Pizza on the grill is easier than you think
If you like pizza — and seriously, who doesn’t? — you’re going to love it on the grill. Pies cooked on charcoal or gas have a slightly smoky flavor that can’t be replicated in the oven or local pizza shop. And the crust, because it’s cooked on both sides, packs an awesome crunch.
My daughter Olivia taste-tested every pie that came off the hot grates. As she puts it, “It’s crispy but it’s still a tiny little bit soft on the inside.”
We also liked the endless variety of toppings, which extend far beyond classic tomato sauce and mozzarella — everything from veggies and meat to fruit, nuts, pesto and gourmet cheeses one doesn’t necessarily associate with pizza.
“Specialty cheeses can elevate your pizza to a whole new level,” write Elizabeth Karmel and Bob Blumer in the terrific “Pizza on the Grill” (Taunton, 2008), considered by many the bible of pizza-grilling cookbooks. Their recipes include pies made with pesto and brie, and lobster paired with creme fraiche and St. Andre, a triple creme cheese. A Black ‘n’ Blue Steak Pizza marries sirloin with Roquefort.
While professional chefs have been grilling pizza for a while now, it’s only in the past few years that everyday backyard cooks have started to master the technique. It’s pretty easy, once you get the hang of it, and no more time-consuming than grilling a steak or chicken, if you prepare the dough beforehand. Plus, think of all the money you’ll save on takeout.
The key to good pizza is the crust. You want it crispy and crunchy, but not so much so that your family will suspect you accidentally burned it. Part of that involves picking a primo recipe (we offer several good options below). But you may have to practice your technique to achieve a well-marked and evenly browned bottom and top that’s properly melty. The trick is using the “combo” method of cooking the pizzas on both direct (directly over the heat source) and indirect heat (the unlit section of the grill).
The jury is out on whether the best pies are grilled on a ceramic pizza stone or cooked directly on the grates; I tried both ways, and each worked great. The experts also can’t seem to agree whether you should flip the crust halfway through cooking — celebrity chef Bobby Flay, in his latest cookbook, “Barbecue Addiction,” joins the editors of “The Grilling Book: The Definitive Guide from Bon Appetit” in telling readers to grill both sides of the crust before adding toppings. But the authors of “Pizza on the Grill” instruct you to cook only one side before putting a loaded pie back on the grill.
If you use a stone, preheat it with the grill or it could crack. Don’t fret if you don’t have a wooden pizza peel on which to place your dough after rolling it out on a work surface dusted with flour or fine cornmeal. An oiled piece of parchment or rimless baking sheet/metal spatula is just as efficient for flipping or sliding the crust onto the hot grates or stone.
A few words here about the dough, which you should try to stretch and pull into shape with your hands, making it as thin as possible (1/4-inch thick is about right) to ensure that it cooks all the way through. Be sure to brush a little oil on the grill grates or disks of dough so the uncooked pizza crust doesn’t stick. If you’re making the dough earlier in the day or week (it freezes for up to three months), let it rest for an hour or so at room temperature before using; this allows the gluten in the dough to relax and makes shaping easier. A softball-sized ball of dough will make a 12- to 14-inch pie that serves two people. Tempting as it might be, don’t put too many toppings on at once, as that makes it difficult for the crust to get nice and crisp.
If you don’t have the time or desire to make dough, Trader Joe’s sells a pretty good pre-made dough for just $1.19 (look for it in little plastic bags in the refrigerated section). I also bought fresh dough at a Whole Foods Market ($2.99/pound), and I’m guessing your local pizzeria would sell you a big hunk of raw dough, too, for just a couple of bucks.
When grilling, always start with a preheated grill — pizza dough is best when it’s cooked quickly at a very high temperature (around 650 degrees, if your grill goes that high). Also, it’s smart to have your sauce, cheese and other toppings cut, diced, shredded or otherwise at the ready. It only takes about 90 seconds for a naked disk of dough to puff up and get crispy. Since the crust will cook much quicker than the toppings, cook your meats and vegetables beforehand so all they really have to do is warm up.
After the pizza’s properly dressed, it’ll take another two to three minutes for the cheese to melt and toppings to cook through on indirect heat. Close the lid and resist the temptation to peek — every time you open the grill, you’ll lose precious heat, and your family will have to wait that much longer to eat.
(Tested by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
I liked this dough the best. It was super-easy!
1 cup warm water, plus
more as needed
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon sugar or honey
1/2-ounce package active
3 cups unbleached,
1/2 teaspoon salt
Place water, oil and sugar in a bowl. Sprinkle yeast on top and let sit until foamy, about 5 minutes.
In another bowl, combine flour and salt. Add 1/2 cup at a time to water mixture. If dough is stiff, add more water; if dough is sticky, add more flour 1 tablespoon at a time. Continue to mix until it feels elastic.
Turn dough out onto a well-floured work surface and knead for about 1 minute, until just smooth and easy to work with, adding extra flour as needed to the surface to keep it from sticking. Do not overwork the dough or it will be tough.
Place the dough in an oiled clean bowl, turn it several times to coat the dough and then drizzle a little oil on top. Cover tightly with plastic wrap, place in a warm spot and let it rise until it doubles in size, about 1 hour.
Punch the dough down and knead on a lightly floured surface, for 1 to 2 minutes until smooth. Divide into 2 equal-sized balls and continue with your pizza-making. The dough can be made ahead and frozen for up to a month; thaw at room temperature before using.
Makes enough for 2 large pizzas.
— “Pizza on the Grill: 100 Feisty Fire-Roasted Recipes for Pizza & More” by Elizabeth Karmel and Bob Blumer (Taunton, $9.99 on Kindle)
(Tested by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
Pizza crust cooks very quickly, so toppings need to be either pre-cooked or edible raw. This recipe combines spicy Italian sausage with sweet bell pepper.
2 balls (1 pound each)
pre-made pizza dough
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium red or green bell
pepper, cut into 1/4-inch strips
1/2 small yellow onion,
8 ounces mild or spicy
8-ounce can tomato sauce
1/4 cup thinly sliced black olives
2 tablespoons finely chopped
fresh Italian parsley leaves
1 tablespoon finely chopped
fresh thyme leaves
2 teaspoons finely chopped
fresh rosemary leaves
11/2 cups shredded mozzarella
Remove the balls of dough from the refrigerator, if necessary, about 1 hour before grilling so that the dough is easier to roll.
In a large skillet over medium-high heat, warm 1 tablespoon oil. Add the bell pepper and the onion and cook until softened but not browned, about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the vegetables from the skillet and set aside.
Add the sausage to the skillet, breaking it into medium-sized pieces. Cook over medium-high heat until lightly browned and fully cooked, about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally and breaking the sausage into smaller pieces. Remove the skillet from the heat, and let the sausage cool in the skillet.
Prepare the grill for direct cooking over medium heat (350 to 450 degrees) and preheat a pizza stone for at least 15 minutes, following manufacturer’s instructions. Meanwhile, prepare your first pizza.
Using a rolling pin on a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough, one ball at a time, into rounds about 12 inches wide and 1/3-inch thick. (If the dough retracts, cover it with a kitchen towel, let it rest for 5 minutes, and then continue.) Set the first round aside while you roll out the second.
Carefully transfer your first round of pizza dough onto a pizza peel (or a rimless baking sheet) lightly coated with flour. Spread 1/2 cup of the sauce over the dough. Scatter half of the sausage, half of the pepper-and-onion mixture, half of the olives and half of the parsley, thyme and rosemary on top. Finish by scattering half of the cheese on top of everything.
Slide your first pizza onto the preheated pizza stone and cook over direct medium heat, with the lid closed, until the crust is golden brown and the cheese is melted, 9 to 11 minutes. Using a pizza peel or a large spatula, remove the pizza from the pizza stone and let rest for a few minutes. Cut into wedges and serve warm.
Repeat steps 6 and 7 with the remaining dough, sauce and toppings. Makes 2 pizzas.
— “Weber’s New Real Grilling: The Ultimate Cookbook for Every Backyard Griller” by Jamie Purviance (Sunset, April 2013, $24.95)
PIZZA WITH SHALLOTS, WILD MUSHROOMS, OLIVE OIL AND FONTINA
(Tested by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided, plus more for drizzling
7 cups quartered mushrooms
6 to 8 medium shallots, julienned (about 1 cup)
1-1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
2 teaspoons coarse sea salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 balls pizza dough, fresh or store-bought
1-1/2 cups grated fontina cheese
Turn gas grill to high or ignite charcoal. If using gas grill, once it’s hot, decrease temperature to medium-high. Set a plancha or two large cast-iron pans on the grill rack to heat.
Pour about 2 tablespoons oil onto plancha or into each pan. Let oil heat, then add mushrooms in a single layer. Drizzle the remaining olive oil over the mushrooms. Cook without stirring until they’re brown on the bottom, about 7 minutes. Add shallots and stir with the mushrooms. Sprinkle on the thyme, salt and pepper and cook until lightly caramelized, another 4 minutes. Take pan off fire and put pizza stone on your grill rack to heat.
On a floured surface, roll out each ball of dough until 10 to 12 inches across. Grill the naked rounds of dough on the preheated pizza stone until dough puffs up and bottom shows some brown, about 1-1/2 minutes. Either using a peel or long tongs, flip pizza and grill for another 90 seconds. With a pizza peel, take pizza off heat. If you like, you can grill all 3 naked pizzas and then set them aside to be ready for the toppings.
Top each pizza with 1/2 cup of the mushroom mixture and 1/2 cup of fontina. With a pizza peel, transfer pizza back to pizza stone, close the lid of the grill and cook for about 1 minute.
Transfer pizza to cutting board, drizzle each pizza with a little olive oil, cut into slices and serve.
Makes 3 10-inch pizzas; serves 6.
— “Michael Chiarello’s Live Fire: 125 Recipes for Cooking Outdoors” by Michael Chiarello (Chronicle, May 2013, $35)
PIZZA WITH PEARS, PECORINO AND WALNUTS
(Tested by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
This is a perfect pizza for dessert.
All-purpose flour for dusting
2 pounds store-bought fresh pizza dough, room temperature
Oil for grill grate
12 ounces aged manchego, Parmesan or pecorino
2 pears, halved, cored and very thinly sliced
2/3 cup walnut pieces, coarsely broken
Freshly cracked black pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling
Build a medium-hot two-zone fire in a charcoal grill or heat a gas grill to high. Sprinkle 2 rimless baking sheets with flour. Divide dough into 2 equal pieces; roll out each on a floured surface to a 15-inch round. Transfer to prepared baking sheets.
Brush grill grate with oil. Place one dough round on grate on hotter side of grill and cook until lightly charred and no longer sticking, 2 to 3 minutes. Using tongs, turn dough over and grill until cooked through, 1 to 2 minutes longer. Using a spatula, transfer crust to rimless baking sheet. Repeat with second dough round. If using a gas grill, reduce heat to medium.
Thinly slice cheese and arrange on top of crusts, leaving a 1/2-inch plain border. Cover cheese with a single layer of pear slices, then scatter walnuts over.
Working one at a time, slide pizzas from baking sheets onto cool part of grill. Cover grill and cook pizza until cheese softens and bottoms are crisp, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer pizza to work surface. Season with pepper; drizzle with oil.
Makes 2 15-inch pizzas.
— “The Grilling Book: The Definitive Guide from Bon Appetit” (Andrews McMeel, May 2013, $45)
(Bobby Flay appears on Food Network and Cooking Channel, which are units of Scripps Networks Interactive. SNI shares common ownership with The E.W. Scripps Co., the parent company of Scripps Howard News Service.)
(Contact Gretchen McKay at gmckaypost-gazette.com. Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.shns.com.)