These warm October afternoons still allow for a little autumn grilling. What’s on the menu? Cedar plank steelhead please!
Fish is one of the easiest things to grill. When we lived in Oregon we were spoiled with fresh salmon and steelhead. Both were a weekly stale for our family. You can still get both in Iowa, thank God, and even though they’re farm raised they still taste great if you cook them right.
Never grilled with cedar planks? No problem! Follow this easy step by step guide and you’ll see how easy it really is.
Soak Your Planks
You can pick up cedar planks at most grocery stores. Or you can make your own. Either way, the first thing you want to do is soak them in water for about an hour. This does a couple things. First, it allows you to grill on an open flame without the wood catching fire. The wood will still smoke, especially when cooking over briquettes, but this is a good thing. More on that in a minute. Second, the water raises the grain of the wood which will release that cedar taste once exposed to heat. Yeah buddy! That’s what we’re here for.
Prepare The Fish
After the boards soak, I’ll let them drip dry a bit and then I’ll spray the top side with olive oil. This keeps the fish from sticking to the wood. Be careful with how much oil you use though, because oil is flammable (I learned that the hard way the first time I did this; I salvaged the fish but not without a few moments of intense panicking).
Next, lay out you fish. If you buy steelhead from the store it’ll be filleted. That’s the easiest way to grill on planks. Its okay if your fillet is a little longer or wider than the board. Spray a little more olive oil evenly on the fish. You just want enough for flavor; make sure its not dripping off the sides (again, flammable, remember?).
Since I had two fillets, I’m cooking them both, and I’ll season them both differently. Steelhead is great whether you prefer sweet or spicy, although we prefer a little heat.
For the first filet, I’ve gingerly applied seasoning salt (Johnnys or similar). Then I’ll rub a good amount of Sweet N Spicy (cinnamon, paprika, garlic and pepper) grilling mix over the entire fish. Later at the grill I’ll pour on some sweet chili thai sauce. Sometimes I’ll add freshly cut sweet peppers, a few wedges of lime and red onion. When doing this I’ll just grill the veggies right on top of the fish and discard afterward.
On the second filet, I’ll shake on some seasoning salt like the first. Add a little ground black pepper to taste and then some hot pepper flake mix (red pepper, jalapenio and garlic). This will give the steelhead a nice bit of heat. At the grill I’ll pour on some roasted tomato and pepper sauce (bought at Costco a while ago and love it on fish!) If you want, you could add a few rings of white onion and some freshly cut jalapeno peppers to the top.
Time To Grill
When grilling steelhead on cedar planks, I prefer to use my Weber with briquettes. I mentioned above that the open flame will cause the cedar to smoke a bit, and this infuses the fish with flavor. Prep time for the briquettes is a little long, but its worth it. Trust me. If you don’t have time to wait on the briquettes, or you prefer to cook on propane, no worries. I’ve done that too and the steelhead still tastes great.
When cooking over briquettes, the trick is indirect heat. Get your coals glowing and then rake them to the center of the grill, allowing for one plank on either side (if you’re only using one plank, divide the coals evenly to each side of the grill and cook your fish in the middle).
Cook with the lid on to trap in the smoke and to tame the open flame.
Layer On The Sauce
Let the fish cook for about 15 minutes. Then its time to apply your sauce.
As I said before, I used sweet chili thai sauce on the first fillet (sweet heat yumminess!) and roasted tomato and pepper sauce (find it at Costco) on the second. The first fillet will have a nice, even blend of sweat and spicy flavor. The second will be hot, determinate on how much pepper flake you put on before coming to the grill.
Spread the sauce evenly across the fish and recover.Let the fish cook for another 15-20 minutes (depending on how hot your grill is) while checking every five.
You’re steelhead should be flaky when done. With a fork, peel back a chunk at the fattest part of the fillet. If its still dark pink and mushy, or the meat doesn’t separate easily, its not done.If the meat is whitish and flakes away from the fork, you’re good to go.
Once its done, remove the fish from the grill, plank and all, and let cool. We serve with baby golden potatoes and some kind of vegetable, but that part’s up to you!
If you haven’t already tried grilling on a cedar plank, give it a try and let me know what you think. You won’t be sorry. Even my kids, who are the pickiest eaters in the world, love it. We never have leftovers.