This Fourth of July weekend, backyard gourmets across America will be grilling burgers, hot dogs, and, if they're ambitious, maybe some ribs. But the true backyard BBQ frontier lies with pizza.
"What is fun about grilling pizza is that you can play with what you're already grilling," says Mark Bello, owner of Pizza a Casa cooking school, which teaches New Yorkers how to make their own pizza. "Barbecued chicken, grilled sausage, grilled eggplant — cook them first and put them on your pizza after, that's going to be amazing."
Cooking pizzas on a grill isn't complicated, but it will take some practice to get right. Note that you can either cook on a pizza stone — a ceramic slab that retains heat and wicks away moisture — or place your pizza directly on the grill. While you don't really need any extra equipment, a wooden pizza peel and some pizza pans are not a bad idea.
Here, a step-by-step process to help you become a backyard pizza grillmaster.
1. Stretch the dough
You can either make the pizza dough yourself (as explained in Bello's DIY Pizza Pie app) or buy it pre-made, preferably from a local pizzeria, although many supermarkets carry it as well.
Stretching dough is actually a lot less intimidating than it seems. Here, Amanda Hesser of Food52 breaks it down in simple terms (although when grilling pizza, you'll want to cook it for awhile before dressing it with ingredients):
One piece of advice from Bello: Do not use a rolling pin. That will leave your pizza crust way too thin and cracker-like.
2. Throw the dough on the grill
Think of Johnny Cash's Ring of Fire when prepping your grill. Why? Because with charcoal, you want to arrange the coals in a ring and place your pizza in the middle of it. Avoid direct heat.
This will prevent the bottom of the pizza from becoming overly charred. If you own a gas grill, crank up the side burners but leave the ones below the pizza on low. If you're using a pizza stone, you'll want to pre-heat it for awhile before throwing your pizza on top of it.
It can be difficult to tell how hot a grill is, making estimating cooking time an inexact science. Bello recommends watching until the crust begins to bubble up and — if not using a pizza stone — waiting until grill lines appear in your dough, about 1-3 minutes.
For added smokiness, you can use wood chips instead of charcoal or simply throw some in with the coals.
3. Flip and dress it
Remove your pizza and place it, cooked side up, on a wooden cutting board dusted with semolina or corn flour. Now it's time to cover your pizza with delicious things.
"Less is more," says Bello. "If you overload the pizza, it doesn't cook and it compromises the crispiness of your crust." For a 12- or 14-inch pie, Bello recommends three ounces of sauce and three ounces of cheese (mozzarella is always a good choice).
The dough is going to cook faster than any ingredients you put on your pizza. That's why it's best to pre-cook your toppings. Grill and prepare your meat and vegetables beforehand, set them out near your grill, and have them ready to go at a moment’s notice.
4. Finish it on the grill
Slide your pizza back onto the grill and close the lid. Resist the temptation to constantly check it; you want a tight seal so convection can do its thing and cook the toppings.
How long should you let it sit there? Again, with a grill, it’s tough to determine cooking time, especially when you throw toppings into the equation. Bello's advice on how long to cook your pizza: "Until it's done."
Advanced tip: Bello likes to finish off his pizzas with a chef's blowtorch. This is a great way to make sure your pizza is evenly cooked, plus it looks cool. Just be sure to use it away from the open grill...