April 8, 2013

You must try grilled pizza

Grilled Pizza
Grilled Pizza - It couldn't be better

Grilled pizza? Who knew? Not me. I didn't see how it was possible to bake a pizza on a barbecue grill. Wouldn't the dough fall through the grates? Wouldn't it burn to a crisp? In looking for the perfect pizza dough (more on that below), I kept running across people raving about grilled pizza. Apparently it is the next best thing to having your own wood fired brick pizza oven.

Grilled meatball pizza
Meatball pizza - click to enlarge
El Jefe thought I was kidding when I suggested we try it. "Pizza on the grill? Are you sure?" "No, but let's try it anyway." We are converts now. I don't think I would ever bake a pizza in the oven again. There is just no comparison of the taste and texture of a grilled pizza versus home oven baked or even pizza chain pizza. Really. You just have to try it to see for yourself. Another interesting thing is that I've always liked thick crust pizzas, but now I prefer a crispy thinner crust.

I'm not going to give a pizza dough recipe. There are so many recipes out there that claim to be the 'perfect' dough so just try some and see what suits your fancy. One that I like is the recipe that came with my Zojirushi bread maker, but I've tried several different recipes and they all turned out great on the grill, each a little different in taste and texture. I sometimes set aside a portion of dough from my sourdough bread recipes to use as pizza crust. If I come up with a recipe that stands out over the others, I'll post it. In the meantime, I'm enjoying experimenting with different dough recipes. I've read that in the US, you can buy prepared pizza dough in a bag at the grocery stores and that it is good, too. The one thing you won't want to use is a pre-baked crust.

Almost as fast as take-out pizza

Most pizza dough recipes make two crusts or more, or a larger pizza than we need for two of us, so after the first rise, I freeze the extra dough in disks in resealable sandwich baggies sprayed with a little cooking spray inside. Then I put those bags into in a freezer bag. Just pull out a baggie of dough and let it thaw in the fridge overnight if you have time or leave it on the counter at room temperature for spur of the moment pizza. For the size we use (usually about 10-12 oz. of dough), it usually thaws within a couple of hours. I get panicky when my pizza dough stash gets down to one ball.

grilled pizza ingredients
Thawing the frozen stuff
You can also store any extra dough in the fridge for three days or maybe up to a week some say. Refrigerating the dough for at least a day or two adds to the depth of flavor. If you do that, be sure to oil the dough and wrap it well so that it doesn't dry out. Freezing the dough doesn't alter its quality at all. Don't get too carried away though. Plan on using the frozen dough within a month or two for best results, especially if you are in a country with frequent power outages.

cooking pizza sauce
Tomatoes, onions, garlic mostly
Speaking of freezer stashes, we've gotten so organized that we really can have pizza at the spur of the moment with freezer stashed pizza-sized batches of dough, sauce, pepperoni, meat balls, and grated cheeses (mozzarella and parmesan). I like to buy the big sticks of pepperoni and slice it with my Cuisinart. I think it is much cheaper that way.

pizza sauce
Quick whiz with the hand blender

I've made pizza sauce with a base of tomato puree, canned spaghetti sauce, fresh tomatoes, canned diced tomatoes, and every combination of those ingredients that I've had on hand. I usually saute garlic and onions, add Italian seasoning and a tiny pinch of cayenne pepper. Some people just use sieved canned tomatoes. It's all good. Depending upon your tomato source, you might want to add a teaspoon or two of sugar to combat the acidity. You will want a thick sauce so it doesn't make the crust soggy. Of course, you can make it really easy by buying prepared pizza sauce in a jar. It is even available in the major cities in Honduras, but it is more economical to make your own.

pizza sauce pureed
Ready to freeze
I usually make a large batch of sauce and freeze it in pizza sized amounts for quick pizzas. I pour serving-sized portions into custard cups and then freeze them. When the sauce is frozen, I dump the frozen disks into a freezer bag. When you are ready to make pizza, pull out what you need and put it back into a custard cup to thaw. With some preplanning, you can literally make your own pizza in the time it would take to have one delivered.

General guide to grilling pizzas

Just as a general guide to grilling pizzas, I'll outline the steps that we use. First, our grill is an infrared heat grill. It loses heat VERY quickly when the lid is opened. Your grill may behave totally differently and you may need more or less time. I don't have any experience grilling pizza on a charcoal grill, but I do know that you want hot coals, not flames, and that you probably need to build the fire on one side and leave one side 'cool'. The thickness of your pizza (both of the dough and the amount of toppings) will also affect the time needed.

Second, we don't have a pizza baking stone so we are cooking the dough directly on the grill grates. Baking stones work great if you have one, but of course, the pizza will brown without the grill marks. If you have access to a big comal over a wood burning fire, that would be perfect, too. Cooking the dough is not that different from cooking tortillas.

Pizza toppings ready to go
One of the keys to a good grilled pizza is to be organized. Prepare all of your topping ingredients and put them in little bowls (or big ones!) on a tray that you can carry outside. El Jefe keeps a small plastic squirt bottle (formerly for soy sauce) filled with oil for all of his grilling. It's much easier to get the quantity you need that way and you don't have to worry about dropping the bottle. Also put a brush for the olive oil, a big spoon to spread the pizza sauce, and tongs or a spatula on the tray. If your grill doesn't have a shelf, pull up a table or chair on which you can put the tray.

Preheat the grill on one side to its highest setting (15 minutes on our infrared gas grill). El Jefe usually turns the temperature down a notch at this point (from 'preheat' to 'sear' or medium-high). Slide the dough from the pizza peel or the back of a baking sheet directly onto the hot grates. Close the lid and grill for 2 to 4 minutes. If possible, peek in from an opening in the back to keep an eye on the dough's progress rather than opening the lid to check. When it is ready to turn, the top will not be browned but will show some 'firming up' and will look drier than the dough originally looked. You may see some big bubbles in the dough and that's okay. The bottom should be lightly browned with some nice dark brown grill marks.

Pick up the partially cooked dough with the peel, a big spatula, or your fingers (be careful!). Flip the crust over onto the "off" side of the grill and brush the top (formerly the bottom) with olive oil. The olive oil helps to prevent the sauce from making your dough soggy. Top with sauce and your other ingredients. We like to put a little cheese under the toppings and more on top of the toppings to 'glue' them down. Work quickly so that your grill doesn't cool off too much. Slide the topped pizza back over to the direct heat side and close the lid.

Pizza on the grill
Cannot get a good photo at night!
If you are making more than one pizza or your grill doesn't have more than one heat zone, you may find it more convenient to remove the crust to a pizza pan, a flat edged baking sheet, or a pizza peel, to top it at the table and then return it to the grill. We did that when we had a pizza party for nine people. We needed to keep the assembly line going and maintain the grill hot by keeping the lid closed, and, most importantly, we didn't want the kids to burn themselves on the grill while they were topping their pizzas. Kids love to make their own pizzas!

After topping the pizza, return it to the hot side of the grill and grill for another 2 to 4 minutes until the cheese is fully melted and the bottom of the crust is nicely browned. I love those grill marks on the crust! If the crust seems to be cooking too fast (overbrowning or grill marks too dark) turn the temperature down just a little. The second side could take a couple of minutes longer depending upon how much heat your grill lost during the topping and how thick your pizza is.


Goodbye Pizza Hut, Domino's, and Toto's (our only choices in La Ceiba). It was nice knowing you before I discovered homemade grilled pizza. I doubt I'll ever see you again. Farewell. Sorry, but I have a better pizza than you!

Is my excitement contagious? Are you itching to try it? Before you jump in, please check out the next article, in which I'll give you some more tips and resources to boost your self-confidence and make you drool for grilled pizza.

Grilled pepperoni pizza
Pepperoni and peppers pizza

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