Your outdoor grill may lie dormant throughout the winter, but it’s now time to get back out there, barbecue tongs in hand, and whip up some perfectly charred summertime meals. Grilled meat and vegetables are obvious choices, but your trusty charcoal or gas-powered backyard appliance has powers beyond cooking a rack of ribs, some burgers and hot dogs, or a set of shrimp-and-veggie kebabs. With a bit of know-how, you can prep a wide variety of dishes on the grill … and yes, that includes pizza.
Grilled pizza sounds like an ambitious endeavor, but according to the experts we consulted, it’s probably a lot easier than you think. Read on for some useful tips to help you make your outdoor pizza-making dreams come true.
When grilling pizza, you’ll want to get your grill VERY hot.
Chef de cuisine Jeff Vucko of Travelle at the Langham in Chicago tells us that pizza dough requires extremely high heat to achieve a perfect texture, and tossing a pie on the grill is an easy way to reach that goal. “I grill pizza on my Weber all the time! There are so many different kinds of pizza, so little time. Quarantine has me playing with dough at least once a week. I want a pizza oven to get that high, HOT heat you need for a beautiful crust. My oven was cooking the top [of the pizza] perfectly, but the bottom was undercooked. So I took my pizza stone to my Weber grill! I got my coals ripping hot and glowing orange. [Then, I] let the stone stay on the grate for 10 minutes as I controlled the heat and kept the lid on. Fire needs to breathe, and you need to contain your heat to let the pie cook properly from the bottom and the top,” he explains.
Chef and prolific cookbook author Maria Liberati agrees that high heat is essential to a successful grilled pizza, and she urges at-home pizza makers to preserve the crust’s crispiness by forgoing very liquidy toppings: “When making pizza on the grill, the crust is typically very thin and crisp. To avoid making the crust soggy and [at risk of] losing its shape, try to choose toppings that are not ‘liquidy’. Before placing the pizza on the grill, be sure that the grill is hot enough. Once ready, grill the pizza [dough] on one side, flip it, brush with olive oil, and then put the toppings of your choice on.”
Regulation pizza dough works for grilled pies, but you can also get creative by using other bread products as your grilled-pizza bases.
Some novice pizza grillers assume that the dough used for this process should differ from typical oven-baked pizza dough. However, executive chef Victor Rosado of Fi’lia at SLS Brickell in Miami assures us that standard pizza dough works just fine on the grill. “You can use the same dough as the one you use for pizza made in the oven. Personally, I use the same recipe for both. Make sure the grill is really hot, so it creates a crust as fast as possible, and always keep an eye on the dough, rotating and flipping it consistently, because once you drop it onto the grill, it can burn very easily,” says Rosado.
However, regular pizza dough isn’t your only option for a grilled pizza base. Other bread products can also fare quite well on a grill grate, like this suggestion from chef Palak Patel of the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City: “I’ve even made pizza on Indian naan, which grills beautifully.”
Go easy on the toppings.
Even if you’re typically a fan of fullyloaded “supreme” pizzas, you’ll want to exercise some toppings-related restraint when making a pie on the grill. Specifically, toppings that involve significant moisture (like sauces, cheeses, and some vegetables) should be applied with a “less is more” mentality.
“Don’t put too many ingredients on a pizza. My favorite is a Pizza Marinara, a variation on a traditional Neapolitan pizza. Its ingredients are tomatoes, garlic, oregano, and extra virgin olive oil. Simple and perfect. Plus, it will also make your pizza cook unevenly and maybe burn in some spots,” advises chef/caterer Anthony Spino of HUNGRY. Spino also warns against loading your pizza up with cheese: “When you visit Italy, you realize that putting a pound of cheese on a pizza is not necessary. One of my favorite pizzerias in New York only puts a few spoonfuls of macadamia ricotta [on their pies].”
Chef/owner Dino Hoxhaj of Dino’s Wood-Fired Pizza & Rotisserie Chicken in Charlottesville, Virginia likes to use vegetables as his grilled pizza toppings, and he has a smart strategy for keeping moister produce from overwhelming the crust: “Vegetables like tomatoes and onions are good toppings for grilled pizza, and you should grill them [separately] before they go [on the crust].”
Put a pizza stone or a cast-iron skillet on your grill.
Grilling pizza dough directly on the grate can be a risky endeavor, especially if you’re not totally sure where your grill’s “hot spots” are located. To mitigate this potential problem, chef and recipe developer Jessica Randhawa of The Forked Spoon recommends the use of a pizza stone. “Pizza stones are great for making uniformly cooked pizzas, as you can quickly get hot spots with a basic pizza pan. [You should use] a cornmeal-dusted pizza stone, to ensure that the pizza slides right off the stone without sticking when the pizza is done cooking. The cornmeal also adds great flavor to the crust without any oils or sprays!” says Randhawa.
Don’t have access to a pizza stone? Just swap in your cast-iron skillet, insists executive director Christine Cochran of the Grain Foods Foundation. “My trusty, 20-year-old cast-iron skillet is where I start. And I get my Weber grill firing at 500 degrees or higher, because we like our crust crispy. I use a classic, deep-dish dough that I let rise 24 hours. I start with a cold, oiled pan, because the grill is so fiery hot. Some aficionados, however, would swear by an oiled AND preheated pan. I spread the room temperature dough in the pan, gently, [using my] fingertips only,” Cochran tells us.
Need a summery grilled pizza recipe? Try this one:
Carolina White Clam Pizza
(By Matt Moore, chef and author of Serial Griller)
“Unless you are fortunate enough to own a wood-fired pizza oven, about the only way to emulate your favorite pizzeria creation is to throw that baby on a red-hot grill. The high heat from the grill churns out that crispy-crunchy crust that stands up well to any hearty topping. Better yet, you can churn out several pizzas in just a few minutes — a great dinner party option for guests and entertaining,” Nashville chef and cookbook author Matt Moore says in support of grilled pizzas as a concept. This particular recipe takes major inspiration from the white-clam pizzas famously found in New Haven, Connecticut, but Moore “prefers to source my seafood as close to home as possible, so briny sweet clams from the Carolinas are often my go-tos.”
- 2 12-ounce fresh pizza dough portions (homemade or store bought), stretched into 11-inch rounds
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 5 oz Pecorino Romano, finely grated (about 2 cups)
- 36 littleneck clams (about 3 pounds), shucked
- 3 tsp garlic, finely chopped (from 4 medium cloves)
- 1 tsp fresh oregano, chopped
- Open the bottom vent of a charcoal grill completely. Light a charcoal chimney starter filled with charcoal. When the coals are covered with gray ash, pour them evenly onto the bottom grate of the grill, and then push to one side of the grill. Adjust the vents as needed to maintain an internal temperature of around 500 degrees Fahrenheit. If using a gas grill, preheat to very high (500 degrees F and up) on one side.
- Coat the top grate with oil and place on the grill. Sprinkle a pizza peel with cornmeal and place one stretched dough round on the peel. Brush with 1 tablespoon of the oil. Sprinkle with 1 cup of the cheese, 18 clams, 1.5 teaspoons of the garlic, and .5 teaspoon of the oregano. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the oil.
- Slide the pizza onto the oiled grates directly over the side with the coals (or the lit side of a gas grill). Grill, uncovered, until the bottom of the crust is golden brown and charred in spots, 1 to 2 minutes. Move the pizza to the oiled grates over the side without the coals (or the unlit side of a gas grill). Grill, covered, until the dough is crispy on the bottom and the cheese is melted, 8 to 10 minutes.
- Remove from the grill. Repeat with the remaining pizza dough, oil, cheese, clams, garlic, and oregano.