Knowing how to grill pizza at home is something that we believe should be a birthright. Alas, it’s not. So we asked bread baker and pizza aficionado Andrew Janjigian to explain how to do it, without a pizza stone, on a gas or charcoal grill.
Grilled pizza is a relatively recent invention, and an American one at that: it was created some 30 years ago by Joanne Killeen and George Germon at Al Forno, the great Italian restaurant in Providence, Rhode Island, where it remains on the menu to this day. As the story goes, they heard a story about a “grilled” pizza that one of his fish suppliers had eaten in Florence. When Germon asked him to describe the way it had been prepared, it turned out that the fish supplier had misspoke. The pizza had actually been baked in a wood-fired beehive oven like any other Italian pizza. But the idea stuck with Germon and Killeen just the same, so they decided to try grilling pizza over a charcoal fire to see what would happen. It was a hit and a new dish was born.
☞ MAKE THE RECIPE: GRILLED PIZZA WITH SUMMER TOMATO SAUCE
While grilled pizza retains many of the characteristics of other thin-crust pizzas, what I love about it is the ways in which it stands alone: its delicate, light-as-air crispness, a mandatory modest amount of toppings owing to the crust’s lightness, and that hint of smoky flavor (something that even most wood-fired pizzas lack, since they’re baked at temperatures at which no smoke is produced).
The ideal pizza dough for grilling
My dough recipe for pizza on the grill remains true to the one created by Killeen and Germon and published in their classic cookbook, Cucina Simpatica, with a few personal modifications. As with their recipe, mine includes a small amount of whole grain flour for flavor and texture, along with some white cornmeal for additional crunch. (They call for white flint cornmeal, which is a Rhode Island-grown product best known for its use in johnnycakes, but any sort of cornmeal will do.)
Where my pizza dough deviates is that I proof the dough in the fridge, which develops additional flavor and allows the dough balls to relax, making them exceedingly easy to stretch. It’s also convenient, since you can make the dough on one day and grill your pizza 24 to 48 hours later.
I also call for bread flour rather than all-purpose, which I find makes the crust even crisper, thanks to the additional gluten-forming proteins it contains. While this dough would make an excellent pizza no matter how it is baked, it’s ideally suited for grilling, where the goal is an easily-stretched but not overly fragile dough that bakes up tender on the inside and crisp without.
Cooking pizza dough on a grill
While stretching most other styles of pizza dough takes some practice to really master, grilled pizza is comparatively easy: you place the ball of dough onto an oiled sheet pan and gently smoosh it around beneath your hands. It’s a little messy, as I explain in my recipe, so you’ll need to keep a clean towel at hand to wipe your hands after doing the stretching. The coating of oil not only helps make the dough easy to stretch thinly, it helps conduct heat to the crust as it cooks, which gives it a crackling crisp, quasi-fried texture.
What does take a little practice is getting the dough from your baking sheet to the grill, but even that’s easy to understand after a few tries. The trick is to bring the sheet pan as close to the grill as possible and to use a single, swift motion as you deftly lift and transfer the dough to the grill grate. You want to use gravity to help stretch the dough out to its final dimensions, but not let it act on the dough too long. The good news is that all grilled pizzas are irregularly shaped, and even the most wonky-looking one is bound to be delicious.
Grilled pizza toppings
As for toppings for pizza on the grill, I’ve only presented one basic formula in my recipe, a “Margarita” that uses fresh mozzarella, Pecorino or Parmesan, fresh tomato sauce, basil, and scallions (an Al Forno signature move). You can and should use it as a template for variations of your own, keeping a few guidelines in mind.
Tips for the best grilled pizza
One: you should try to use similar amounts of toppings as I do, so as not to overload the pies. And two: because the pizzas cook in a flash, you need to opt for ingredients that are equally tasty (and edible) whether piping hot or just warmed through (no raw sausage, for example), or are already cooked (such as crumbled, pre-cooked sausage).
Grilled pizza being primarily a summer dish, it’s an ideal opportunity to flaunt your garden or farmer’s market bounty.