The trick is to smoke the meat and not make the meat smoke
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Plank Grilled Meatloaf

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In early October I was looking for recipes and I stumbled upon a recipe for cedar planked meatloaf. While this wasn’t what I was looking for, it did intrigue me. A few days later when I was in a bookstore I saw a cookbook dedicated to plank grilling. When I looked inside I found it had a recipe for plank grilling meatloaf. I figured it had to be a sign and picked up the book. Of course the first thing I wanted to make was meatloaf.

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My new cookbook contains how to’s and recipes exclusively for plank grilling

This cookbook had a whole new way of cooking on planks, and in some ways it was scary. Any plank grilled recipes I’d seen had you preheat the plank using direct heat, then you switched to indirect heat when the food went on the plank. This cookbook had you do the entire cook using direct heat. I’d had a plank burn up during the heating process after less than 10 minutes (see UP IN FLAMES blog entry) and the idea of cooking a meatloaf on a plank directly for 90 minutes was rather scary. The authors covered the cooking process in great depth and so I decided I would go for it. The first thing the author’s did differently than other recipes I’d seen, was to presoak the plank for more than an hour. In fact they said up to 24 hours was fine. I soaked my plank for just under 8 hours. The second difference was the method of preheating the plank. They had you flip it multiple times to even out the temperature and charring. they want the plank charred, but not blackened. As mentioned earlier, they wanted you to keep heat under the plank while cooking. They wanted you to keep the temperature at 425 (220 C). They imply, but don’t directly state, that this is at the level of the lid thermometer and not the grate level. I was a bit concerned that if the temps are at 425 (220 C) at the lid level, they would be higher at the grate level. By higher, I specifically mean higher than 451 degrees (233 C) where the plank would be likely to burn. Now soaking the wood will delay the onset of combustion, but this was to be a 90 minute cook. A smarter man than I might have tried something that cooked for less time, but I wanted meatloaf.

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This meatloaf had a very complex but tasty recipe

The meatloaf recipe was one of the more complex meatloaf recipes I’d seen. It used 3 meats and all kinds of fillings and looked real tasty on paper. The topping sauce looked real good too. This meatloaf also received a coating of bacon on the top. I”d never cooked a meatloaf with a bacon topping before and I was blissfully unaware of one of the problems that would come up. I preheated the grill and made sure I’d gotten it stabilized at 425 (220 C) on the lid thermometer. I went out to warm up the plank, turning it every couple minutes as directed. The authors said you could use this time to take out any warps in the planks by varying the amount of time you did each side for. My plank was pretty level, but I did place it convex side up. This would allow any drippings to run off. My biggest worry was getting the meatloaf safely onto the plank. It would have been easier to bring the plank inside and transfer the meatloaf in the Kitchen, but I decided not to bring the plank in. I’d have to deal with not burning whatever I put the plank on and I’d lose some heat in the plank. I placed some foil on a 1/4 sheet pan and took it out to the grill on that. I placed the sheet pan down on the hot grill surface next to the plank. A wide fish spatula was used to move the meatloaf onto the plank. I breathed a sigh of relief when that was done.

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The plank is preheated so it is slightly charred, but not blackened

I settled down in a chair out by the grill so I could keep my eye on the temperature of the lid thermometer and the meat temp via a remote read temperature probe. Also I wanted to make sure the smoke stayed light colored which was good, not dark colored which meant a fire. I had two squirt bottles of water out at the grill just in case. The day was unseasonably cold, but there was no wind so keeping the grill at the right temperature was not a problem. Ten minutes in a problem I should have seen coming began. I started hearing the unmistakable hissing sound of grease hitting open flame and a flareup ensuing. It was the bacon. Now I’d never cooked with bacon like this, but I should have known better. Even more to the point IMHO the author’s should have made mention of this and how to deal with it. But they didn’t. The only mention they made about fat was saying to orient the crown of the plank up to drain any fat. This wasn’t a little bit of fat we were dealing with here, it soon became a steady stream. I wasn’t sure what to do. I couldn’t take off the bacon without destroying the topping sauce. Now my grill has covers over the burners called flame tamers. They look like an accordion and there are slots in the valleys to help channel the drippings. So while I was getting flareups, they weren’t as bad as they would be without the flame tamers. I decide to leave well enough alone. Most of the drippings were turning into smoke upon contact with the flame tamers, and the rest were making relatively small but constant flareups. I was hoping that not too much of the grease would make it’s way lower into the grill.

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The meatloaf left the Kitchen on a foil wrapped 1/4 sheet pan and was transferred to the plank with a wide fish spatula. I breathed a sigh of relief when this phase was completed.

While I was waiting for the meatloaf to finish I thought about what I could do about the flareup until next time. The easiest thing would be to put a drip pan under the plank. The author’s wanted direct flame under the plank, which they felt contributed to good smoke production. So a drip pan was out of the question. But perhaps two drip pans: one in front of the plank and one behind it. Each drip pan would extend just far enough under the plank to catch the drippings rolling off the long edges of the plank, the majority of the plank would still be under the flame. The meatloaf hit 160 degrees (70 C) and finished up in 90 minutes, about as I expected. I brought the plank inside and let it rest for 5 minutes. The meatloaf was served directly on the plank and so it wasn’t until much later that I saw how close I’d come to having the plank burn up. When I put the meatloaf in the fridge and could look at the bottom of the plank, I saw it was severely charred and blistered. I will need to make some more recipes in the book and gather some more data before making a final conclusions. For example I don’t know if the near miss was caused by the extra flames from the flareups or if it was the 90 minute time it took to cook. Most of the recipes in the book cook for less time so I need to compare the plank condition from some of those to see if they also char up. This is something I need to take seriously because I don’t want to have a fire get started on the Kitchen counter or Dining Room table.

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The meatloaf took 90 minutes to cook and you can see the amount of runoff from the bacon fat was substantial

While I like this cookbook , the omission of the info about where 425 (220 C) was measured as well as not mentioning how to deal with fat collection is inexcusable in my mind. I’ve got several cookbooks that get a little lose with the directions for a recipe. When you run in to something like this, it makes you wonder if they actually made some of the recipes. One cookbook I have (not this one BTW) says cook until done, but doesn’t bother mentioning a done temperature or time. So how do we know what done is for that recipe. In this case how could you have made this recipe, with all that bacon, and not run into the same type fat runoff issues that I did? If you had made it, the amount of fat runoff is extreme, how could it have slipped by without you noticing it? Hopefully, these are the only two omissions I will run across in the book.

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The finished meatloaf tasted great, that is the most important part. Now I just need to make some tweaks to how I cook it.

Oh you may be wondering how the meatloaf turned out? In a word: Excellent. The meat has a nice smoke flavor in addition to all the flavors from the various ingredients. The topping sauce was surprisingly flavorful. It was great warmed over and also for sandwiches too. So the food had the end results I would have hoped for. I just need to see what I can do to the cooking method to make it safer and less prone to flareups. Can’t complain about that. I am looking forward to trying some more recipes from this book.
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SOME RELATED LINKS:
Here are links for the Picture and Blog Entries mentioned above.

  UP IN FLAMES Blog Entry
  CEDAR PLANKED MEATLOAF Beef Picture Entry


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