April 8, 2013

Pizza grilling tips

Grilled pizza
Makes me want to go make one right now!

See You must try grilled pizza for my basic grilled pizza instructions and then read on.

It is so much easier to figure new things out if you first see it done, no? That is always true for me. Thankfully in the internet age you can do that!

YouTube has some videos on grilling pizza that you might find helpful, especially for seeing what your cooked dough should look like. Steve Raichlen shows the appropriate enthusiasm for grilled pizza. (Ignore the lake of olive oil in which he stretches the dough – you really don't need that! A small amount of flour or oil on a pastry board will do.) This video by BBQ Pit Boys makes me laugh – a real man's guide to making grilled pizza (notice he uses a small machete to cut it). He tops the pizza dough before cooking, but I still suggest using the two step method of cooking the top first. BBQMyWay has another manly-man video – listen to the crackle! It's true. Ours crackles like that when we cut it. It is a beautiful sound.

grilled pizza
Click to enlarge these photos
If you don't have an outdoor grill, check out Laura Vitale's video on grilling pizza on a stove-top grill. If you are a homemade pizza virgin, Laura has another video that goes through the whole dough making, sauce, and baking process. Don't let making dough intimidate you. Pizza dough is much more forgiving than bread dough.

If you prefer Spanish, here's a video for you. This one includes preparing the dough. YouTube has other pizza a la parrilla videos in Spanish, too.

pizza cooked on the grillFor the grill, I recommend the two-step process rather than topping the raw dough at the beginning as some videos show. I think that you'll get a much crisper, more evenly cooked crust using the cook-turn-top-cook method. I also think it is easier for the beginner.

Watch a few of these videos and you'll see that there are no hard and fast rules for grilling pizza. It is an art, not a science.

El Jefe's tips

In discussing all of this with El Jefe, since he is the main pizza chef here, he pointed out that there are a lot of variables. Differences between grills is a big one. Another big variable is the thickness of the dough. He said that a thin crust will burn a lot faster than a thicker one, so you may need to use a slightly lower temperature if your crust is very thin.

jumbo grilled pizza
Square - for a change. Isn't it a beauty?
We haven't found it necessary to oil the grill grates or the dough disk before grilling, but you might want to oil your grates the first time if you aren't sure whether or not it will stick. Do make sure the grates are clean, though, as any bits of crud from your last barbecue will stick to the dough.

He also told me about other temperature adjustments he sometimes makes, but since that might only apply to those who have the same kind of grill that we do, I have another idea for beginners.

Make a small extra disk of dough from your same dough batch, stretched or rolled out to the same thickness as your pizza dough. Use that to test your grill temperature and cooking time. In the beginning, El Jefe oiled the grates before putting the dough on the grill but after a time he discovered that our well-used grill has developed a nice, shiny, non-stick coating from lots of use so he doesn't do that anymore. If your test crust sticks too badly, you can either oil the grates or oil the bottom of the dough before placing it on the grill. If it cooks too fast or too slow, adjust your grill temperature accordingly.

pizza dough ready to go
Keep it cool
One bit of advice from me is that a slightly firmer dough is easier to handle on the grill, though a soft dough is not impossible after you get some experience. If you live in a hot, humid tropical climate with an un-airconditioned kitchen, keep your dough cool after shaping. Cover it with a barely damp towel and/or plastic wrap and stick it in the fridge if you can't get it on the grill right away. The dough will be easier to handle when cool. We find this particularly true for doughs containing sourdough starter.

More tips on grilling pizza

Here are some quick tips Chef Jefe and I (the dough lady) can give you based on our experiences:

Tip #1 - Don't let the shaped dough stick to your peel or baking sheet. Use lots of corn meal, semolina flour, or regular flour on your transfer device. On smaller pizzas or if the dough is being fussy, sometimes we just pick the untopped disk up from the pastry board with our hands and drop it onto the grill. Use care if you try that.

Tip #2 - Don't go too big. Until you get the hang of manipulating the dough onto the grill, two medium to small pizzas are much easier to handle than one big one. Similarly, don't go too heavy on the toppings.

Tip #3 - Give it a rest. If you are having trouble rolling or stretching your dough, give it a rest for 5 or 10 minutes and then continue shaping. Dough springing back is a sure sign that the gluten needs to rest again. Be sure to cover it with a damp towel or plastic wrap so that it doesn't dry out during its nap.

grilled pizza
Honduras-shaped pizza (not intentional)
Tip #4 - Live with less than perfect circles. When the dough slides off the peel to the grill, it tends to stick to the hot grates of the grill and get somewhat misshapen. Unless you are very lucky, you won't be able to push/pull it back into shape before the dough sets. Just remember, if it isn't a perfectly round Pizza Hut pizza, it is a 'rustic' or 'artisan' pizza which makes it even more valued.

pizza ingredients
Be prepared
Tip #5 - Be prepared. Have all of the toppings ingredients and implements ready to go grillside before you put the dough on the grill. There really is no time to go searching for something in the kitchen once you have put the dough on the grill.

Tip #6 - Don't go anywhere. Your dough should only need about 2 to 4 minutes on the first side. If it takes longer, that means that your grill was not hot enough. Grills are not as accurately temperature controlled as an oven, especially if it is a charcoal grill. The crust will miraculously tell you when it is ready to turn: if the dough sticks to the grates, it isn't ready so don't force it. As the dough cooks, the grates will release the dough so it's easy to check the bottom for doneness.

Tip #7 - Know your hot spots. If your grill has hot spots, be sure to avoid them if possible. Rotate the pizza once on each side so your crust cooks evenly and doesn't have burned spots. You can rotate more often, but remember that every time the grill is opened, it will be losing heat.

Tip #8 - Import your pizza flour from Italy and use only San Marzano tomatoes, which grow on the volcanic plains to the south of Mount Vesuvius, and mozzarella di bufala Campana, made with the milk from water buffalo raised in a semi-wild state in the marshlands of Campania. -- Just kidding! (That is actual advice that I read somewhere.)

grilled pizza
Grilled meat-lovers pizza
Can you tell who was manning the meatball bowl?


I want all my friends to try grilled pizza! I highly recommend it. I'm pretty sure that once you've tried pizza on the grill, you'll never go back either. I'd love to hear your experience if you try it. Please come back here to tell us about it. And if you have any questions that you think that El Jefe or I might answer, please feel free to ask away in the comment section below.

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