Pizza on the Grill

A year ago (almost to the day) I reviewed a book called “Grilled Pizzas & Piadinas,” by Craig W. Priebe and Dianne Jacob. I mentioned in that review that I had tried grilling pizza once before, with modest but not outstanding success. After all, I’ve been trying to perfect the oven technique for years, and this idea of grilling is a whole other deal. Why confuse things?

But what the heck. I decided to give it another try this weekend, and I’m happy to report that it was a success.

The book helped. I used its recommended dough and dough-handling technique (tip: chill the dough after it rises). Also, for some reason my grill (or, as we call it in Canada, “BBQ”) was being more cooperative than in the past, and wasn’t cooking the crust too fast.

That said, there is a lot of technique involved. For example, you can’t walk away from the grill, expecially if your grill doesn’t heat perfectly evenly (as is the case with mine). You need to keep shuffling the crust around so it doesn’t burn on the hotspots, and you need to have a grill big enough to allow the pizza to cook under indirect heat for a few minutes after the initial toasting.

Another pleasant surprise was that the cheese on the first pie — bocconcini — melted nicely. Grilling will never give you that golden cheesy blistering that you get from a regular oven or a broiler, but it at least in this case it melted nicely.

Following the tradition of pizza nights Chez Blork, the first pie was a Margherita. I used a different sauce this time; roma tomatoes pushed through a food mill and then drained in a wire sieve, lightly cooked with some fresh slivered garlic, sea salt, pepper, and olive oil, with just a pinch of oregano. (I usually use canned San Marzano tomatoes with salt, pepper, and olive oil, and no cooking).

It worked out really well, and the crust was crispy with a just the right amount of char.

Click for huge Food Porn version on Flickr.

The second pie was more like a foccacia, as there was very little sauce left, and no bocconcini. I bascially topped it with a lot of olive oil, finely grated Parmesano Reggiano, and a medley of grilled vegetables and chopped fresh tomatoes.

Click for huge Food Porn version on Flickr.

It took a year before I tried the techniques from Priebe and Jacobs’ book, but I’m glad I did. Success means pizza is an option on even the warmest summer evenings.

21 thoughts on “Pizza on the Grill

  1. Looks fantastic, but did you use a gas grill or a briquet/charcoal grill?

  2. Thanks Tom. I used a gas grill. I’m not a purist, and gas is so much easier to control.

  3. Now, number two looks downright fantastic. But from all I’ve read (and from what you’ve told me) it’s really hard to get the top of the pizza done while not burning the bottom.

    While using my little Weber, and only for the third or fourth time, I’ve really had to fight off the temptation to just put the top on the food, sit back, have some wine and leave it for a couple of minutes. You know, it becomes hot in there is the thinking (hey, I bought a laser thermometer! It is SO COOL!) but actually, every time you take the top off it just basically goes down immediately to ambient temp. So I can’t imagine the cheese melting sufficiently etc. before you have a severely scorched pie.

    You’re a braver man than I am! But keep up the experiments and definitely blog about them. I’m hungry for Blork pizza as it is.

  4. It’s true that it’s hard to get the cheese to melt. As you can see by the top photo, the cheese got soft, but it didn’t get all bubbly.

    You need a grill that’s big enough to have a direct heat section and an indirect heat section. In this case, I cooked the crust without toppings for about two minutes per side, then I moved it to the indirect heat side, dressed it, and let it sit in there for about five minutes. It got up to about 400 under the hood. I kept opening it, but just a crack, in order to squeeze in the tongs and move it around a bit, in case I had a hot spot.

  5. So, is the Blork New & Improved Pizza Sauce TM better than the Blork Original Pizza Sauce TM?

    We found organic San Marzanos at the Atwater Market. They’re not available anymore at our Loblaws (where we do most of the weekly shopping).

    I’m waiting for a Margherita w/ Italian mozza di bufala to go in the oven as soon as it hits 500, as I type this. Mmmmm…getting hungry.

    We’ll have to try some grilled pizza this summer.

  6. Blork, yes, you’re doing it exactly the “classic” grilled pizza way, according to the dozens of sources I checked. What would be ideal is if a grill could somehow have a top that’s giving off heat . . . I’ve seen these “modified” contraptions that involve welding blah blah blah but if you could somehow put coals into the TOP as well as the bottom then all would be rosy.

    Just wondering how that might be done . . . (PS you can see I have an obvious bias against gas grills).

    (Explosions, you know).

  7. There’s the old law of diminishing returns to consider. In other words, there’s a point at which the amount of effort exceeds the joy received from the result. Building a two-tier charcoal grill would cross that point, if you ask me!

    However, not all is lost. What you need is a convection device that redirects the heat rising from the hot side of the grill across and down to the top of the pizza. I’m not sure if this would work using regular ol’ physics, so you might need to give it a hand, with a built-in fan (it would have to be a slow fan, as a fast one would just kick up a lot of dusty wind).

    So how about this: A cone shaped device that is wide at the bottom (about 10 inches) and narrower as it goes up. Then it turns 90 degrees, extends about 12 inches, and turns down and widens again. Inside the narrow part is a fan that is turned by a drive shaft that extends horizontally and is long enough to fit through the hole in your grill cover that is made to accommodate the rotisserie rod (not all grill covers have such a hole). From there, it is attached to a small crank. Since this part of the cooking only takes a few minutes, it wouldn’t be tiring to stand there gently turning the crank to fan hot air from the coals across to the top of your pie.

    You read it here first!

    (BTW, I think there have been more fires started by wayward coals than there have been propane tank explosions, so from a safety point of view I think gas is probably safer.)

  8. Hmm . . . I think you need to draw a diagram, as I’m having a hard time visualising it. But in many ways, short of having your own personal wood-grill oven, something that heated from the top as well as the bottom (without contact) would benefit all sorts of foods. You wouldn’t have to keep turning them, for example.

    But then, I guess, part of the fun of grilling is the process itself. The turning, the pushing of the coals (I think the flavor imparted by some nice hardwood charcoal far outweighs gas, but what you say has a certain ring of truth) and the sitting back and wondering whether something is going to catch on fire that is not part of the grill is worth all the effort.

    The grill thrill, if you will.

    By the way, a grill hound I know told me a great way to stop flareups: get one of those bottles of lemon juice and squirt them on the coals. Works like a charm and makes it taste good too!

  9. Lots of great tips, thanks. I would totally be the one walking away from the grill.

  10. BTW, as for the sauce, I still stand by my classic sauce, which works great for canned san marzanos. But this time I was using fresh tomatoes, which I felt could use a bit of a boost by cooking them a bit (it deepens the flavor). Also, freshly ground tomatoes are pretty watery, so I wanted to evaporate some of it off.

    It thought it worked well, because I kept with the idea of keeping it simple!

  11. If the cheese doesn’t melt…try a small blow torch…it works!

  12. Ay yai yai yai yai. That’s perhaps the most radical solution I can imagine. Unless you’re a welder . . . but the logic works. The process, however, is another (disturbing) matter . . . :)

  13. Heh heh. It’s pizza, not a crème brûlée! :-)

    But srsly, It’s a matter of adjusting your expectations. Not lowering, them; adjusting them. Grilled pizza is a different beast than oven pizza. It has different characteristics, so the ingredients should be adjusted accordingly.

    I made two more grilled pizzas on Saturday, from the same batch of dough (I made a double batch) and they both worked very well. The first was a classic Marg., which was only marred by a burnt crust. I walked away from the grill for one minute and totally burnt the center of it. (This is a testament to the poor quality of my BBQ — it has hot spots galore.)

    That was before adding the toppings. I got around it by essentially making a donut pizza (with a hole in the middle).

    The second pie had articokes, black olives, and sautéd mushrooms on it, with a blend of mozzarela and ementhal cheeses. I came up with a new trick — I keep the sauce in a heavy pot inside the grill so it’s already very hot when I spread it on the pie. Then I put the cheese on, and it gives it a head start on melting.

    I also developed another trick: I deliberately make the pizzas oblong instead of round. I have a four burner pie, and with an oblong pizza I can put it in the middle and crank up the two end burners to create an oven without it burning the crust. (It the pie were round, the edges would overlap the direct heat and they’d burn.)

  14. Oh yum.

    Glad you clarified cooking both sides before topping though.

    I’m definitely going the have a go. I love making pizza.

  15. . . . .”which was only marred by a burnt crust.”

    Hello! Hello! *sound of rapping on skull* Anybody home, McFly?

    Fail! Fail! Failed!

    Let me know when your neurosurgeon self DOES IT RIGHT.


  16. Thanks, Duchess!

    Nick, WTF? The burnt part was only in the middle. I cut it away and made a donut pizza that was, although unorthodox, pretty darn right!

  17. Hee hee, just teasing. I fuck up a million times more than you do. I’m afraid, very afraid, of making grilled pizza. But if you pave the way, I will learn!

    You do it so I don’t have to! You teach! :)

    I have never had your pizza BUT I WANT TO

  18. Your pizzas all look exquisite! Do you have a dough recipe you like? I did search your blog for one but I freely admit I might not have been thorough. I haven’t tried pizza on the grill yet but these photos are really inspiring me.

  19. Natalie, I still haven’t found the perfect dough recipe. In this case, I used the recipe from the book I mentioned in the post and it worked very well. Strangely, I tried it again a couple of weeks later and it didn’t work very well at all!

  20. Right, I’ll have get myself a copy of the grilled pizza book and start experimenting. I make a partly-wholewheat dough out of my old Canadian Living cookbook, but I freely admit it’s far from artisan! Your pizza photos are causing me to drool.

    Thanks! Great blog.

  21. Thanks Natalie!

    Here’s a tragic follow-up. I tried it again about a week or so later. I made the dough a couple of days in advance and left it in the fridge (which I had done the first time, with the second half of the double batch). Unfortunately it didn’t work out very well. The dough lost it’s cohesiveness and wouldn’t stretch properly. Plus it rained. I ended up with a couple of stubby rolled out (instead of stretched out) pies that were done in the oven. They were OK in the end, but not brilliant.

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