Monday, April 13, 2009

Lou's Most Excellent Kitchen Tips: Grilled Pizza

I make a pretty mean grilled pizza. It's really not that hard to do if you have a grill and some gumption. It does take some attention to detail as even slight variations can really mess this up.

The following tips are more of a guide for grilling pizza rather than an actual recipe. I've included a dough and sauce recipe that I've used many, many times that works well. However, if you have access to a local wood fired pizza shop, see if you can buy some dough from them. They've spent the better part of their career perfecting their dough and will likely sell it too you cheaper than what it would cost to buy the ingredients.

Avoid pizza dough from your local grocery, including Trader Joe’s. These have been handled a bit too hard and you may not know how old they are (a dough shouldn’t be held at fridge temp for more than three days). What results from grilling these is a chewy, undercooked crust that’s often difficult to work with.

It is important for the dough to have a high gluten content - this allows you to stretch the dough easily. Since you're aiming for a thin crust that's critical. Typical high-gluten flours are general "all purpose" types.

I cannot stress that enough: thin crust. As in nearly ½ to ¼ inch thin. With a relaxed, high gluten crust this won't be difficult.

Everything you want on your pizza should be ready in advance and within easy reach. From rolling the dough to topping to on the grill should take no more than 5 minutes. An assembly line is ideal.

Ingredients should be at or near room temperature too.

Equipment: cutting board, thin cookie sheet or pizza paddle, large metal spatula, grill tongs, grill mitt.

The grill. The hotter the fire the better. Gas grills, because they’re prone to condensation and do not get as hot, are not ideal for cooking pizza but do the job. Make sure it’s been on for at least 30 minutes before using it.

A BIG indirect fire is what you want, meaning, the coals/fire is on one half of the grill and the other half is empty.

Use real wood if you can and quartered splits if you can find them (hickory preferred). Splits last longer and burn hotter. If using briquettes use a lot of them - about 8 - 10 pounds. Lump charcoal is great but the fire will burn out quickly; be prepared to continually feed it if using lump.

Count on at least an hour to have the fire ready; longer if using splits.

Do not use a pizza stone on the grill unless the stone says you can. Most stones are not rated for temperatures above 600 degrees.

When rolling the pizza dough be generous with flour to prevent sticking to the rolling surface and easier manipulation on the paddle. Corn meal also works to prevent sticking; use this when done shaping the dough.

Shaping. I tend to make my pizzas in the shape of a 14 inch oblong “football.” Roundness works but I find that with the haste of getting this done shape isn't so much a worry. I've made pizza shapes that would make Picasso envious. A) It's still gonna taste the same and B) gives it some more homemade character.

Also make sure the crust isn’t too big. You should make it so you have at least 2 - 3” of clearance from the sides of the grill to allow easier manipulation and more even heat distribution around it.

Since the pizzas are small count on one pizza per person. This is part of the fun: you're making multiple pizzas so you can experiment with different toppings and combinations.

You CAN have too much when it comes to toppings. Decorate your pizzas thinly. Now is not the time for extra cheese, double pepperoni, sausage, ham, meatballs and extra sauce. Go thin on the sauce, the cheese should just barely cover the sauce, only about 6 - 8 thin slices of pepperoni, etc. Limit overall toppings to four max.

Toppings like sausage, bacon, shrimp, meatballs, chicken, broccoli and others that require long cook times should be precooked. Cut large chunks into bite sized pieces.

Force yourself to do just a classic cheese pizza first. This is the experiment and will give you a good gauge on how things are going for your baseline.

Some great combos:
- Cheese, tomato sauce, pepperoni, fresh garlic, mushroom
- Cheese, olive oil, fresh garlic, dried oregano
- Cheese, ricotta, tomato sauce OR olive oil, spinach leaves, fresh garlic
- Cheese, ricotta, tomato sauce, sausage
- Cheese, Parmesan, pepperoni, tomato sauce, cherry tomatoes, arugula (add this when finished)
- Classic Neopolitan (mozzarella, sauce, basil, olive oil drizzle)
- Classic Margherita “DOCG” (buffalo mozzarella, crushed tomatoes, basil leaves, olive oil drizzle)

Cheeses. Mozzarella (both regular and buffalo), provolone, fontina, ricotta, Parmesan all work great. A favorite blend of mine is a 75/25 mix of mozzarella and provolone.

If you have a big active fire in the grill it's not ready yet. You want the fire to die down some to mostly hot, glowing embers. Fire = burnt pizza. (Duh)

The pizzas will cook fast. Slide decorated the pizza onto the side of the grill with no coals and then close the lid for about 3 minutes. Open and using your spatula lift up the side closest to the coals; if it's browned rotate the pizza 180 degrees and close the lid again for 3 - 5 minutes. By now all the toppings should be melted. Let it set at room temp for about 2 minutes then serve immediately.

Pizza cooking slow. It's due to one or both of two things: pizza is too thick or the fire isn't hot enough. The corrections for this are easy...thinner crust or boost your fire.

Crust too thick and you can't thin it out. Low gluten content in the dough and there are a couple options here. Roll out the dough and place it on the grill with no toppings. After it's cooked some (bubbles will start to appear on the crust), flip it, and then decorate the pizza directly on the grill. You can also roll the dough out in between two sheets of parchment paper.

This is a bit tricky but it works well. When thin enough let it rest for about 5 minutes then peel off the parchment and place on the floured work surface. Work quickly.

Toppings melted, crust not crispy but chewy. You've got a low gluten crust most likely. A quick fix is to move the pizza over the fire when finished. This will crisp up the crust but will yield a pita-like consistency. If you don't say anything your guests won't know the difference.


Lou's Most Excellent Pizza Dough

Before starting note this is an overnight recipe and you need a heavy duty electric mixer.

4½ cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1 packet instant yeast
2 TBS honey
2 TSP salt
Extra virgin olive oil

In 1.5 cups of babywarm water add the yeast, stir, and set aside for 10 minutes. If this does not begin to foam at the top after 10 minutes start over as your yeast is probably old or the water was too hot.

Combine the flour and salt in a mixing bowl and attach to your mixture with the dough hook(s). Add the yeast+water, honey, and 2 TBS of olive oil. Turn the mixture on low to combine. attention.

The above is a very very very crucial step in pizza dough making. You don't want to overwork the dough here. If the mixer is "fighting" it too hard, meaning having a tough time, you need to add more water (if dry) or flour (if wet) by the tablespoon. The dough is done when it balls up into one solid lump and the hooks move it around the bowl. When that happens turn the mixer off for 10 - 15 minutes and let it "relax."

After this first 10 - 15 minutes turn the mixer back on for about 2 minutes. By now the dough should be somewhat of a solid clump - not too sticky, not too dry. It will have a wet appearance but will hold together. This will "feel right" almost by instinct so trust yourself here.

Plop the dough onto a floured work surface. Using a very sharp knife cut it into six equal parts and form balls out of them. Rub some olive oil over them, place on a large parchment lined cookie sheet, cover with plastic wrap and set at room temp for about 15 minutes. Place the cookie sheet in the fridge overnight.

The next day take the rounds out at least one hour before you plan to do anything with them.

Lou's Most Excellent Pizza Sauce

Simplicity is the key here so don't screw around with this too much. I don't add any sugar to my pizza sauce - it doesn't need it. If you want a sweet sauce just order Pizza Hut and call it an evening.

1 quart/box of crushed tomatoes (Pomi brand is my favorite)
3 cloves of garlic, finely minced
4 - 6 basil leaves, chiffoned
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt & pepper

Heat about 2 TBS of olive oil over medium heat in a 2 - 3 quart pot. Add the garlic and saute for about 30 seconds, then pour the tomatoes in and add the basil. Give about 4 big pinches of salt and a few cranks of pepper. Simmer for 30 minutes.


  1. I've recently been in contact with someone at the Homemade Pizza Company, which has the schtick of making pizzas you bake at home. Good stuff they're up to - we always have a good time with them.

    I asked about grilling their pizzas and, as luck would have it, he was in the process of giving it a whirl. Hopefully they'll include grilling as part of their instructions too.

    Check them out at Homemade Pizza Company

  2. just finished eating my first pizza after much tinkering and labor. Since I've set out to learn several cooking methods recently, I decided to make my own dough and sauce. The big problem I had was finding good tomatoes to use...should have taken your advice and gone with the Pomi toms, but I really want to get a feel for using fresh ingredients. Same for the dough...I don't have a good mixer so therefore used my hands, which sucked due to the elastic nature of pizza dough. I also followed my Cordon Bleu's pizza dough recipe...which frankly is much too watery, and I had to add about over a cup of flour after it had risen. So my dough was the shape of...a giraffe's head? Simmered my tomato sauce for about an hour, which ended up slightly orange (fail), but tasted excellent (win)...topped it on the dough with sausage, mozzarella, artichoke, deseeded tomato slices, then more mozzarella, cooked at 425 for 18 minutes...and good lord it actually came out fantastic!

    Thanks for your advice and giving me an outlet to express my enthusiasm!

    Also, it would be nice to be able to upload a pic of our creations to your blog somehow...just a thought.


  3. Sorry for the delay - was traveling the last few weeks.

    Nice! Glad it all worked out! Send me a pic and I'll upload it for you. I'm not sure how to make it work otherwise.