Cedar-plank grilled eggplant Parmesan is nothing short of genius. The eggplant slices are grilled then added as layers to the Parmesan. Best of all: all that flavor is imbued with the smokiness of the cedar.
Raichlen’s Rule states that if something tastes great baked, fried, or sautéed, it probably tastes better grilled. This brings us to a dish I never imagined I’d cook on the grill: eggplant Parmigiana. Another rule of mine states that if grilling doesn’t measurably improve a dish you might bake, fry, or sauté, you should stick with the traditional method. (Just because you can cook virtually everything on the grill, it doesn’t mean you should.) Well, grilling benefits eggplant Parmigiana in at least four ways. First, you eliminate a lot of the oil and oil-soaked breading. Second, you can introduce an interesting smoke flavor by using a smoky tomato sauce. Third, there’s the charred cedar plank, which adds another layer of flavor and cool factor. Finally, my grilled version is a lot quicker, easier, and less messy to make than traditional eggplant parm, and it tastes cleaner, too.–Steven Raichlen
Cedar-Plank Grilled Eggplant Parmesan
- 4 square or 2 long rectangular cedar planks, soaked
- Gas or charcoal grill
For the eggplant
- 1 to 2 medium (about 14 ounces) eggplants
- Extra virgin olive oil for brushing and drizzling
- Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 to 2 teaspoons dried oregano preferably Italian
- Mild vegetable oil for oiling the grill grate
- 12 ounces fresh burrata sliced (cream reserved), or mozzarella
- 2 cups store-bought or homemade chunky tomato sauce
- 1/2 cup freshly and finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- 4 fresh basil leaves thinly slivered (optional)
- 1/2 cup dried plain breadcrumbs or panko (optional)
Grill the eggplant
- Set up your grill for direct grilling and heat to high. Char the cedar planks on one side until they darken and smoke, but not so long they catch fire, 2 to 4 minutes. Let cool on a heat-proof surface.
- Meanwhile, cut the eggplant crosswise into 12 slices, each about 1/4 inch (6 mm) thick. Lightly brush each on both sides with olive oil and season on both sides with salt, pepper, and oregano.
- Brush or scrape the grill grate clean and oil it well.
Assemble the eggplant parmesan
- Place a slice of eggplant on each plank (2 slices if using long planks). Top each slice with a slice of burrata (spoon on some of the cream as well), followed by a generous dollop of tomato sauce.
- Sprinkle with Parmigiano-Reggiano and a tuft of slivered basil, if using. Build the second layer of eggplant, burrata, tomato sauce, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and basil. Crown with a slice of eggplant.
- If you like a crisp top, sprinkle the top eggplant slice with breadcrumbs and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. The eggplant Parmesans can be assembled and refrigerated several hours ahead of time and grilled at the last minute.
- Return the assembled eggplant Parmesans on their planks to the grill, placing over indirect heat. Grill until the tomato sauce is bubbling, the cheese is melted, and the tops are browned, 10 to 20 minutes.
- Serve immediately, preferably still on the cedar planks.
How do I prepare cedar planks for grilling?In a large container, soak the cedar planks for 15 to 30 minutes. Use a heavy object to keep the planks submerged. Soaking the planks keeps the wood from burning and also keeps the food on top moist during grilling. Some grillers use salted water for soaking, which is nice but not necessary.
I thought you had to soak cedar grilling planks overnight?That seems to be a common misconception, and one David followed for a long time. But long soaks actually leech the flavor out of the wood, which is the last thing you want. A soak of up to 60 minutes, the maximum, is all you need for optimal results.
Recipe Testers' Reviews
I love eggplant Parmigiana, and this recipe for cedar-plank grilled eggplant Parmesan is a great way to mix it up. The minimal breading allows the eggplant, sauce, and cheese to be the main focus and the smokiness from the cedar plank adds another layer of flavor (plus grilling on planks is fun!). This is a bit labor-intensive to replace a more traditional recipe for regular use, but these would be a delicious and unique appetizer or side dish for a summer barbecue.
I recommend using the listed sauce and burrata/mozzarella amounts as a guideline and adjusting to taste, as I found that the amounts as written would have overwhelmed my eggplant. I ended up using about 3/4 cup sauce and 6 ounces of cheese.
Depending on your grill type/size, I suggest grilling the eggplant slices in two batches. I found it tricky on a charcoal grill to get them all evenly browned in one batch, and had to do a lot of moving around.
This cedar-plank grilled eggplant Parmesan would be a Tester's Choice just because of the plating alone. The cool factor is just off the charts--deconstructed eggplant parm on a cedar plank. The better news is that the dish delivers.
Grilling the eggplant rather than frying (not that there's anything wrong with that!) does impart certain umami that elevates this dish. I used a homemade tomato sauce with a kick of red pepper flakes and that worked well with the creamy eggplant and burrata. Overall, a wonderful dish, full of flavor and texture. I served it with grilled broccoli and garlic bread. One comment was: "I could see this being served in a restaurant." That's high praise, indeed.
Originally published July 19, 2021