Like many people, I enjoy watching “food TV,” like the Cooking Channel and the Food Network. I’ll sit there on a rainy Sunday and watch hours of recipe after recipe that I know I will never make but, for whatever reason, find myself fascinated by the foods and chefs alike. Mainly, although there is no doubt that some viewers do try the specific recipes featured on these episodes, for many of us, such food shows are a great source of inspiration for our own recipe ideas and new food techniques to try in our own kitchens (we always had runny slaw, for instance, until we saw Tyler Florence squeezing the water out of his grated cabbage on one of his many shows—thanks, Tyler).
Pizza on the grill always looked like an impossible challenge to me, no matter who I saw making it on what show. The chef in question would crank up the heat, throw the dough on the grate, and the race was on! Side one would be ready to go in no time, and then the chef would begin to speed through the toppings, getting them on the still-grilling dough as quickly as possible and the lid closed, hopefully with enough time left to melt the cheese without burning the underside of the pizza into a slab of charcoal. Of course the chef was always able to do it; me, not so much.
There had to be a better way.
After a few mediocre-at-best tries and some burned pizza dough, I hit it—and it is not hard. With the weather warming up and grilling season already here for many of us, I encourage all pizza lovers to get a ball of their favorite dough ready (store-bought or homemade, does not matter; if you need a recipe, try this one) and give pizza on the grill a shot.
Easy Pizza on the Grill
- Here is the main thing about cooking pizza on the grill: Cooking on the gas grill is the way to go, and keep the heat pretty low--my grill usually heats up to around 400 degrees when I do pizza (if you're grilling on charcoal, I would go with indirect heat). Every time I see them cooking pizza on the grill on these TV shows, they are doing it on high heat and rushing to get it done because it is about to burn! So, do not crank it up super-high, and you’ll have some room to breathe.
- The pizza dough will NOT fall through the grill! First, get your pizza dough rolled out and take it out to the grill, which is already heated. Now, this is not the time to be worrying about perfectly round pizza! Mine always has a "rustic" feel, i.e. it is oddly shaped, and I think that just adds to it. You do not have to oil the grill or anything; just put your dough right on the grill. Now, close the grill and DO NOT MOVE THE DOUGH for about two minutes. When you open the grill again, after about two minutes, you will be able to use a pair of tongs to pick it up from the grill and check the underside—it will not stick. At this time, pop any dough bubbles that have formed, then finish cooking the first side. Depending on your grill, and just how dark you want your crust, it should take a total of three or four minutes on the first side.
- Now, here is where they just do not make any sense on TV. They flip the pizza on the grill, quickly start throwing on the toppings, then close the grill back for another couple of minutes. That is not the smart way to do it, because there is a good chance that the bottom of your pizza will burn before your cheese melts! Now, you will have prepared ALL of your toppings before putting your dough on the grill to cook the first side. So, just slide your crust off the grill onto an awaiting pizza pan, plate, cutting board—whatever you want to work on—and take it back to wherever your pizza toppings are; mine are always on the kitchen counter, laid out for me. You are going to be putting your toppings on the side that is already grilled, so flip the crust so the grilled side is up, and then start topping! This way, you have your pizza off the grill, you can take your time, and you're not going to burn the bottom crust before your cheese is even ready, right? Put on the toppings, then take the pizza back to the grill, slide it back on, and about four minutes later, it should be ready to go. When the cheese is melted, just lift the edge of the pizza with your tongs and peek under to see if the crust is where you want it. When it is, pull it off the grill, back onto your cutting board, pizza pan, whatever.
- On toppings: This pizza is not going to be on the grill very long. So, anything that needs to be cooked—meats or whatever—should be cooked before going on the pizza. Depending on how you like your veggies, you can put them on raw, blanched, steamed or sautéed. This pizza is great with regular pizza sauce, but it is also great with jarred pesto or just olive oil and some crushed garlic and fresh basil leaves. And, as you would probably imagine, doing a BBQ chicken pizza on the grill will yield fantastic results!
- One of the great things about doing pizza on the grill is that it is easy to do separate pizzas for everybody. Just cut off a piece of dough, roll it out, and you have an individual pizza in the making, with whatever sauces or toppings each person wants, making everybody happy.
Grilling pizza can be intimidating, but, really, it’s not hard at all! So, get your toppings and dough ready, uncover that winterized grill, and get going—you may never call for delivery again when you realize how easy and delicious grilled pizza actually can be.
Image: From the Grill of Mechele R. Dillard