Bourbon barrel salmon planks... thoughts?

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John Loftis

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I've been approached by a bourbon brand interested in having me make salmon grill planks out of their white oak bourbon barrels lids. They are sending me some barrels to play with. They are sending both 9 year old premium barrels and 4-5 year old 'regular' barrels.

Anyone have experience using barrel planks? Fish is delicate, so I'd imagine it would impart a unique flavor to the meat.

Any chefs interested in playing around with a few and giving feedback (eg how does it taste vs traditional cedar planks? Can you taste the difference between, say, a 9 year old rye barrel and a 4 year old straight bourbon barrel?)

Any smokers/barbecuers interested in trying out barrel staves for smoking meats?
 

stringer

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Here's my thoughts on dimensions. I don't know what sort of state the staves are in when you get them. But usually with cedar planks I have had the best luck with ones that are about 5X10" and as thin as you can reasonably get them. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 1/3" to 1/2".

Generally, the way I use them is to have the planks soak for ten or fifteen minutes prior to use. Then throw the plank on a hot grill and put grill marks on both sides of the wood so that it starts smoking a little. Then hit it with pan spray, put the seasoned grill-marked fish on top of the plank and give it a few minutes on the grill. Then I put the plank with the fish on it in a hot oven or under a broiler for a few more minutes to finish.

If the planks are thinner than 1/3" they will catch on fire too quick on the grill and will have a greater tendency to warp. A little warp is no big deal, but a lot of warp is useless. Especially if you plan on using them more than once. But if they are much thicker than 1/2" they won't have a chance to smoke a little and absorb some grill heat and impart their flavor on the protein.

For smoker fuel dimensions it depends entirely on the smoker. In most restaurants I have used electric smokers that you feed small pieces of wood. Pellet sized up to 2" chips or chunks or discs. At home I have started using an offset smoker. You build a fire in the fire box and it ports smoke and heat into the smoking chamber indirectly. For this type of operation I have found that 10" long pieces that are around the diameter of a broom handle are best for keeping the optimal mix of heat and smoke. Mostly what I have been using so far with it is Kingsford mini-logs that I then split into splits that are roughly 1-2" thick.

I have used the commercially available Jack Daniels branded whiskey barrel smoking chips quite a bit. They are sized nicely for an electric smoker with a very small fire box and I have enjoyed using them that way. But chips that small are useless with a full size offset smoker or the giant rotisserie style commercial machines. They burn too quick.
 

John Loftis

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Here's my thoughts on dimensions. I don't know what sort of state the staves are in when you get them. But usually with cedar planks I have had the best luck with ones that are about 5X10" and as thin as you can reasonably get them. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 1/3" to 1/2".

Generally, the way I use them is to have the planks soak for ten or fifteen minutes prior to use. Then throw the plank on a hot grill and put grill marks on both sides of the wood so that it starts smoking a little. Then hit it with pan spray, put the seasoned grill-marked fish on top of the plank and give it a few minutes on the grill. Then I put the plank with the fish on it in a hot oven or under a broiler for a few more minutes to finish.

If the planks are thinner than 1/3" they will catch on fire too quick on the grill and will have a greater tendency to warp. A little warp is no big deal, but a lot of warp is useless. Especially if you plan on using them more than once. But if they are much thicker than 1/2" they won't have a chance to smoke a little and absorb some grill heat and impart their flavor on the protein.

For smoker fuel dimensions it depends entirely on the smoker. In most restaurants I have used electric smokers that you feed small pieces of wood. Pellet sized up to 2" chips or chunks or discs. At home I have started using an offset smoker. You build a fire in the fire box and it ports smoke and heat into the smoking chamber indirectly. For this type of operation I have found that 10" long pieces that are around the diameter of a broom handle are best for keeping the optimal mix of heat and smoke. Mostly what I have been using so far with it is Kingsford mini-logs that I then split into splits that are roughly 1-2" thick.

I have used the commercially available Jack Daniels branded whiskey barrel smoking chips quite a bit. They are sized nicely for an electric smoker with a very small fire box and I have enjoyed using them that way. But chips that small are useless with a full size offset smoker or the giant rotisserie style commercial machines. They burn too quick.
Great info! Thanks much. Might be hard to do 5" wide, since most of the lid pieces are narrower than that. 10" long should be fine.

It looks like most of the oak is 1" thick, but I could plane them down to whatever thickness. The downside is we might lose some of the bourbon flavor if we plane too much away.

I can't make pellets (like for a Traeger), but could certainly chop up barrel staves to small-ish pieces. I like the idea of packing as many as will fit into a USPS flat rate shipping box. I'm wondering if larger chunks for an offset smoker would be better/easier here...
 

AT5760

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I’m not at all a serious smoker, but I do ribs, brisket, and butt in my Weber kettle. I’m a big fan of wood chunks on top of lump charcoal. Using this method, a little wood can go a long way. I imagine that this method could be used with these planks/chunks.
 
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