Barbecue University™

Pizza Hits the Grill

Grilled pizza

If barbecue traded on the stock market, I’d buy futures in grilled pizza. Flame-seared pies now turn up at innovative restaurants across North America—and around the world. Grill manufacturers sell a broad array of pizza accessories, from pizza stones to peels to cutters. The Companion Group—manufacturers of my Best of Barbecue and Planet Barbecue lines—recently created a new division called Pizzacraft, devote to the art of pizza on the grill.

Wood-burning ovens are no longer the province solely of restaurants. Our students are so addicted to the wood-burning Chicago Brick Oven at Barbecue University I recently added one to my grill collection at home. You can even buy a pizza oven attachment that mounts on a Weber or other kettle grill. The kit is sold by KettlePizza.

In honor of National Pizza Month (no, it’s not quite over yet), we thought we’d give you the Barbecue Bible take on pizza, complete with technique, gear, and recipes. C’mon. Where would you rather stand when you have company: around a kitchen oven or at a fiery grill?

In the unlikely event you need more convincing, here are six compelling reasons why you should cook pizza on the grill.

  • A grill, whether charcoal, wood-fired, or gas, comes the closest that most home cooks can get to achieving the high temperatures (700 to 1000 degrees) routinely used by commercial pizzerias.
  • The crust is not only more flavorful, but is bumpy with blisters and tasty with crispy bits of char that cannot be obtained in a home oven.
  • When making grilled pizza, you aim for a thin crust and restrained application of toppings—demonstrable, edible proof of the adage that “less is more”.
  • Grilled pizzas take only minutes to cook from start to finish. (However, you do need to allow time to make the dough and toppings.)
  • A pizza stone is optional; you don’t need one for great results.
  • Grilled pizzas are easy to customize for a crowd at a party, assuming an array of toppings has been organized ahead of time.

In short, grilled pizza is easy to make, impressive to serve, and arguably one of the best things you’ll ever put in your mouth. Enough said.

The two strategies for grilling pizza:

There are two basic approaches to grilled pizza: true grilling (in which you cook the raw dough directly on the grate over the fire) and “grill-baking,” in which you cook the pizza on a pizza stone (in effect, turning your grill into an outdoor oven).

To make true grilled pizza:

  1. Set up your grill (gas, charcoal, or wood-fired) for two-zone grilling so you have a hotter section where you can sear the dough, and a cooler section where you can apply and cook the toppings. If your grill is large enough, also maintain a fire-free “safety zone.”
  2. Make the crust by stretching out the dough on a rimmed baking sheet generously coated with olive oil. The oil helps crisp the dough. Know that the dough will be quite elastic, and may resist your first attempts at stretching. Simply let it rest for a few minutes, and eventually, you’ll achieve the proper shape and thinness.
  3. Don’t worry about making a perfect circle. I actually prefer a rough rectangular shape for grilled pizza.
  4. Brush and oil the grill grate well.
  5. Holding the dough at one end, lift and drape it over the hotter zone, using tongs to lay it flat. Grill until the bottom is browned and blistered and the top starts to blister as well, 1 to 2 minutes. Using tongs and a spatula, slide the partially cooked dough to the cooler side of the grill and let it continue to cook for 3 to 5 minutes. In the meantime, lightly oil the uncooked side of the crust. Flip it over onto the hotter part of the grill and grill this side, too, until it begins to darken, 1 to 2 minutes.
  6. Once again, move the pizza to the cooler side of the grill. Arrange the toppings on the crust. Move the crust back over the hot zone to brown the bottom, 2 to 4 minutes.
  7. Remember, you build a grilled pizza in the exact opposite sequence as a conventional baked pizza. The cheese goes on first because it takes the longest to melt. Then the cooked or cured meats and grilled vegetables. Last of all, the sauce (because it’s already cooked).
  8. Apply the topping sparsely, leaving plenty of exposed crust. Remember, a lot of effort goes into making and grilling the crust. You want to taste the crisp, smoky, fire-singed dough.

To cook pizza on a grill on a pizza stone:

  1. Get yourself a pizza stone—available at most cookware shops. You want a thick stone (at least 1/2 inch) made of fire-resistant ceramic. Fire it a couple times before using it to burn off any factory dust, starting at a moderate temperature.
  2. Set up your grill for indirect grilling and preheat to medium-high (around 450 degrees) with the stone directly on the grill grate, but not directly over the coals. You can also direct grill a pizza on a stone, but keep the fire low or your stone may crack.
  3. To simulate the smoke flavor of a wood-burning oven, toss a handful of unsoaked wood chips on the coals. Why unsoaked chips? Because you want a light smoke flavor, not the heavy smoke of barbecued meats.
  4. Sprinkle a pizza peel or the back of a baking sheet with cornmeal. Stretch out the dough with flour—not oil in this case—and arrange the crust on top.
  5. Assemble the pizza in the conventional manner: sauce first, then meats and vegetables, and finally, cheese. Slide the pizza onto the hot preheated stone. Cover the grill and indirect grill the pizza until puffed, crisp, and browned, 4 to 8 minutes.
  6. Let the stone cool to room temperature before cleaning (clean with a stiff-bristled brush).

If you want to try something new when it comes to your choice of toppings, add some flavorful grilled vegetables or spice up a slice with some barbecued chicken.

What are your secrets for grilling the ultimate pizza? Do you have some favorite toppings that are totally over the top? Share your recipes and photos with us on the Barbecue Board.