Daily Archives: June 22, 2009

pizza on the grill: a summer obsession

margherita on grillThis is an ode to one of summer’s perfect foods, pizza on the grill!  Ever since I figured out how easy this was, I’ve been making it on a regular basis during grilling season.  It took us a few tries to perfect the technique, but once you get the feel for it, it’s a breeze, and one of the quickest (and most economical) things you can make on the grill.  Plus, your friends will be blown away by how good it is.

I’m sure I’m far from the first food blogger to write about grilled pizza, but if you haven’t tried it, you’re in for a real treat.  It’s the closest I’ve come at home to the wood-oven flavor of a traditional Italian pizza (thin crust, not too many toppings*, crust charred just so in a few spots…).  It makes great party fare, as you can cut the pizzas up into small appetizer-sized slices and pass them around as they come off the grill, which is what we did at Sarah & Steve’s Memorial-weekend-Katie-visiting-from-Denver BBQ (yes, it’s taken me that long to post this! Sigh).  I made a double recipe of dough** and divided it up into four balls, each making an approximately 9″ pizza.

za'atar flatbreadThe first pizza we put on was actually more of a Middle-Eastern style flatbread brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with za’atar.  It got a little more charred than we would have liked, but it helped us gauge the temperature and timing for the subsequent pizzas.  I suggest doing a plain one to start with if you’re new at it, so you don’t waste a bunch of toppings if it does burn.  The dough tastes great just brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt- a “pizza bianca”, as it’s known in Italy.

margherita topping in bowl

pepper topping in bowl

Once we got our test pizza out of the way, we made two more pizzas, one with a classic Margherita*** topping (tomatoes, basil, fresh mozzarella, olive oil, salt & pepper) and one with roasted red and yellow peppers, feta, kalamata olives and basil.  I often don’t use sauce on my grilled pizzas, but if you want to, just make sure to go easy and use a light hand with the toppings in general.  You’ll want to use pre-cooked toppings, as the heat from the grill just warms them through rather than cooking them.  The varieties of topping combinations are as limitless as your imagination, but just keep in mind that for this style of pizza, less is more; you can’t achieve a crisp crust if it’s bogged down with too many extras.

pepper pizza on grill

I think I’ve made a convert out of Sarah, who used the fourth ball of dough a few days later to make another grilled pizza for her family.  If you have kids, this is a great recipe as it’s really easy to make individual-sized pizzas and let them choose their own toppings.  If you make the pizzas a little smaller, you can easily do two or even three at a time.

*There was a recent post on the Village Voice about “food words we hate“, and “toppings” was mentioned as a hated word.  Ever since I read that, I can’t stop thinking it does sound weird!  But what on earth could you replace it with, especially when talking about pizza?  Anyway, if the word “toppings” is bothersome to you, I apologize in advance for using it several times throughout this post, and welcome suggestions for alternatives.

**There is much debate about how to make the best pizza dough, what flour to use, etc.  I leave this up to you, as I think almost any dough you use will turn out pretty darn good.  One word of advice, though, would be to shape the dough by gently stretching it rather than rolling it.

***OK, technically, my sauceless pizza was a hybrid of Pizza alla Napoletana (cherry tomatoes and basil) and a Pizza Margherita (light tomato sauce, mozzarella & basil).  I usually use the cherry or grape tomatoes because in Michigan, for most of the year, they stand the most chance of having any flavor.

Pizza on the Grill (printer-friendly version)
This isn’t so much a recipe as it is some loose guidelines on the actual grilling process.  Although it is rewarding and not at all difficult to make your own dough (especially if you have a stand mixer), this is something you could have for a weeknight supper using store-bought dough.  margherita crop I’ve used the pizza dough from Trader Joe’s and had good results- you’ll just need to bring it to room temp and flour it a little so it won’t be too sticky.

As for toppings, like I said, the sky’s the limit.  Think of the dough as a blank canvas on which to paint flavor.  Don’t limit yourself to “traditional” pizza toppings- one of the best pizzas I made had no tomatoes, sauce or cheese; instead I used crème fraîche, corn, bacon and scallions.  It’s also a great way to use up odds and ends in the fridge! :)  Update: I recently posted a recipe for Tarte Flambée that can easily be made on the grill.

Directions: Arrange the coals so that there are more on one side than the other- this will give you two “cooking temperatures”.  Shape the pizza dough into rounds no bigger than 8″ or so in diameter.  Don’t fret too much about the shape, as rustic shapes work fine, but do try to get them as thin as you can without tearing.  Get your toppings organized and have them within easy reach- once the dough’s ready, you’ll need to work quickly so your crust doesn’t burn.

Put your pizza dough on the hot side and cook until the bottom becomes lightly browned (watch carefully to avoid burning), 1-2 minutes.  If the heat is a little uneven, give the dough a 180-degree rotation at some point.

Flip over the dough, place on the cooler side of the grill, and quickly add your pizza toppings.  Cover the grill and cook for 3-6 minutes, checking periodically, until the pizza is heated through and the bottom crust looks done.  If the crust begins to burn and the cheese isn’t yet melted (assuming you’re using cheese), you’ll need to adjust your coals by pushing some from the “cool” side over to the hotter side.

Please note that this isn’t an exact science, and the best thing you can do is be willing to go through some trial and error until you get a method and timing down that works for you and your grill.  You’ll be rewarded with pizza that tastes better than you ever imagined you could make at home!