Grill That Pizza Pie

The weather here has thankfully gone from wet to dry and feels like a champagne cocktail -- crisp, sparkly and invigoratingly cool. With the Fourth of July weekend now behind us, is anyone else just a wee bit tired of smelling ribs and brontosaurus burgers charring in the backyard?

I'm thinking of changing up the grill repertoire this weekend and I'm asking you to consider joining me in a slab-o-meat-free weekend. Come on, it'll be fun! And if any of you lunkheads are rolling your eyes in anticipation of vegetarian proselytizing, check the attitude as there will be no such thing happening.

grilled pizza
Shake things up and grill a pizza this weekend. (Kim O'Donnel)

Given predicted slightly cooler temperatures, I'm proposing a weekend of dough. This is perfect pizza-making weather, and in particular, a great opportunity to experiment cooking it on the grill. Instead of turning the kitchen into a 500-degree furnace, take the action outdoors and create your very own pizza parlor.

If you've never made your own pizza dough, don't worry, I've got you covered, from dough shaping and rolling how-to (Real Player video file) to recipe details.

As for logistics, allow yourself a few hours for making dough, which includes one hour of alone time for rising. You can also make it in advance, wrap in plastic and keep in the fridge for up to 48 hours, but make sure to bring it to up to room temperature before rolling.

It had been several years since I had grilled pizza myself, so this week was a bit of a refresher course.

Below, a few tips learned along the way:

While a charcoal grill yields more flavor, a gas grill, which offers more temperature control, makes pizza grilling a snap. The reason? Pizza dough needs a mixed temperature setting. The first few minutes, you want things nice and hot to allow for dough blistering and bubbling. Once the dough is turned onto the second side, however, the temperature needs to be lower, to minimize charring and burnt pizza toast, which is highly unpleasant.

If using a charcoal grill, allow for more prepping time. Instead of the usual 30-minute advance needed for those burgers, prolong that period to about 45 minutes, allowing for coals to cool just a bit.

Spread the coals, allowing for more equal distribution of heat, thus diverting focus from the center, where pizza is most vulnerable.

To minimize sticking, oil-spray grill grate and oil-brush the side of the dough to make first contact with the grill.

Enlist the help of a pizza-loving friend; pizza grilling is a team exercise, particularly when it's time to flip the dough and apply toppings.

Don't go anywhere. The first side takes about three minutes and you'll know it's time when you see it bubbling. Take a peek on the underside and chances are it's starting to char.

Using long-handled, sturdy spatulas to flip dough, and if possible, move it towards a cooler spot on the grill. Have all toppings at the ready; a baking tray filled with bowls (that's what we call mise en place in the restaurant kitchen world) is really helpful here.

Tomato sauce is not a good choice for grilled pizza. I recommend sliced fresh tomatoes which yield less juice and minimize grilling flare-ups. Place cheese on dough first, giving it an opportunity to melt. Quickly add the rest of your fixin's, minus fresh herbs, which will blacken.

If you are the proud owner of a pizza stone, go ahead and use it. This is especially helpful when cooking the second side.

Cover grill and stand by; in about 4 minutes, maybe less, the pizza will be ready for lift off.

Have a baking tray at the ready, turned upside on the flat side. One person holds the tray while the other person carefully, with spatula, moves pizza off the grill.

Those without a pizza stone can improvise should your cheese take longer to melt than your dough takes to crisp up. Use the underside of that baking tray as your buffer for a minute or two more on the grill. Cover grill again, over the baking tray, even if seemingly precarious.

Is this a new adventure or old hat to you? Share your comments and pizza tips below.

One last note: Garlic scape pesto is divine slathered on grilled pizza.

By Kim ODonnel |  July 7, 2006; 9:26 AM ET Flames
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Wow, we just grilled pizzas this past weekend, and it was really great. I would say, particularly if this is a first attempt, make smaller pizzas - much easier to deal with. We grilled one side until it was done, flipped it over briefly, then removed from the fire, took into the kitchen to top, and brought back out to finish. We did use sauce on most of them, but it turned out fine. The big hit was topping with gorgonzola stuffed olives. Yum! I can't wait until I have a grill of my own.

Posted by: Jen | July 7, 2006 11:48 AM

I just bought my first grill this spring and tried grilling a pizza early on before I had even heard of this method. Instead, I slipped my pizza stone in and cooked the pizza on it like an ordinary oven. The results were mixed (crust was fine, cheese didn't melt to my liking), but I attribute that more to my unfamiliarity with the grill. Plus, it was easier to deal with the pizza using a peel than trying to manipulate it with spatulas. I definitely plan to experiment more with both methods.

Posted by: Doug | July 7, 2006 12:04 PM

years ago i perfected the 'barbequed pizza.' it's great. try it. i use charcoal exclusively and biggest danger is burning the crust. advice: build the fire, then spread it in a ring around the inside of your barbeque grille (i use the standard weber kettle), leaving the center empty. place the pizza on three or four sheets of aluminum foil in the empty center of the grill, then put the metal lid of the grill in place. check often and always look at the bottom ofthe crust. if it starts to burn, remove it immediately (and remind yourself to make a smaller fire in the future) i often use boboli pizza crusts, as they are thick and less likely to burn. when grilled, they become a little crunchy on the outside, but chewy on the inside. i also experiment with toppings and have been known to hickory smoke my pizzas as well.

Posted by: Max Elsman | July 7, 2006 12:23 PM

We made pizzas on the grill last night and had friends over to watch the first "Pirates of the Caribbean" in anticipation of the second one that comes out today. We did it a bit differently and it turned out great. We put the pizza on foil to keep the dough from falling through the cracks (we like thin crust pizza) and put it on the upper rack of the grill with the burners still on medium high. The crust was thin and crispy, the cheese was perfectly brown, it was just like using the oven.

Posted by: Erin | July 7, 2006 12:28 PM

I did this a few weekends ago. For me, pizza with vegan cheese, red sauce and toppings, using a pizza stone as I would in the oven. It fit perfectly on the Weber. I recommend this approach if you don't want to manipulate with spatulas, and especially if using charcoal. It took a while to cook, but it was worth the wait. I ended up replenishing coals along the way in order to grill multiple pizzas. Perfect for an evening chilling on the deck, drinking Coronas!

Posted by: Amy | July 7, 2006 12:31 PM

I'm a long-time fan of grilled pizza for dinner -- but to make it a weekday meal I just use the fresh dough from Trader Joe's (the wheat dough is particularly good) or, in a pinch, refrigerated pizza dough from the grocery store. Not as good as making your own, but a whole lot faster.

Posted by: Karen | July 7, 2006 12:58 PM

Boy, Kim, I hope the color on my computer is out of whack, because the picture of your pizza has a decidedly gray tone to the dough.

Posted by: bigjim | July 7, 2006 5:28 PM

We love doing grilled pizza in the summer -- everyone can make their own individual pizza, to their own taste. We'll cook some of the vegetables first so they're not so raw.

Posted by: Kathryn | July 10, 2006 10:39 AM

We grill pizza quite a bit. We have a gas grill and a pizza stone. We build the pizza on a piece of parchment paper, slide it on to our improvised pizza peel (a splatter screen), then slide it on and off the stone that way. We don't grill both sides - just take the completely prepared pizza (very thin crust) with fresh toppings to the grill and bake it at a high temperature. We get good results this way. My husband uses his bread machine to make the dough. He makes enough for 2 crusts. One we eat, the other goes into the freezer for up to a week. We just thaw it then allow it to get to room temperature before attempting to roll it out.

Posted by: ohstate | July 11, 2006 12:25 PM

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