The early Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest really started something when they speared their fish to pieces of wood and cooked their game over an open fire. Hundreds of years later, in backyards across the United States, folks have picked up on the ingenuity of these early tribes and kept the tradition alive. Make your own grilling planks -- instead of buying gourmet specialty versions -- and enjoy the smoky taste they give to the foods you grill.
Choose your wood. Grilling planks can be made from all types of wood, including cedar, alder, hickory, and -- on the sweeter side -- maple. For the most natural smoky taste, find western red cedar. Fish and chicken usually taste best with woods like cedar or alder, while pork is complemented by sweeter woods, such as apple or maple.
Head to the lumber yard and look for thin planks of wood, such as those used for building fences. Make sure the wood is at least 1-inch thick and 6-inches wide.
Ensure that the wood untreated. Any chemicals in the wood are infused into your food, which is potentially dangerous. The wood must be unfinished and chemical-free. Cedar is usually the safest choice because it's usually sold untreated.
For long pieces of wood, take a saw and cut the wood to the size you need. For a small fee, the lumber store assistant can do this for you. A 2- by 8-inch plank is ideal.
Prepare the plank by soaking the wood in water for at least one hour before grilling, and preferably overnight. This minimizes the chances of fire during grilling.
Rub the plank with olive or vegetable oil, if desired, so food doesn't stick to the wood.
Allow a 50 percent longer cooking time with a grilling plank as the heat source is indirect.
Although a thoroughly soaked plank isn't likely to flare up, the possibility exists. Keep a spray bottle with water nearby the grill and be prepared to spray the flame if the plank ignites.