How to Make Grilled Pizza

If you’ve never made grilled pizza before, let me say two words: Pizza Heaven!

Some people are apparently afraid that the dough will fall through the grill or stick to it, but the heat will dry the dough and cook it in a matter of minutes, so that is not a problem. But grilling pizza also adds a scrumptious smoky flavor and crispiness that you cannot get any other way. (Except maybe if you have your own wood burning pizza oven or something similar…?)

You can get a pretty good crust using a pizza stone in your oven, but you won’t get the char-grilled flavor. And in case you’re wondering, YES, it’s worth it!!!

I had a dinner party recently, and the goal was do-it-yourself grilled pizzas. I intended to have the dough circles grilled on one side, then let people add toppings as they wanted, then grill them to finish.

That worked okay, except that all the pizzas kind of got mixed up, and everyone ended up sharing everything, which was fine, since it was all vegetarian. One guest was not eating dairy, so she had to be sure to not eat those pizzas made with cheese, but there was lots of variety.

I set out something like 17 different topping choices, including two sauces: Vegan Ranch Dressing and a typical tomato-based pizza sauce. There was the shredded mozzarella cheese, but everything else was vegan and had no dairy or eggs.

The toppings buffet had:

    Caramelized onions
    Sweet peppers
    Grilled sweet peppers
    Grated carrots
    Black olives
    Kalamata Olives
    Sundried tomatoes
    Basil–add after cooking is done
    Artichoke hearts
    Zucchini (sliced with a mandolin)
    Asparagus (very thinly sliced on a diagonal)

It took about 2.5 hours to make two batches of dough into pizzas. We ended up with about 20 small pizzas, about 6 inches across. That was enough for 7 people, with a small amount left over.

We also did grilled corn on the cob for appetizers. And what about dessert? I kept it light.

We had a selection of 7 different sorbets, sherbets and ice creams from my upcoming vegan ice cream cookbook, The New Scoop: Recipes for Dairy Free, Vegan Ice Cream in Unusual Flavors (Plus Some Old Favorites).

How to Grill Pizza

Here are step-by-step directions for tackling this somewhat daunting task. But wait until you taste the results!

1. Get your grill going
Start your fire or turn on your grill to let the heat come up while you roll out the dough.

2. Shape your dough
One batch of dough will make about 6 to 8 individual-sized pizzas. I tried 3 different vegan pizza dough recipes. One for a cornmeal crust, one that I’ve used before (it’s a roll recipe), and one no-knead, overnight dough that fermented in the refrigerator for better flavor. (See this pizza dough post for more info on the dough recipes.)

Divide each ball of dough into 6 or 8 pieces. Roll or stretch each one out and stack them between pieces of waxed paper, so they are all ready to go.

Smaller pizzas are easier to work with, you can fit more of them on a grill, and they will cook faster. Besides, they are so cute!

3. Grill the first side of your dough
When the grill is hot, place the dough rounds on the grill, using a pizza peel or the back of a cookie sheet. (See below for more info.)

Close the grill cover and let cook for about 2 minutes, depending on how hot the grill is. You want to cook one side so it gets some browning or even some charring, but you don’t really want to burn it.

What’s the difference? Well, to me, charred has some nice, crusty texture and smoky flavor. Burned is just bitter and overpowering. Some people don’t mind the very-well-charred flavor, though…

The dough will likely puff up in some places. Take a peek at the underside, and if you see that one area is not browning as much, because of a cooler spot, rotate the dough so it cooks fairly evenly.

4. Remove the half-done doughs
Once the underside of the dough is done, remove it from the grill and flip it onto a peel or the back of a cookie sheet, or onto a plate, with the cooked side up. You will apply your toppings to the cooked side. Otherwise, the dough will still be raw in the middle.

5. Top your pizza.
Spread some sauce (not too much) and sprinkle on a few toppings. Less is more here, because too much will end up with a mound in the center, and they will never heat up.

6. Cook the other side and warm the toppings
Place the topped pizza back onto the grill and close the grill cover. You are trying to circulate air above the pizza, so that the toppings warm up and the cheese melts (if you are using cheese), without burning the bottom.

This is the trickiest part of the whole ordeal. The thing that works the best is to wait until you have older coals on the fire, so that it gets hot, but not so horribly hot, inside the grill.

Another thing that worked well was using a double layer of foil over half the grill rack. That reduces the heat and dissipates it more evenly, so that the toppings can warm up, and the crust browns more slowly.

I also tried using a pizza stone. Actually, it’s two small unglazed ceramic tiles from a flooring store. They are smaller and fit better. I placed those on the same half of the grill as the foil was, on the rack above it. That worked well too.

You might also try placing a cover (like a large, domed cover for a wok) over the pizza, to get the air to circulate. I haven’t tried this yet.

7. Watch closely
Check the pizza and move it around as needed, to get the right amount of cooking without burning. You want the bottom crust to be browned or charred, and the toppings to at least get warmed.

8. Enjoy
Remove your pizza from the grill, cut it and serve. Enjoy a little slice of Heaven on Earth.

How to use a Pizza Peel

If you do not have a pizza peel, one of those large, thin, paddle-shaped wooden boards with a long handle, do not worry. You can use the back of a cookie sheet, or the bottom of a baking pan, in the same way, to get the dough onto the grill.

To get the dough onto the grill, make sure you have enough cornmeal or flour on the peel so the dough doesn’t stick to it. You can tell if you have enough by jiggling it back and forth gently. The dough should slide freely.

Position the dough near the edge of the peel/pan. Place that where you want the back end of the dough to be on the grill. Shake the sheet and tilt it downwards slightly so the edge of the dough starts to contact the grill.

Pull the peel or sheet toward you with a quick, jerking motion, like the way magicians pull a tablecloth away from a table. That will keep the dough flat and not fold over onto itself, making a mess on the grill.

To get the dough off the grill
, slide the peel under the finished dough. Then lift it slowly and carefully, so that it doesn’t fall off the end of the board.

You won’t be able to do this with a cookie sheet, so have a heat-proof spatula or other tool to use instead.

Pizza Grilling Tips and Tricks

–Be sure to chop or slice everything very thinly, so they can cook quickly, although they don’t really cook very much, just get kind of warm.

–Have your sauces at room temperature or warm, so they don’t cool the pizza down when you add them to the dough circle.

–Set up the toppings and sauces like a buffet, all in one place, with lots of room to move. When I did this the second night, I put individual toppings into muffin tins.

–Work quickly. By the time you smell the burnt crust, it’s already burnt.

–If you have the space, set up the toppings right near the grill. In the time it will take you to run back to the house to put toppings on, your other crust can burn.

–You can try doing an assembly line, grilling the first side of the dough on one half of the grill, and then placing the topped pizzas on the half with the foil or pizza stone. This allows you to get two different temperature zones.

On the other hand, by the time you’ve grilled the first side of all the doughs, the grill may be at a nice temperature so that you won’t need foil or stones. After you’ve tried this a bit, you’ll learn what works with your grill and situation.

–Have help. I had two people working the grill, one rolling dough, 4 doing toppings, and me running back and forth.

–Use lots of flour or cornmeal on the peel or cookie sheet so the dough does not stick, especially for the first grilling of the raw dough. Nothing slows the flow down like having the dough flop onto the grill into a folded, sticky mess.

–If you are using a pizza stone or tiles, place them in the grill when it is cold. They need to come up to temperature slowly, or they may crack.

–Move your coals around often, to even out the heat or to raise the temperature every now and then.

–If all else fails, you can finish the pizzas in your oven inside the house.

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