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Which way to the grill? Steak on a plank kindles interest

Red Wine-Planked Peppercorn New York Strip Steaks get a hint of smoky flavor from the wet plank. A topping of roasted garlic, onions, red grapes, gorgonzola cheese and parsley is spooned onto the meat for the last five minutes of cooking. Photo by Sue Doeden1 / 2
The cedar planks are marinated in a wine and water mixture. Photo by Sue Doeden2 / 2

Two New York Strip steaks were cooking on a smoldering wooden plank on our grill on the deck. The smell reminded me of a summer campfire combined with the fragrance of the big pile of burning Christmas trees that our suburban fire department used to set aflame each year after the holidays. The smokiness that wafted through the air was infusing the slabs of beef on the grill with delicate flavor. It was my first attempt at grilling beef on a cedar plank. I was hoping for success.

My introduction to cooking on a plank of wood was several years ago. My husband and some of his grilling buddies prepared salmon on a cedar plank. At that time, trying to find made-for-the-grill wooden planks at local stores was a challenge. The guys wound up going to a lumber yard to buy a large untreated plank of cedar, cut to fit the size of the salmon.

These days it's easy to find grilling planks at grocery, hardware and kitchen or specialty stores. And no longer does cedar stand alone in the limelight. Now the aromatic grilling planks are also made of oak, beechnut, mesquite, apple and even cherry.

Grilling fish on a plank of wood that has been soaked in water makes perfect sense. The steamy heat helps keep the fish moist and flavorful and the plank serves as a tray to hold fish that might crumble.

I hadn't thought much about plank grilling anything other than fish until a new cookbook arrived in my mailbox. Canadian celebrity chef Ted Reader, also known as "King of the Q," has collaborated with Napoleon Gourmet Grills to produce "Napoleon's Everyday Gourmet Plank Grilling." Mouth-watering photos met my eyes with each turn of the page. Reader's detailed tips and tricks for successful plank grilling at the beginning of the book move right into easy-to-follow cooking instructions for plank grilling everything from appetizers to desserts to create a picture perfect and delicious meal.

Typically, I'm not the grill master in my house. I leave the outdoor cooking to my husband. But I decided to try my hand at Reader's recipe for Red Wine-Planked Peppercorn New York Strip Steaks. I followed the directions precisely, coating the meat with crushed multi-colored peppercorns and marinating it in Lindeman's Shiraz just as the chef recommends. I slid the wood planks into plastic zip-top bags and poured in water and wine, allowing the wood to soak for at least two hours. A quick searing on the hot grill sealed the juices into the steaks and gave them dark grill marks. Then they cooked to perfection on the wet wood in a closed grill. A topping of roasted garlic, onions, red grapes, gorgonzola cheese and parsley was spooned onto the meat for the last five minutes of cooking.

The end result was meat that you could almost eat without teeth. It was succulent with just a hint of smoky flavor. A unique combination of sweet, juicy grapes, an essence of caramelized garlic with a slight tang of melted gorgonzola added such flavor to each meaty, melt-in-the-mouth bite.

This one great success has boosted my grilling confidence. I've decided to create my own plank-grilled dessert and who knows where I will go from there? I just may become Queen of the Smoldering Plank.

Red Wine-Planked Peppercorn New York Strip Steaks

1 cedar plank, soaked in mixture of 1 part water to 1 part red wine

1 head roasted garlic

2 green onions

3/4 cup seedless red grapes, halved

1/4 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese

1 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian parsley

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 New York strip steaks, 12 ounces each

1/4 cup multi-colored peppercorns, coarsely crushed

Coarse salt

1/2 cup Lindeman's Bin 50 Shiraz

Remove the cloves of roasted garlic from the head and discard the peels. Toss the garlic, onion, grapes, cheese and parsley together. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

Rub the steaks with peppercorns and coarse salt. Place the steaks into a nonreactive dish and pour the red wine over. Marinate for 1 hour.

Preheat grill to medium-high heat. Remove steaks from marinade and discard liquid. Place steaks onto grill and sear one side for 1 to 2 minutes. Turn steaks and sear opposite side for an additional 1 to 2 minutes. Remove steaks from grill and place onto plank.

Place plank on grill and close lid. Plank grill the steaks for 10 minutes. Top steaks with roasted garlic mixture. Plank grill for 5 more minutes for medium-rare doneness. Remove plank from grill and allow steaks to rest for 2 to 3 minutes before slicing. Carve steaks into thick slices and serve immediately, spooning any garlic mixture that falls off over the meat. Serves 2 to 4.

Recipe from "Napoleon's Everyday Gourmet Plank Grilling," by Ted Reader. 2009. Napoleon Appliance Corporation.

Tips from the cook

--Author Ted Reader suggests roasting several heads of garlic on a wooden plank that has been soaked in water. His directions: With a sharp knife cut the tops off to expose the tips of the garlic cloves. Place the garlic heads, cut side down, onto a plank. Place on the grill over medium heat and close the lid. Roast for about an hour, until the garlic cloves are golden brown and very soft. Remove from grill and set aside until cool enough to handle.

--I store heads of roasted garlic wrapped up tightly in the refrigerator. It's easy to squeeze it into mashed potatoes, spread it over pizza dough, add to sautéed vegetables, stir it into pasta or mix with goat cheese and spread over slices of French bread. The possibilities are endless.

--I used about 1/4 cup minced sweet onion rather than green onions.

--My coffee grinder that I use exclusively for grinding spices came out of my cupboard to coarsely grind the multi-colored peppercorns. It worked great. I found I didn't need the full 1/4 cup of peppercorns. Next time I'll use just 2 tablespoons.