Every year just before Christmas one of our neighbors hosts an ornament and cookie swap. All the ladies bring cookies and an ornament; they divide up the cookies, and do a “yankee swap” for the ornaments. (If you don’t know what a yankee swap is, you are blessed, and I will not ruin your ignorant bliss.) There is also wine, and for all I know, male strippers, tequila shots, and table dancing. Beats me. I’ve never been.
At the same time, many of the husbands gather at a different neighbor’s house for the beer swap. Each person brings a few interesting imported or domestic microbrews, and the men all sample the finds. There are platters of meats. And football. And Greco Roman wrestling and hookers and blow. (OK, I made that last part up. There isn’t any blow.)
So it was at one of these beer swaps that I first had the opportunity to try grilled pizza. He had a charcoal Weber grill, and made several pizzas. They were, frankly, a mixed bag. Some great parts, some hopelessly burned parts. But the general idea seemed to hold promise. And I set out on a mission to find the optimal pizza grilling technique.
And I have.
So I thought you might like to know.
The preparation of perfect grilled pizza requires a grill, of course. I have a 6-burner propane grill, but a 4-burner would certainly suffice. Charcoal might be possible but I don’t know how you would manage the temperature changes. Gas or propane is my recommendation.
You are also going to need pizza dough. We get the bags of raw dough from the grocery store. There are a wide variety of kinds of dough you can get, but as near as I can tell, it doesn’t make one whit of difference. As long as it isn’t gluten-free. Gluten-free pizza dough is nasty.
It’ll be easier to work with the dough if it is not cold, so take it out of the fridge a couple hours in advance.
The other things you are going to need for the first step are parchment paper, olive oil, and freezer space.
Tear off a pizza-sized sheet of parchment. Take the ball of dough out of the plastic bag and divide it in half. Each ball is going to make two 12-14″ pizzas. I usually use a sharp knife to divide it neatly. Douse your hands in olive oil, and grab that first half-ball, and start to work it into a circle. At first in your hands, and then down on that piece of parchment.
There should be lots of oil, and lots of squeezing and pressing. If you play your cards right, this is the second most erotic thing you will ever do in your kitchen.
You will find that you can only get the dough so flat and then it pulls itself back in. That’s OK. You’ll see why in a bit.
Once you’ve got that one flattened, put another pizza-sized sheet of parchment over the top, and smoosh it out with your hands, which should still be oily. Reload with oil as needed. The lower piece of dough will allow itself to be stretched more with that piece of parchment on top. Magic!
Now grab the other half of that dough ball, drop it onto the parchment, oil up, and start working it. When you’ve got it as flat as you can, add another sheet of parchment and flatten some more.
I typically make about 6-8 pizzas at a time (3 or 4 bags of dough) this way. Eventually I have a very tall stack of flattened dough, parchment, dough, parchment, dough, parchment…
Once you’ve got all that dough smooshed out, seal up the whole pile with foil, and stick it in the freezer.
You need to let it freeze at least 24 hours, but you can do this prep several weeks in advance as long as the foil is tight.
Making the Pizzas
Making the pizzas requires that you fully prepare before you begin. Once you have started there will not be any time to run to the fridge to grab something, or chop something, or anything like that. You have to do it like on those cookings shows where everything is already ready to go in 100 little bowls.
We usually make at least one “just cheese” pizza for the kids. Interesting toppings are a great idea, but we usually stick with some pretty standard ones:
- Sliced tomato, sliced mozzarella, basil
- Fajita-spiced chicken, fried onions and peppers
- Thin strips of deli ham and small canned pineapple chunks
The key is that anything that needs to be cooked (like the onions and peppers, mushrooms, etc.) will need to be done on the stove in advance. There is no time for the toppings to cook in this process. So they need to be ready-to-eat.
We use a jarred pizza sauce. Open the jar(s) in advance. You will not have time to be fighting with a jar. I like to use a small gravy ladle to apply the sauce.
And, of course, you’ll need a big bag of shredded mozzarella. Even if you are doing the one with sliced mozzarella. Trust me.
Preheat the grill! I cannot emphasize that enough. You really need to get it hot before you begin. As hot as it gets. And, obviously, brush down the grates because you need them tidy.
You will also need a couple tools for the grill. I usually have a big metal spatula and a big pair of tongs. Also, get a big cutting board.
With the grill on maximum, take one frozen sheet of pizza dough, separate it from the parchment (this is easy because of the oil) and drop it directly on the grates. Since it is frozen, placing the sheet of dough on the grill is simple. Leave the rest of the dough in the freezer. It will lose its hardness really fast, so you need to pull each sheet out just before you need it.
Leave the grill open and watch the top of the dough. This is a lot like frying the perfect egg. Or cooking the perfect steak. You can tell when the bottom is perfect by watching the top. When top has lost all its shine and luster, the bottom is done. You can lift it with your spatula to check. It should be browned, not black obviously, and have the hardness of matzo.
Now turn the burners to low, use your tools to flip the dough over, and get to work! Apply the sauce (I usually go all the way out to the very edges). Liberally apply the shredded cheese. And then apply your toppings.
Close the grill. Wait a minute. Peek. Close it. Wait. Peek. You are waiting for the cheese to melt. I don’t know your grill, so I have no idea how long this will take. But when the cheese is melted, the pizza is ready. You can lift it with your spatula to check that it is brown and toasty on the bottom.
When it’s ready, you can wrangle it off the grill onto the cutting board. Deliver it to someone else, and forget about it. You have work to do.
Turn the burner back up to maximum. Run in to the freezer and get the next sheet of dough. And start the whole process over again.
Prepare yourself. Prepare your guests. This it the best pizza you will ever have. Once you’ve had pizza prepared this way, you will be ruined for all other pizzas for all time.
Making grilled pizza is an enormous pain in the ass. And totally worth it.
I forgot to mention: You don’t actually get to eat this pizza. If you are lucky, you’ll get to eat the last one off the grill.