Grilled Pizza: What’s Old is New Again

Like most, I really enjoy pizza. It doesn’t even necessarily need to be good pizza – just as long as it fulfills the basic criteria: crust, sauce, cheese. Over the years, I’ve had may share from both ends of the quality spectrum, from frozen microwave slices (the bad) to elegant gourmet, brick oven fired pies (the good, even though they have, at times, gone sans sauce…) – and I can say that even the bad stuff – well, it’s still pretty good. A slice of pizza would have to work pretty hard to be inedible, for me, at least. But I will admit, after years of college and early professional life, and alot of “quick slices” later, while I still loved my old friend, I might have been a little bored with pizza and it’s premise, gourmet, microwave, and all.

Until….a few years back, we decided to try a little experiment and try to grill a pizza. At the time, we were buying dough from our local Italian grocer, rolling it out and baking in our oven. So why not, we thought, stick it on the grill? I should mention, that,  at this point in our lives, we were grilling fiends – 6 or 7 nights a week, sometimes lunch, 12 months a year (in the winters of Boston, no less). I was even know to cook a breakfast or two on our trusty outdoor grill. So it wasn’t unreasonable to us to give this a try, even without what some others would have called “mandatory items” such as a pizza stone or fancy brick pizza oven.

Early attempts were met with mixed (sometimes disastrous) results. We found that if the dough was too thick – it didn’t cook through, but the outside would burn. If the dough was too thin, it was difficult to handle and usually scorched black by the time the cheese melted, or fell through the grates altogether (we didn’t use a pizza stone). Flipping the dough proved difficult, at best (we would lightly grill one side, flip, and apply toppings). It was still fun and engaging way to make dinner. And after a couple years of trial and error – we can up with a really fool-proof method for producing incredible, home-made pizza on the grill.

The Secrets

  • Roll the dough to a thickness of 3/16″. This provides enough thickness to handle, but remains thin enough to be crispy.
  • Place each piece of rolled dough on to a cutting board (coat with cornmeal to prevent sticking) and place it in the freezer (this is the true secret to our success!).
  • Let the rolled dough sit in the freezer for 15 minutes or so – long enough to firm up, but not so long as to let it actually freeze.
  • While the dough is in the freezer, light your grill. If using gas, let the grill warm up on the lowest heat setting. If using coals, try for an even distribution of heat, but keep the temperature low. In either case, make sure you scrape your grill relatively clean so as not to damage the dough (we won’t argue the merits of clean vs dirty grills at this time).

The Cooking

  • Remove the dough from the freezer and immediately lay the pies on the grill. You’ll want to brush some olive oil on to the side which will rest on the grill to avoid sticking.
  • Start adding sauce, toppings and cheese. No limitations! Our only caveat is to avoid putting TOO much on, especially items with alot of water content, as it can make removing the cooked pie a little difficult (if you like, you can roll your dough a little thicker and let it cook a little before placing toppings)
  • Close the grill lid, which will help melt the cheese and add a slightly smokier flavor to the pies.
  • After 5 or 6 minutes (depending on your grill and heat settings), remove the pizza and serve!

I like to add some fresh ground pepper and just a pinch of crushed salt to my freshly grilled pies. Pepper, of course, adds a little kick. The salt really seems to help the sauce pop, though – especially if you are using low fat or skim mozzarella. Give it a shot, let me know what you think.

Why has this proven to be such a successful method for us? The cold dough has enough rigidity to it that it doesn’t stretch and tear when placing over a hot grill. The lower heat cooks the dough slowly, without having to flip or handle them while on the grill. For us, it’s been fool-proof: great pizza, every time . And, for the friends we’ve shared our secrets with (including you, we hope) – it’s been a great success, as well!

The Dough Recipe

  • 1 1/8 cup warm water
  • 1 envelope (packet) of yeast
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • Pour water into bowl. Add yeast. Let stand until dissolved (5 minutes or so)
  • Mix flour, sugar, salt in food processor. Add yeast & 3T olive oil until dough forms a sticky ball.
  • Transfer dough to a floured surface. Knead until smooth, adding flour if dough is sticky.
  • Brush large bowl with olive oil, and transfer dough to bowl.. Turn and coat in olive oil.
  • Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled (approx. one hour).
  • After rising, punch down dough, roll into pieces that are 12-15″ ovals and 3/16″ thick (we prefer ovals that are 12×7″ – they are easier to fit multiples of on a grill).