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Pizza on the Grill

Pizza on the grill is the perfect way to keep your oven off yet still enjoy a fresh pizza. While it does have some challenges, it’s not that hard, either.

Pizza on the Grill – the Perfect Idea

A covered grill is basically an oven. That goes for a smoker or a grill-smoker combination, as well. Some of them can even be set to run at a general temperature, similar to what we do with an oven.

In addition, you don’t need a pizza stone, either. The grill will tend to give the pizza that more charred property that you want from a pizza stone. In fact, if you’re grilling or smoking with wood, you’ll also get that wood-oven effect.

Notes on the Pizza in the Photo

Okay, so that might be the ugliest pizza you’ve seen and maybe you’re not really sure it is, indeed, a pizza. Keep in-mind that this isn’t the photography blog.

What it lacks in looks, it makes up for in flavor. And some of my pizzas do turn out looking pretty impressive. Just not the one where I decided to take a photo and blog about it, of course. But if you try this and get good at it, your pizzas will improve in looks – just not if you invite someone over to show it to, of course. 😉

This pizza is entirely made from-scratch except that I did buy the cheese, not make it. Let me tell you the details.

But, first, remember that everything you put into this affects the flavor.

The Dough

Each of us has our favorite type of pizza crust. Unless you want to start with something specific, starting with the basic type of pizza dough is a good way to begin. This pizza dough recipe is from Martha Stewart and, while I haven’t used this on the grill, have used it to make sheet pan pizza (they have directions on her web-site, if you’re interested) and it was a tasty dough.

One warning about this recipe, though, is that it makes two pounds of dough, which is a lot for many of us. You can cut this recipe in half. Or, you could still make the entire batch but save some in the fridge or freezer, depending on when you think you’d next use it, next.

I have a breadmaker and I make pizza dough with the breadmaker, which is super-easy. The main limitation is that you can only make as much as your breadmaker will hold and my breadmaker is only a one-and-a-half pound breadmaker. I usually make a pound of dough which, for me, makes four of these smaller pizzas, as in the photo. They’re neither super-thin crust nor particularly thick.

If you don’t want to make it by hand and you don’t have a breadmaker, some grocery stores will sell fresh dough. Using a fresh dough will make a big difference.

Warning: Not only do you want a lip around the pizza, so that it kind of holds the sauce in, but make sure there are no holes.

The Flour You Use

Since everything does make a difference, some people can taste the difference by using different flours.

In my dough, I use unbleached flour and I tend to use either Gold Medal or King Arthur, both of which are not only available at my store but I tend to get good results with in my general baking. I buy whichever one is on-sale, basically. Some people can taste the bleach from bleached flour in baked good, others can’t. I just use unbleached, all the time, now. There’s nothing I make that needs that pristine whiteness that bleach brings, such as a white layer cake. I’m more a chocolate cake fan, so no-one can see how bright the flour is in that, for example.

But here’s a different issue: bread flour creates a better chew in pizza dough than all-purpose flour. You can substitute all-purpose flour if you don’t have bread flour. It will still be fine. If this is the first time you’re doing this and you don’t have bread flour, I don’t think I’d hesitate to make this with the all-purpose flour that you already have, just to get started.

There is also a substitution for bread flour where you remove some of the all-purpose flour and put vital wheat gluten in its place. I actually do this when I’m out of bread flour. However, unless you’re something of a bread baker and have future plans for the stuff, as I do, I wouldn’t go buy it just to try this out. Once, again, it will still be REALLY good!

Forming the Dough

Here’s one tricky bit to this. Pizza dough is really sticky. Make sure you have oil around to oil your hands and whatever you’re going to put the dough on. So, have all your trays, parchment paper or whatever you’re putting it on out and handy. Have extra out so you don’t have to deal with cleaning your hands (or getting dough on everything as you reach for more stuff).

Plus, it’s stretchy. So, unless you’re an expert at this, you’ll be fiddling a lot with it as you stretch it out and it shrinks back.

Personally, I’m no expert. I take a pound of dough and cut it with a dough scraper into four pieces. You can something like a knife, too. But the dough scraper is a little dull so it pushes the dough down as it cuts which means it sticks a bit less to the dough scraper than to a sharp knife, for example.

I roll each piece into a ball, then I try to flatten it between my hands and pull at it a bit to try to make it round-ish (sometimes it’s not very round, at all). My goal is to get it into some shape that I can put the sauce and toppings on. You do need to leave a crust around it but that’s the easy part. Getting it flatter in the middle is the harder bit.

At some point, I’ll put it on the greased parchment and flatten it yet more with my hand. But, when I think it’s as good as I’m going to get it, I cover it with a clean kitchen towel and walk away.

More on Forming the Dough

I’ve done this hours ahead and the dough seems to actually get a better structure, although still really good whether I leave it for 15 minutes or 5 hours. But if it’s raised up, don’t forget to flatten it back down with your hand before you use it.

Each grill has a different grate size. So, don’t decide to make one, huge pizza instead of the little ones. It will be difficult to manage.

Remember this – don’t make your pizzas larger than the tools you have with which to deal with them and I’ll get back to this later in this post.

The Sauce

I’m from Northern Illinois so I think that pizza has to have pizza sauce on it. Here’s the recipe that I used for this pizza from Tyler Florence and it’s both easy and delicious. Here is another spot where the quality of the ingredients makes a difference. I spent the extra money to buy the fancier brand of tomato puree and it made a big difference in the final flavor.

However, if you’re more of the marinara sauce crowd, that would work, too, as would a white sauce or a barbeque sauce. My only caution is that you don’t want something too juicy because you need something that kind of holds on by itself a little. When you take the pizza off the grill, you don’t want a sauce that would run right off, for example. A pizza sauce, Alfredo sauce, barbeque sauce are thicker and will kind of “grab” the pizza. It’s just a lot easier, that way.

However, if you puree your marinara, maybe even pour out a little extra juice if you can, that can help it be less likely to run off and away on you.

The Toppings

The most important thing to know about toppings are that they aren’t going to get much cooking time. Anything that needs to be cooked, like meat or some vegetables, and you’ll need to cook them, ahead of time. So, if you like a pizza where you put thin pepperoni on it and it gets all nice and crispy while you bake it in the oven, that’s not going to happen, here.

The next thing to know is that you don’t want too spend too much time putting the toppings on or your pizza will burn. So, you can put very few on, as I did. Or, you could chop things up and mix them together, then sprinkle them on, quickly.

On my pizza that I’ve shown, I bought fresh mozzarella and fresh basil. The cheese is sliced about one quarter of an inch thick but don’t bother measuring that. Just remember that you don’t want it thick or it won’t melt. In addition, fresh herbs are fine because they won’t be on the grill very long.

The Basic Steps

Here’s what you’ll do:

  1. Put the dough on the grill. You’ll probably do it with your hands and gently. If you have a metal pizza peel, that works, too. A wooden peel might get damaged by the flames.
  2. Immediately cover the grill.
  3. Grill the pizza for a few minutes and it depends how high your heat is, but see if the bottom is has gotten grill marks. My grill lets me set it to 350 or 400 degrees Fahrenheit and I use the lower setting because I think the cheese melts better.
  4. Turn it over and quickly put on the sauce and the toppings.
  5. Cover the grill back up.
  6. Within a few minutes, it should be done. See if your cheese has melted, if you’re using any, but make sure the bottom of the crust isn’t starting to burn.

By grilling one side, first, you stiffen it so that you can put your toppings on.

How To Get This Mess Off the Grill

Consider making just two pizzas at a time when you first start. Your biggest problem is going to be that you have pizzas on the grill burning when you’re trying to get them all off. When you’re first starting out, if you’re not feeling confident about this, start with just one.

In any case, here’s where the size of the pizza is going to matter. You can now take it off with a grill-sized spatula. But have the cutting board right there and move it right onto the cutting board. It’s good to have the pizza smaller than the cutting board. Then, cut it on the cutting board. If you don’t have a pizza cutter, just use a sharp knife. Some people use scissors but I find that I keep burning myself on the hot sauce and cheese.

Now, use the spatula to move the entire thing to a plate.

Once, again, if you thought about this back when you were forming your dough, to make the pizza crusts small-enough to do all this, you’ll lose very little if any of the toppings or sauce. In addition, if you’re using a looser type of sauce, to begin with, this bit is really going to be crucial for you.

Also, a reminder, if you’ve got more than one pizza on the grill, remember how fast they cooked? Well, seriously, have everything you need at-hand and do all of this kind of fast or they’re going to burn.

Finally

Don’t buy a lot of extra stuff to try this. Don’t buy lots of equipment or ingredients you won’t use, either. Like anything else, you might try this and find out you really don’t enjoy doing it. With that in-mind, I’ve tried to point some of this out in this blog post.

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