Plank-roasting is one of my favorite grilling techniques. Grilling almost anything on a hardwood plank shields it from the drying, volcanic heat of live fire, resulting in a slow cook that preserves moisture and tenderness. But all that direct heat hitting a (well-soaked) wooden plank drives sweet, woody aromas into the flesh, seasoning and perfuming it too delicately to really be called smoking.
Cedar is the wood used first for plank-roasting, it being the hardwood most readily available to the Coast Salish indians of the Pacific Northwest. They used the technique, and still do, to cook salmon - an inspired pairing that cuts that fish's buttery fattiness with the sharp, coniferous aroma of cedar. Alder is often used for the same purpose, and delivers a subtler smokiness that pairs well with leaner white fish and shellfish.
Outdoor Gourmet, who were among the first to market with cedar grilling planks in 1995, contacted me recently with an invitation I couldn't pass up: to challenge some of my fellow blogging grillmasters in a grand plank-grilling recipe championship called....Battle of the Blogs, Planksgiving Edition! Of course I said yes, and they kindly provided two planks to craft my recipe around.
Being a bit of an iconoclast, I chose to build my recipe not around the lush pencil-shaving sharpness of their cedar planks, but with a plank of aromatic red oak. The aroma of the wood was just what I was after - a round, rich, butterscotchy smell with hints of vanilla. It's a mellow, easy smoke that pairs well with almost anything.
It's not Thanksgiving yet, and I know I'm going to eat hearty on the big day - so this easy weeknight dinner had to be lean and simple...but not boring. I chose pork tenderloin for my protein - a calculated risk, because I wanted the pork's sweet, neutral flavor to showcase the effect of the plank, but a challenge because pork tenderloin goes from rosy and juicy to chalky and bone-dry in moments. I figured the inherent gentleness of planking and a salty wet marinade of Chardonnay wine, herbs and juniper berries would build in some forgiveness. The juniper berries' complex, sweet, gin-like flavor pairs beautifully with pork, as do fennel seeds and marjoram.
My grill of choice is my new Hasty-Bake Legacy, whose adjustable-height firebox lends it the controllability of a gas grill. For fuel, I used my favorite - Royal Oak lump charcoal.
My eye had been snagged by Francis Mallmann's recipe for honey gremolata - a chimichurri-like condiment of parsley, honey, garlic, and lemon juice and zest - so I chose that to dress the pork once it came off. To his basic formula, I added a little bit of pungent sage.
The charcoal roaring hot, I first raised the firebox to just an inch or two below the grates and seared the surface of my tenderloin with grill marks while getting my plank hot and smoldering. Then, I lowered the firebox to a gentle medium heat, placed the pork on the plank, and had a beer. The pork came off when my thermometer reported 140 degrees. On the side, halves of zucchini slowly cooked.
The results? My wife's quote was, "Wow, it's really complex!" The sweet pork was scented and smoked by the red oak, almost bacony, amplifying the flavor of bold white wine. The floral, garlicky gremolata and the lingering pungency of juniper berries cut all that richness. A total winner.
Oak-Planked Pork Tenderloin with Honey-Sage Gremolata
1 pork tenderloin, trimmed of all silver skin
1 Outdoor Gourmet Red Oak plank
- 1/2 cup Chardonnay or other bold white wine
- 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tsp juniper berries, crushed
- 1 tsp fennel seeds, crushed
- 1 tsp marjoram, dried
- 1/2 tbsp black peppercorns, cracked
- 4 cloves garlic, crushed
- 2 tsp Kosher salt
Juice and Zest of one lemon
- 1 cup olive oil
- 1 bunch parsley, finely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, finely grated on a Microplane
- 6 sage leaves, finely minced
Combine all gremolata ingredients in a bowl and refrigerate for 1-2 hours until flavors have blended.
1. Combine all marinade ingredients in a container or Ziploc baggie. Add the pork, making sure all sides are covered, and marinate for at least four hours or as many as twelve.
2. At prep time, preheat grill to high heat and preheat grates until very hot, about 10 min.
3. Sear and brown the pork well on all sides on the grill grates, 1-2 minutes per side. Meanwhile, place the plank on the grill grate; it will begin to heat up and steam.
4. Place the pork atop the plank and reduce grill heat to medium - if grilling on a Weber kettle-style grill, partially close the vents to reduce oxygen. Hasty-Bakers, lower your firebox to the midpoint. Gas grillers, you already know what to do.
5. Close the grill lid and cook, flipping the pork periodically so that all sides are exposed to the plank surface.
6. Periodically check the internal temperature of the thickest part of the pork with an instant-read thermometer. Remove the pork when its temperature hits 140 degrees. Should take between 15 and 20 minutes, but as always, a thermometer is foolproof.
7. Slice into medallions and serve atop a few spoonfuls of the gremolata.