By Dru Chai
Happy July 4th! I want to write a post about pizza. I love pizza -- it's one of my favorite foods (aside from BBQ, of course). I think I read somewhere that over 3 billions pizzas are sold every year, and the average family eats over 30 pizzas a year. I've had all kinds of pizza from all over the place, but my first exposure to really good, thin crust Neapolitan-style pizza was at Pepe's in New Haven, Connecticut about 12 years ago. It really spearheaded my love for pizza, and the rest is history.
Since then, I've had thick crust pizza in Chicago, New York, and even Pizza Hut in China where they put toppings like corn and imitation crab on their pizza (yuck). Of course, in my home state of California, Wolfgang Puck started the whole fancy topping pizza revolution with Spago -- which inspired places like California Pizza Kitchen. Nowadays, if I want to splurge on fancy pizza, I'll head over to Pizzeria Mozza -- I just love their crust.
But enough of the pizza history lesson. I recently decided I wanted to grill pizza at home. If you Google "how to grill pizza," you'll find tons of useful websites, links, and recipes. I skimmed through most of them and decided to give it a shot on my own. I just recently purchased a 22" Weber grill, and have been itching to do something different on it aside from the usual burgers and hot dogs.
Serious Eats has a great summary of grilling pizza, and I essentially followed their instructions and recipe. I also found this dough recipe, which is good as well. So how was my first time grilling pizza? I can honestly tell you, it turned out great. The hot temperature from the charcoal produced about 500+ degrees F, which isn't quite as scorching as the brick ovens in restaurants -- but for personal sized pizzas, it does the trick. The dough had that great charred flavor -- crispy on the outside, but still soft and chewy on the inside. You just can't replicate that in a conventional oven, and there's something utterly satisfying about seeing BREAD BUBBLES form while grilling dough.
I made a really simple pizza with minimal toppings -- a little bit of marinara sauce, shredded mozzarella, fresh basil, and spinach. I finished it off with a few shavings of parmesan reggiano and red pepper flakes for a little kick.
Even though my pizza turned out well, I learned a few tips just from first-hand experience. I think most of it just about practice and preparation. Here are my top 5 pizza grilling tips. You'll notice that it's mostly about the dough, since it's the most important part of the pizza.
1. Don't forget to season your dough with a bit of sugar and salt, but make it your own and customize it. Throw in some garlic powder or some dried basil. Make sure to give some time to the dough to properly rise -- it will give the crust that bubbly and chewy consistency after grilling.
2. Try to roll or knead the dough as thin as you can without ripping it or making any holes. Since the grill burns really hot, the dough will cook REALLY fast. I had a few of them with tiny holes and it just burned right through them and had that nasty, burnt taste around those edges.
3. Brush your pizza dough with olive oil. Not only does it prevent the dough from sticking to the grill, but it definitely adds some flavor and helps develop that crispy crust that you want.
4 . Depending on how hot your grill is and how thin your pizza crust is, it should be about 1-2 minutes per side tops (or even less). I would use a pair tongs and peek on the bottom of the crust, and start moving it around to find the hot spots on the grill. When the top starts to bubble, it's time to flip it over.
5. As I mentioned before, keep the toppings simple and minimal. But if you want to use something like sausage or mushrooms, make sure to pre-cook it before putting it on the pizza. Make sure the toppings are ready to go, because as soon as you flip the crust, it's time to start to pile on the toppings. Then move it over to the indirect heat without the charcoal and cover for a little so that the cheese melts.
There it is! Those are my tips for grilling pizza, based on my experience. One thing's for sure, I'll keep making grilled pizzas and experiment with different dough recipes, herbs, spices, and toppings. It DOES take a bit of work and preparation (plus, who wants to clean up afterwards?), so it's not like I'll never go back to eating out. But it's nice to know that I have the option of making grilled pizza at home. That's amore!