Monday, July 12, 2010

Grilled pizza that actually tastes good

Grilled pizza is an unavoidable summer phenomenon.  In theory, it makes perfect sense.  Pizza is fun, casual, and a good vehicle for the lovely summer produce.  Running the oven at 500F for an hour in the summer sounds like hell.  Why not grill?  There is no cooking method more beloved by us Americans than grilling, and we feel that everything from steak to pineapple is better when it's cooked over exposed flames.

The problem is that I've never had a good grilled pizza -- not in a restaurant, not at home.  What you usually end up with is burnt bottom, semi-cooked dough, and lukewarm toppings.  Could I find a way to make this summer classic actually taste good?  Yikes, I sound like Cook's Illustrated.

There is nothing like a broken oven to make you try, and after a few attempts, I got pizza as good as the one from the oven. I used my favorite pizza dough recipe from Rose Beranbaum's The Bread Bible.  I follow her recipe for the dough, but I changed the oven baking procedure from the original recipe and use a variation on it for the grill as well.  I agree with Beranbaum about annoying grittiness of cornmeal or semolina.  To avoid this, she uses a pizza pan.  I don't have one, and found that parchment paper works really well instead.  For the grill, I replace parchment paper with foil.

Problem #1: Burnt bottom
The solution to the burnt bottom was to drop the heat.  A lot.  If you've ever made a good pizza in the oven, you know that you need to crank the heat to as high as possible and use a pizza stone for a boost of heat.  But oven heat is indirect, which is much more gentle than direct heat of the grill or stove top.  Think about it this way.  If you were to touch boiling water (212F) for 5 seconds, you'd get a very serious burn.  Kids, don't try that at home.  But if you were to stick your hand into 212F oven for even 15 seconds, you'd feel warm and cozy and emerge completely unharmed.  That's because a liquid or an object transfers heat a lot faster than air.  I tried every temperature setting on my gas Weber grill and only the lowest gave me good results -- fabulously crisp crust that wasn't burnt.

Problem #2: Undercooked top
The other problem was that the grill cooking was not nearly as even as oven cooking.  I got a lot of heat from the bottom, but very little on top of the pizza.  By the time the bottom was in good shape, the top was still way too pale.  To solve this problem, I had to grill the dough on both sides before topping the pizza.

Just like with toppings for any pizza, remember that less is more.  Cut everything very thin and don't overload your pie.  The one in the picture uses caramelized onions as the "sauce," and has some thinly sliced fresh tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella.

Here is the grilling procedure in detail

Make the pizza dough and let it rise until doubled.  You can do it up to 3 days in advance and keep it in the fridge.

Lay a piece of foil on a rimless cookie sheet (or inverted shallow baking sheet). Get the dough out of the cup with an oiled hand. With the other hand, pour the oil remaining in the cup onto the foil. Spread it around with your free hand in a large circle (10 inches in diameter). Place the dough on the oiled foil and press it down gently with your hands to deflate it and form it into a disk 5 inches in diameter. With oiled palms of your hands, gently stretch the pizza dough into a circle 10-11 inches in diameter. It should be very thin, but be careful not to rip it. If it does rip, however, don't panic. Just smoosh it back together where it rips.  Don't worry if it's not round.  Oval pizza tastes just as good.  Soak up excess oil that ends up on the foil next to the edges of pizza.

Preheat the grill to low and have your toppings ready.  Slide the foil with dough onto the grill, cover and cook until just a hint of browning develops, about 90 seconds.

Flip the foil with dough so that the dough touches the grill directly.  It will be easy because the dough should get conveniently stuck to the foil at this point.  Cover the grill and cook 1-2 minutes or until you see golden brown grill marks.

Flip the whole thing again so that the dough is sitting on the foil again.  Add your sauce and toppings.  Cover the grill and cook until the bottom is crisp and brown and the cheese is melted, 4-6 minutes.

Slide the foil back onto the cookie sheet and let sit for a minute.  Carefully, lift the pizza of the foil and onto a cutting board.  It might stick to foil a little, but if you lift one corner of dough, you will be able to peel the foil from under the pizza.  Serve immediately.


Anonymous said...

Hi Helen,

Sounds great, do you need to oil the grill as well to prevent the dough from sticking?


Helen said...

oiling the grill won't hurt, but there is no need. As soon as the dough brown slightly, the grill will let go of it. it's a funny thing, but doughs don't stick the way proteins do.

michigan salmon charter said...

I saw couple grilled pizza recipe before. Acually, they looked excelent, I just haven't tried yet to talk about the taste. And it is amazing the fact that we even don't HAVE to oil the grill. Thanks

Cyn said...

I like the idea of using the grill instead of running the oven on hot days.
I was thinking of preheating my pizza stone in the grill, but your method sounds even easier.