Pizza a la estate
As I write this post, I’m sitting in my factory, looking out the window thinking back on that weekend at my dads place. My dad loves nothing better than to have us over at his place to watch him stoke the flames of his wood-fired stone pizza oven that he built with his own hands. This is probably the best possible way to enjoy pizza: real fire, close friends and family, everything hand-made.
But I’m not that lucky. My own best pizzas are made on my BBQ grill at home in my back garden. Seriously, if you’re like me, and your access to stone ovens is limited, the BBQ grill is your best bet for making crisp-on-the-outside, soft-and-airy-on-the-inside pizza. It’s the only heat source that approaches the insanely high temperatures that are so essential to great pizza.
You can grill pizzas directly on the grates of either a gas or coal-fired grill. The end results are slightly different, but the technique is simple, and I have never seen a grilled pizza go uneaten in all my years making them.
Grilled pizza is made by laying a stretched piece of dough directly on the grates over hot coals, cooking the first side, flipping it, topping it in reverse order (that’s cheese, then sauce), then returning it to the fire to cook the second side. As the second side cooks, the cheese melts, and the sauce warms. It’s as simple as that.
If there’s one thing that’s of the utmost importance with grilled pizza, it’s having everything on hand and organized before you start. The pies cook so fast (under a minute per side, depending on the strength of your fire) that there’s no time to fumble around looking for your cheese or your toppings.
Spread the coals under one side of the grill (leave the other side unheated so that you have space to slide the pizza while you top it), then cover the grill to let the grates heat up.
After rolling the dough out, brush one side with a thin coat of olive oil (this’ll help it brown more evenly) and a sprinkle of salt and pepper.
Lay the dough oiled-side-down on the grates and allow it to cook for about a minute, shifting and rotating it every fifteen seconds or so to cook it evenly. It should start to bubble and blister within 10 seconds. This is fine. You can flatten any extra large bubbles, but anything under two inches or so will take care of itself when you flip the dough.
While it’s cooking, brush the top side with a little more oil. Once the first side is cooked, flip the pie and slide it over to the cool side of the grill. Working fast, apply a sparing amount of cheese (I use shredded mozzarella and grated Parmesan) directly to the top of the pizza. The residual heat from the crust should begin to melt it. Next, dot your sauce onto the pie in distinct piles, which helps keep everything neater than simply smearing it around (and disturbing the cheese).
Finally, add the toppings of your choice (again, more on those in a bit). If you want your cheese extra melty, you can cover the grill for 30 seconds or so at this point while the pizza is sill on the cool side.
It’s time to slide that pie right on back over the coals and cook the second side just like the first.
You’ll want to get yourself down at pie-level to the grill in order to peek under the pizza as it cooks by lifting the edges with a pizza peel or spatula. That’s really the only way to gauge doneness without knocking the toppings off. As before, you’ll have to rotate the pie frequently to get it to cook right.
There are 3 golden rules I use when grilling pizza:
1. Par-cook any toppings that need to be cooked. This means cooking indoors, or grilling, and includes any and all meats and vegetables that can’t heat through under the retained warmth of the pizza crust.
2. Keep it simple. It’s easy to go overboard, but the best pies usually have two or three toppings max. Consider texture, flavour, and colour when picking toppings to go together.
3. Apply sparingly. Grilled pizzas are delicate beasts and not intended to hold massive amounts of toppings like, say, a pan pizza. If you’ve got more topping by weight than crust, you’re probably stepping over the line.