If you think you need to invest thousands of dollars in an open-hearth oven just to enjoy the experience of making pizza in your backyard, it’s time to fire up the grill.
That’s right, a backyard grill — gas or charcoal — can produce a perfectly charred crust and bubbling toppings, and chances are you already own one.
No, you won’t have dough dripping through the grates and turning into burnt toast. But you will end up with a great crust with a flavorful hint of smokiness, all without turning on the oven and heating up your kitchen in the summer.
To get started, make or buy some pizza dough. There are recipes included below.
Roll out dough on a surface liberally dusted with cornmeal and flour to prevent it from sticking. You can use your hands to stretch the dough or a rolling pin. You want to achieve roughly a 12-inch circle of dough. Remember this is artisan pizza, so it doesn’t need to be perfectly round. You can shape it to best fit your grilling space.
Brush the crust with olive oil on both sides.
Make sure the grill grates are clean and well-oiled. Heat a gas grill on high for 15 minutes. For a charcoal fire, make sure the lighted briquettes have turned white-hot in color.
When trying out different methods, one that proved most helpful was “The 1-2-3 Technique for Grilled Pizza” from the book “Pizza on the Grill: 100 Feisty Fire-Roasted Recipes for Pizza & More” by Elizabeth Karmel and Bob Blumer (Taunton Press, 2008).
Their technique requires a grill that has both direct heat (over the flames) and indirect heat (off the flames). On a gas grill, that means turning off one burner or one side of the grill. If using a charcoal grill, it is important to align the briquettes on one side of the grill, so that there is a side free for indirect-heat grilling.
Then, Karmel and Blumer’s process is as simple as one-two-three:
Step One: After preheating, set the temperature to medium and use your hands or a peel to set the dough directly on the grates over direct heat. (If using a charcoal grill, place the dough on the indirect heat side to avoid scorching it.) Close the lid and grill for about three minutes, until the bottom is golden brown. Resist the urge to peek inside the grill at this point. However, if you do, you may notice the crust puffing up high. This is fine; it will deflate as it bakes and when removed from the heat.
Step Two: Use a pizza peel and tongs to remove the crust. Flip it over so the uncooked side is facing down on the peel, again well-dusted with some cornmeal. Place sauce and toppings of your choice on the grilled side.
Step Three: Place the pizza back on the grill, over indirect heat. Close the lid and let it bake for 7 to 10 minutes until the bottom is golden brown, and the cheese melted and bubbly.
Our experiments showed that the crust was easiest to shape and work with when the dough was a bit colder to start. Working outside in midday sunshine and heat, the dough became more difficult to handle as it got warmer and softer.
It’s also a good idea to have all of the toppings prepped and ready to top the hot crust when it comes off the grill, so that it can get back on the grill quickly without sticking to the peel.
Kathy Lehr, a nationally recognized bread baking instructor, said most folks are surprised by just how easy it is to make pizza on the grill.
“It’s not hard at all, it’s really not,” she said.
She said the direct-indirect heat method is fine for baking thin-crust pizzas, but for thicker crusts, she recommends using a pizza stone on top of the grill grates.
Pizza stones can withstand the high heat of the grill. For a gas grill, put the stone on the grill grate when you turn the grill on and preheat it at medium-high temperature for half an hour before making the pizza, Lehr said. For grilling the pizza, increase the heat to high.
If using a charcoal grill, wait until the briquettes are white hot, then spread them out into a single layer, and place the stone on the grates to preheat over the white coals for half an hour.
After the stone is preheated, she said the method is the same — cooking one side of the crust and then flipping it over, topping the cooked side and baking the other side.
On a stone with the grill lid closed, on a gas grill set to high, the pizza should cook in about 3 to 5 minutes per side. The stone remains over direct heat for grilling and it is important to check that it isn’t burning.
Lehr prefers a very wet dough for making a thick-crust pizza on a stone on the grill. She recommended a no-knead dough recipe by Jim Lahey, owner of New York’s acclaimed Sullivan Street Bakery, from his new book “My Pizza: The Easy No-Knead Way to Make Spectacular Pizza at Home” (Clarkson-Potter, 2012).
It isn’t possible to put such a wet dough directly on grill grates, which is why a stone is a must for this type of long-rising dough. It will produce a crust with an exceptional chew, she said.
With either traditional dough baked on grill grates or a very wet dough baked on a stone, there is some practice involved. If you decide to experiment, here are some other books that may help in addition to Lahey and Karmel and Blumer:
“Pizza: Grill It, Bake It, Love It!” by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough (William Morrow, 2009) and “Pizza and Other Savory Pies” by Brigit Binns (Simon & Schuster, 2008).
Here are some basic dough recipes to get started. When it comes to toppings, you are limited only by your imagination.
Basic Pizza Dough (Handmade)
1 cup lukewarm water, plus extra as needed
¼ cup olive oil, plus extra for oiling the bowl
1 tsp. sugar or honey
1 package active dry yeast
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra as needed
¼ tsp. kosher salt
Place the water, oil, and sugar in a large bowl. Sprinkle the yeast on top and let sit until foamy, about 5 minutes.
In a medium bowl, combine the flour and salt. Add to the water mixture, ½ cup at a time, until well incorporated. If the dough is stiff, add more water. If it is very sticky, add extra flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough is soft and slightly sticky. Continue to mix until it feels elastic.
Turn the dough out onto a well-floured work surface. Knead for about 1 minute, until just smooth and easy to work with, adding extra flour to the surface as necessary to prevent the dough from sticking. Do not overwork the dough or it will be tough.
Place the dough in a clean, oiled bowl. Turn it several times to coat all over with the oil, then drizzle the top of the dough with a little more oil. Cover tightly in plastic wrap, place in a warm spot, and let rise until it more than doubles in volume, about 1 hour.
Punch the dough down and knead on a lightly floured surface for 1 to 2 minutes, until smooth. Divide into two equal-size balls and proceed with your pizza making. (The dough may be made ahead, frozen for up to a month, and thawed at room temperature before using.)
Makes enough dough for 2 crusts.
— “Pizza on the Grill: 100 Feisty Fire-Roasted Recipes for Pizza & More,” Elizabeth Karmel and Bob Blumer
No-knead Pizza Dough
3 ¾ cups of all-purpose or bread flour
¼ tsp. active dry yeast
2 tsp. salt
1 ½ cups water
Use a wooden spoon or your hands to mix all ingredients together in a bowl until all of the flour is incorporated. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for 18 to 24 hours.
Punch dough down, divide into balls and shape into crusts.
Makes 4 pizza crusts, about 8 to 10 inches each.
— Adapted from “My Pizza: The Easy No-Knead Way to Make Spectacular Pizza at Home” by Jim Lahey with Rick Flaste
Classic Pizza Dough
⅔ cup lukewarm water (between 105 and 115 degrees)
1 ½ tsp. active dry yeast
½ tsp. sugar
½ tsp. salt
1 cup bread flour
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus additional for dusting
Vegetable oil or non-stick spray
A mixing bowl or the bowl to a stand mixer can often be quite cool — and thus a detriment to the yeast. If yours feels cool to the touch, fill it first with some warm tap water, drain it, and dry it thoroughly. Then stir the water, yeast, sugar and salt together in the bowl just until everything is dissolved. Set aside at room temperature for 5 minutes to make sure the mixture bubbles and foams. If it doesn’t, either the yeast has expired or the water was not the right temperature. Throw the mixture out and start again.
If working by hand: Stir in both flours with a wooden spoon to make a soft dough. Sprinkle a clean, dry work surface with a light coating of all-purpose flour; turn the dough out onto it, and knead for 8 minutes by pulling the mass with one hand while twisting it with the other, all the while digging the heel of your twisting hand into the dough. After every two or three push/twist/dig actions, rearrange the dough by folding it onto itself. If the dough is sticking to your hands, add a little more all-purpose flour, no more than 1 tablespoon or so; then continue kneading until smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes.
If working with a stand mixer: Add both flours, attach the dough hook, and beat at medium speed until a soft dough forms. Continue beating, adding more all-purpose flour in 1-tablespoon increments if the dough gets sticky, until the mixture is soft and elastic, about 6 minutes.
Wipe a clean, large bowl with a bit of cooking oil on a paper towel, or spray it with nonstick spray. Place the dough in the prepared bowl, turning the dough so all sides are coated with oil, and cover with plastic wrap. Set aside in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in bulk, about 1 ½ hours. Shape the dough and bake.
Makes 1 pound of dough.
— Adapted from “Pizza: Grill It, Bake It, Love It!” by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough
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