Every year my friend Katie has me over for grilled pizza in her backyard. After trying pizza on the grill, it changed the way I thought about pizza forever.
There’s a great, distinct char to the pizza, a deliciousness of serving it hot off the grill and a rusticness that not even a brick oven at a restaurant, and definitely not even favorite pizza brands, can duplicate. And the fun and camaraderie that comes with making pizza together is unmatched.
Now every year, I look forward to our annual grilled pizza get-together.
We grill a few pizzas, usually three to five depending on the size of the group, stretching dough, keeping a watchful eye on the crust over the intense heat and mixing and matching various toppings with every round. At this point I consider Katie a pizza connoisseur — she has tested various recipes over the years, has some decidedly favorite recipes and strategies and can whip up scratch-made homemade pizza on the grill or in the oven anytime.
So this year, I decided to show up armed with a notebook to share with pizza lovers recipes and tips on what to do if you want to try your hand at grilled pizza.
It’s clear a few key themes have come from making grilled pizza over the years. A focaccia-like dough as well as grilling directly on grates, rendering a crust that is puffy in the middle and crisp on the outside, is preferred.
To get a little nerdy and technical regarding grilling accessories, we’ve tried two different grilling methods over time — directly on the grates as well as with a KettlePizza, the round stainless steel insert you can put over your charcoal grill to transform it into a grill top pizza oven.
The good news for those who don’t want to invest in a kettle is that we prefer the free-form, direct-on-the-grill method. That way you can flip the dough/crust so that both sides have a wonderfully toasty char. It’s also nice that you can place the dough directly on the grill, moving it around easier, making adjustments, such as edging it closer or further away from hot coals, as needed. The KettlePizza keeps the movement more limited, including not being able to easily flip the dough/crust, meaning no char on both sides.
Any way you slice it, grilling pizza is a fun activity to do together outdoors, especially as we look at ways to gather safely in this social distancing world we live in. And now that it’s also tailgating season, what better time to fire up the grill than on game day?
A few tips and tidbits we learned along the way:
- Make the dough and pasta sauce ahead of time. The dough for the pizza requires a day to have enough time to rise. The pizza sauce requires at least half an hour to cook down and rest. If you don’t feel like making things from-scratch, there’s no shame in buying these items at the supermarket. In addition to homemade dough, we also tried premade pizza dough from Whole Foods since my colleague Jess Fleming is a fan, and we can see why.
- Consider a pizza peel. As far as equipment that not every household probably has at the ready, the one our crew valued the most was a heat-withstanding, aluminum metal pizza peel. It helps to easily flip and pick up the pizza from the grill, so may be worth the investment. But, as an alternative, tongs and a baking sheet work well, too.
- Most importantly, have fun. You’re allowed to experiment and laugh when things don’t go the way you pictured it. Hand-stretched dough can have a mind of its own, and shapes don’t have to be perfectly round (just yell “rustic” when that happens, and then cut the pizza into squares when ready to serve).
During the times the dough gets fragile, get recruits. There were rounds in which it took three of us to each take a side, gently lift and place the dough safely on the grill (just yell “teamwork!” and give virtual high fives after that happens).
After trying various topping combinations, it’s fun to converse with your crew about what you would tweak next time for a pepperoni, Hawaiian-inspired combo or otherwise.
That’s especially handy for us, because now that we’ve discovered how delicious and fun grilling pizza is, there will definitely be a next time.
Make sure to make the dough a day before, as with this recipe adapted from Seriouseats.com. At the end, after the dough has risen, we like to divide the dough and shape before letting it rest.
Makes two 10-inch pizzas
2 1/2 cups bread flour, plus more for dusting
2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more for sprinkling
About 1 teaspoon (4g; 0.15 ounces) instant yeast, such as SAF Instant Yeast
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
To make dough: Combine flour, salt, yeast, water and oil in a large bowl. Mix with hands or a wooden spoon until no dry flour remains. (The bowl should be at least 4 to 6 times the volume of the dough to account for rising.) Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap, making sure that the edges are well sealed, then let rest at room temperature (no warmer than 75°F) for at least 8 hours and up to 24. Dough should rise dramatically and fill the bowl. In a hot kitchen, the dough may overproof near the end of that range.
Pro tip: Once your dough has risen, turn it out onto a clean lightly floured surface, and divide in two. Shape each into a ball (each ball is enough to make one large pizza) and let rest under plastic wrap or an overturned bowl until you’re ready to shape.
The sauce will need at least 30 minutes to cook down. You can make the sauce ahead of time, even the day before. Just stick it in the refrigerator until it’s showtime, no reheating required. I like to multiply the recipe to make sure there is enough. If there are leftovers, this sauce also works great as a base for building pasta sauce.
Makes enough for 2 to 4 pizzas
1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Kosher salt, to taste
Optional, red pepper flakes, to taste
To make: Using a medium saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Saute garlic until softened, 1 to 2 minutes. Add tomatoes. Season with oregano, salt and, if using, red pepper flakes. Cook down, breaking tomatoes into smaller pieces as they soften, for 30 minutes or until desired thickness. Let cool and refrigerate.
Now that you have the dough and pizza sauce, it’s grilling time.
1 batch of dough (see recipe) or 16 ounces premade pizza dough, cut in half or fourths
Pizza toppings (When deciding on pizza toppings, here are combo suggestions that worked great for our crew, spread on top of pizza in this order)
- tomato sauce, shredded mozzarella, pepperoni and/or precooked sausage
- shredded mozzarella, prosciutto, then top with arugula after taking it off grill
- tomato sauce, shredded mozzarella, Canadian bacon and pineapple
- tomato sauce, shredded mozzarella, basil
- olive oil, minced garlic (tastes like breadsticks, great for dipping!)
To prepare grill: On a charcoal or gas grill, create a high heat zone and a low heat zone. The high heat will be for the initial dough to char while the low heat zone will melt the cheese without burning the bottom once the toppings get placed on the pizza. Lightly brush the grill with olive oil.
To prepare dough: The dough can typically make up to four pizzas, depending on the size you prefer. If you haven’t already, cut dough in half or fourths. On a lightly floured surface, press out room temperature dough and stretch and shape it into a circle. If the dough is stubborn and not letting you stretch it, let it rest for 15 minutes, which will let the gluten relax, and it will then stretch again after that. When shaping it into a circle, try to keep it at an even thickness, but don’t worry if you get a hole, just pinch it back together (rustic!). Transfer shaped dough to grilling station using a baking sheet or pizza peel sprinkled with cornmeal, flour or parchment paper underneath.
To grill dough to make a crust: When the grill is ready, drizzle olive oil across top of the stretched dough round and spread around evenly. Carefully pick up dough and lay it down on the high heat zone part of the grill, oil side down. Let the dough grill (with no toppings) for a minute or two depending on how hot the grill is. When you can pick up a corner of the dough with the tongs and it doesn’t stick, flip the dough over onto the high heat zone part of the grill. Let the dough grill for another minute, then remove from the grill.
To assemble toppings: On the top side of the grilled dough, spread pizza sauce and put toppings on. Return it to the grill, this time on the low heat side. Place the lid on the grill and cook until the cheese melts and toppings meld together, about 3 to 6 minutes depending on how hot the grill is. Keep an eye on it so it doesn’t burn, it can go fast! Using tongs, take the pizza off the grill, add any additional toppings desired, slice and serve immediately. Repeat, making additional pizzas until all of the dough is gone.
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