I’m pretty sure I have had a lifelong love affair with pizza. Who hasn’t really, but it still holds a special place in my heart. I came to grilled pizza later, but we’ll get to that… I grew up in Richmond, VA, before it was the hipster mecca it seems to be now. Down the street from our house was this classic 80s pizza joint called Italian Delight. It was one of those places that doesn’t really exist these days, with tons of cushy red vinyl booths, a jukebox, brown formica tables, really large red translucent plastic cups, and soda that came by the pitcher. We would frequent this place after a swim meet, or on a Friday after a busy week, and my brother and I thought it was heaven. It was made even better by the fact that there was an arcade next door, so you could play Street FIghter while your pizza baked.
For a pizza joint in the south in the 80s, it was pretty damn good. They didn’t have any fancy grilled pizza or anything, no pizza topped with arugula, figs, and burrata. But what they did have was solid and tasty. Now that I live outside of NYC, pizza is ubiquitous; it is at every child’s birthday we go to, and is the default for ordering in or takeout for seemingly everyone. There are fifteen pizza places in my town alone, which is a little under six square miles in area, though if you want a grilled pizza, you have to do it yourself.
If you have read some of my earlier posts, you know that I’m not a huge fan of turning on the oven in the summer, certainly not to 500 degrees to make a pizza. So, why not make a grilled pizza? You can absolutely use your BBQ grill like an oven, and you can even work some nice wood smoke flavors into the pizza if you want to.
You can do this on either a gas or charcoal grill.I have a three burner Weber Spirit grill that is pretty great. I have owned and used other gas grills in the past, and the Weber heats much more evenly and is better constructed than all of them. You’ll also need a decent pizza stone. I have gone through several of these over the years, and finally bought a really nice Emile Henry pizza stone that is grill safe. It has been excellent both in the oven and on the grill.
On Making Pizza Dough…
To make a grilled pizza, the first thing you need to do is make a pizza dough. I have tried dozens of recipes over the years, and consistently go back to my variation of Mark Bittman’s basic pizza dough. He calls for using instant yeast, which is far more convenient than the packaged kind you must hydrate before you use. With instant yeast, you just add it to the rest of the dry ingredients, and it does all the yeasty magic all on its own. Bittman also calls for making the dough in the food processor. I have made dough by hand, the hard way, with a lot of kneading. I have made it in the KitchenAid stand mixer, and in the food processor. You can get a great pizza dough with any of the methods. The food processor is the fastest, so if I stand any chance of making a pizza dough from scratch on a weeknight, it’s going to be in the food processor. If you are in the market for a good food processor, this is the updated version of what I have and it is great.
I like to vary Monsieur Bittman’s recipe a bit, and use half all purpose flour, and half white whole wheat. This means using a bit more water to get the dough to come together, but makes for a more nutritious dough. Here is a link to my pizza dough recipe.
- 1 recipe Dinner Winner Pizza Dough
- ½ pound mozzarella, grated (use fresh or not fresh, either one will be delicious)
- ½ red bell pepper, cut into strips
- 2 spring onions, chopped
- 2 ounces prepared pesto sauce (I had some frozen. If you don’t, the Costco pesto sauce is really good. Use that if you can)
- Grated parmigiano reggiano (for serving)
- Preheat the grill - After the dough has risen you’ll need to preheat your grill. I like to add a little wood smoke flavor to the pizza. This is 100% optional. The pizza will only be on the grill for a few minutes, so we are not talking about an 18 hour smoke or anything here. I have a lovely oak tree in my backyard that is constantly dropping sticks. I will usually take a couple of sticks and break them into about 8” lengths. Wrap the sticks in aluminum foil and using a knife or fork, poke a couple dozen holes in the foil. There is no need to soak the sticks because there will not be enough airflow for them to actually catch fire. Use whatever wood you like, but don’t use anything with sap, so no pine trees.
- If you have a gas grill, turn it to medium high and using tongs, nestle the foil packet of wood down near the flames. Replace the grill grates, and place your pizza stone directly on the grill grates. If you have a charcoal grill, preheat the coals, then arrange them for indirect heat. I like the Ring of Fire method that Weber describes. Replace the grill grate, and place your pizza stone on top of the grate. Now, off to assemble the pizza.
- Roll out the pizza dough - Once the dough has risen, flour a work surface, and turn the dough onto it. Divide in half and form two balls. Put one of the balls back into the bowl it just came from and loosely cover again. Press or roll the dough until it's as thin as you can make it, but not bigger than your pizza peel; let it rest a bit if it becomes too elastic. (Patience is your friend here.) Dust your pizza peel with cornmeal and transfer the rolled out dough to the peel. Don’t skimp on the cornmeal, it will help you get the pizza onto the stone a little later.
- Add the toppings to the pizza - Once the dough is on the peel, use a large spoon to plop the sauce in the middle of the pizza. Working out from the center in concentric circles, spread the sauce around nearly to the edge of the dough. Once the pesto is spread evenly, sprinkle the mozzarella cheese over the dough. Next, evenly spread the onions and red peppers. The pizza is ready to go onto the grill.
- Grill the pizza - Go and check your grill. You should see wood smoke, and a temperature of at least 400 degrees. The grill can be as hot as 550 without having to worry. Any hotter, reduce the cooking time by 2 minutes. Getting the pizza from the peel onto the stone can be a little intimidating if you have never done it before. First, shake the peel back and forth a bit to loosen the pizza on the stone. Once it is moving on the stone, place the peel at the top of the pizza stone and, using a quick back and forth flick , transfer it onto the stone. If a few veggies, or a little cheese falls off, no big deal, it’s your grill, not your oven.
- Close the lid, and don’t open it for 10 minutes. If the cheese looks bubbly, and a bit browned after 10 minutes, you are good to go, if not, wait another two minutes or so. To get the pizza off of the stone use your peel like a giant spatula. Sometimes, it helps to have an actual spatula handy, in case the pizza is sticking and you need to help get it started.
- After you have the pizza off of the stone, slide it onto a large cutting board and wait for a minute or two for the cheese to set a little bit. Serve, top with Parmesan cheese if you want, and enjoy with a cold Italian white, or a Peroni if you are feeling authentic.
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