charred plank in a made-to-fit stainless steel tray and obtain the same results while extending the life of the planks thus saving money. Easy right? We shall see.
I was, as ever, skeptical of the product’s ability to do what it claims. The whole point of plank grilling is to allow a hot fire to smoke a piece of wood while cooking the food on top of it.
Could the stainless steel tray be made hot enough to smoke the wood?
Plank Saver Instructions
According to the manufacturer (Companion Group/Charcoal Companion), you place the plank saver tray on the hot fire and get it very hot. When the wood grilling plank is soaked and ready, place it in the metal tray and place the food on top.
The next instructions from the company tell you to cook it on the grill using the indirect method. As I mentioned in the first article, the whole method of plank grilling is indirect cooking. Here, however, they want you to place the tray away from the direct heat of the coals or gas fire and close the lid.
First of all, you can’t use just any wood grilling plank. The plank cannot exceed 11.75″ x 5.25″. By coincidence, the Companion Group make planks that fit perfectly. You could of course use smaller planks, but not larger.
I purchased the proper planks from Charcoal Companion design to fit the tray exactly and proceeded with the experiment. I did as instructed, prepped the board according to the manufacturers suggestions. I placed the stainless steel tray on the grill directly over the coals when they were at their hottest.
Next I placed the plank in the tray, put the food on top and moved the plank saver away from the direct heat, closed the lid and waited.
For proper comparison, I also put the same type of food on another Charcoal Companion wood plank and cooked it right next to the plank saver tray. I wanted to see if the heat in that part of the grill was sufficient to smoke a plank without a stainless steel tray.
It wasn’t long before I noticed smoke coming from inside the grill, so I lifted the lid to see which of the planks was smoking. It was in fact the plank not inside the saver tray. I replaced the lid and finished cooking the food on both trays.
The food placed on the plank in the saver tray was cooked, but not as strongly flavored with smoke as the regular plank preparation.
For the test, I did everything as before with one change – I placed the steel tray directly over the hot coals.
I closed the lid, waited and noticed this time that smoke did come out. When I lifted the lid, I saw the plank smoking a little bit. As with the first test in the saver tray, the food did not taste as strongly smokey as the non-plank saver version, even though it did cook properly.
So the conclusion is that the stainless steel tray needs to be very, very hot in order to make the planks smoke. This cannot happen unless the tray is positioned directly over hot coals. The same results were noticed using propane grills: you need the direct flame heat to bring the temperature to the proper level to smoke the board.
The grills used for the test were a 22.5″ Weber kettle charcoal grill and a Weber Genesis gas grill.
Planks smoked using the plank saver did not burn away as quickly as those exposed to the direct heat. I estimate that you should get twice the number of uses out of each of the grilling planks using a charcoal fire, with the caveat that you will also get less smoke flavor. With a propane grill, you may be able to use one plank for the better part of a month, depending on how frequently you choose to cook using this method.
In the end, the tray performs as advertised: it “saves” the planks allowing for more uses per plank, thereby saving you money.
Since the board won’t be coming in direct contact with the flame/high heat, I would take care to clean the board more thoroughly.
There is some added bonus functionality to these plank savers. Because the tray is 100% stainless steel, the plank saver can be warmed and used as a serving tray for many types of food. You could put parchment paper down and use the tray in a standard oven as well. You can also use it as a serving tray for small things like appetizers or amuse-bouche offerings.
Plank Grilling Addendum
A couple of additional thoughts on grilling planks in general. Sometimes you will see planks coated with flavorings. I tested this twist on the basic plank as well.
My wife and I were not impressed with the flavor. We made sure there was nothing – like skin or peel – blocking the flavors from reaching the meat. There just wasn’t any real benefit and in my opinion, it wasn’t worth the effort. I haven’t used the flavored wooden skewers yet, but I wonder if they will taste any better. I will post an update when I find out.
There is another style of cooking plank you should be aware of; those for use inside the house in your regular oven. These indoor planks are larger, thicker and normally made of the same type of wood as the grilling planks. They function exactly the same as their grilling cousins except they are heated and smoke from inside a very hot oven. The results can be quite good.
However if you do not have a very good ventilation hood or exhaust fan, I would not use these indoor planks. You could end up with a smokey smelling house. There will also be some smoke soot deposits on the inside of your oven, but these deposits should clean up easily. The indoor planks are meant to last a much longer time and indeed will. The indoor planks typically have a wrench enclosed to tighten them up as the age and the wood separates.