Jack Prelutsky’s poem left me craving pizza. Thankfully spring is here, and once the crazy patchy April hail goes away I can brush off the barbecue and get busy grilling.
Grilled pizza – yes. It might be the perfect meal. A simple happy family dinner. Great for an impromptu djembe and fireworks night. Excellent for a casual party where you want your guests to mix and mingle. Leftovers for breakfast. Or dessert.
Pizza-making has evolved into a high art here by the beach, inspired by was my first trip to Italy, many years ago with LL, where I got a taste of what really perfect pizza could be. Super thin crust. A smattering of flavorful toppings. Real tomatoes, not artificially sweetened sauce oozing from the edges of a slice. Cheese as an accent, not piled on in such gooey mounds the pizza has to cool a bit for it to congeal before the pie can be successfully sliced.
We abandoned Round Table deliveries and Boboli bread a while back (with that nasty high-fructose corn syrup) and started experimenting. I used to buy dough balls from a local pizzeria – most local pie shops will probably sell you one if you don’t feel like making your own or are short on time; expect to pay $3 – $5 each.
Our best pizzas have super-thin crusts, lightly topped, and fired outside on the grill at 500 degrees for about 5 minutes. Barbecued pizza, if you will. Here’s my lowdown on the basics for our fool-proof grilled pizzas. I’ve saved writing about the toppings for a separate post.
- Glass mixing bowl – I like to let the pizza dough rise in glass instead of in stainless steel. If there’s leftover dough just seal with the lid and refrigerate until the next day.
- French rolling pin – the tapered ends on the French-style rolling pin is the key to super-thin crust. A cylindrical rolling pin seems to provide a more uniform thickness but does not get dough paper-thin.
- Calphalon square griddle – we’ve tried pizza stones, cookie sheet, cast-iron griddles . . . and the Calphalon 11″ square non-stick griddle remains the perfect pan on which to grill pizzas on a gas barbecue
- Wooden pizza peel – indispensable to carry pizzas to the grill as well as to take them off and serve on
Ingredients for dough
- Packet of yeast (1/4 ounce or 2-1/4 teaspoons)
- Flour. The recipe calls for 3 cups. I like 1 part semolina to 2 parts all-purpose white flour. For a toothier crust, try mixing together 1 part semolina, 1 part white, and 1 part spelt or whole-wheat
- Olive oil
This is actually a fairly standard recipe for a James McNair California-style pizza crust and not at all scary to make;
- Just dissolve 1 packet of yeast in 1 cup warm water. (Run the warm water against your wrist – if it feels like it’s pleasant but not quite hot enough for a bath, it’s probably perfect. Alternately, you can use a thermometer to test and make sure it’s about 100 degrees F).
- Stir and set that aside. After several minutes you may see bubbles – congratulations – your yeast are alive!
- Measure out 3 cups flour in a mixing bowl, add 1 tsp of salt, and stir.
- Add the yeast water and 1/4 cup olive oil, stir a several times until it becomes a doughball, and then knead for 5 minutes or so until it has a nice elastic consistency.
- Put the dough ball in a bowl with greased sides, cover, and let rise in a warm place for a few hours.
- When you’re ready, punch down the dough and otherwise cut into 8 pieces. THINLY roll out each piece – that French rolling pin gives you the thinnest, most uniform crust. Each pie will be dinner-plate sized.
- If you would like more detailed instruction on the kneading and rising process, click here for James McNair’s instructions.
All you do now is preheat your barbecue and the Calphalon griddles to the 500 degrees. Flour a pizza peel, slide a crust onto it, top the pie, carry it out to the grill, and carefully slide it onto the griddle. This last bit has the potential of being an awkward 2-person job involving tongs and a metal spatula, especially if you go overboard on the toppings.
Cover the grill. Cook for 3 minutes or so then peek at the underside of the crust to track its progress. Usually they are done in 5 minutes.
Slide back on the pizza peel, slice, and serve!
My pizzaiola sauce: To 1 cup Pomi tomato sauce, add 1 tsp dried oregano, 2-3 dashes of salt, and a bit of freshly ground pepper. I don’t care for any brand of pre-made pizza sauce; I just like the brightness of the Pomi tomatoes with oregano.
Click here to read my post “Perfect Pizza Topping Combinations,” a compendium of recipes for and photos of our favorite flavor-filled toppings.