Three easy steps to make a perfect pizza in your own backyard.
If you think you need to invest thousands of dollars in an open-hearth oven just to enjoy the experience of making pizza in your backyard, it’s time to fire up the grill.
That’s right, a backyard grill — gas or charcoal — can produce a perfectly charred crust and bubbling toppings, and chances are you already own one.
No, you won’t have dough dripping through the grates and turning into burnt toast. But you will end up with a great crust with a flavorful hint of smokiness, all without turning on the oven and heating up your kitchen in the summer.
To get started, make or buy some pizza dough. There are recipes included below.
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Roll out dough on a surface liberally dusted with cornmeal and flour to prevent it from sticking. You can use your hands to stretch the dough or a rolling pin. You want to achieve roughly a 12-inch circle of dough. Remember this is artisan pizza, so it doesn’t need to be perfectly round. You can shape it to best fit your grilling space.
Brush the crust with olive oil on both sides.
Make sure the grill grates are clean and well-oiled. Heat a gas grill on high for 15 minutes. For a charcoal fire, make sure the lighted briquettes have turned white-hot in color.
When trying out different methods, one that proved most helpful was “The 1-2-3 Technique for Grilled Pizza” from the book “Pizza on the Grill: 100 Feisty Fire-Roasted Recipes for Pizza & More” by Elizabeth Karmel and Bob Blumer (Taunton Press, 2008).
Their technique requires a grill that has both direct heat (over the flames) and indirect heat (off the flames). On a gas grill, that means turning off one burner or one side of the grill. If using a charcoal grill, it is important to align the briquettes on one side of the grill, so that there is a side free for indirect-heat grilling.
Then, Karmel and Blumer’s process is as simple as one-two-three:
Step One: After preheating, set the temperature to medium and use your hands or a peel to set the dough directly on the grates over direct heat. (If using a charcoal grill, place the dough on the indirect heat side to avoid scorching it.) Close the lid and grill for about three minutes, until the bottom is golden brown. Resist the urge to peek inside the grill at this point. However, if you do, you may notice the crust puffing up high. This is fine; it will deflate as it bakes and when removed from the heat.
Step Two: Use a pizza peel and tongs to remove the crust. Flip it over so the uncooked side is facing down on the peel, again well-dusted with some cornmeal. Place sauce and toppings of your choice on the grilled side.
Step Three: Place the pizza back on the grill, over indirect heat. Close the lid and let it bake for 7 to 10 minutes until the bottom is golden brown, and the cheese melted and bubbly.
Our experiments showed that the crust was easiest to shape and work with when the dough was a bit colder to start. Working outside in midday sunshine and heat, the dough became more difficult to handle as it got warmer and softer.
It’s also a good idea to have all of the toppings prepped and ready to top the hot crust when it comes off the grill, so that it can get back on the grill quickly without sticking to the peel.
Here is a basic dough recipe to get started. When it comes to toppings, you are limited only by your imagination.
Basic Pizza Dough (Handmade)
Makes enough dough for 2 crusts.
1 cup lukewarm water, plus extra as needed
¼ cup olive oil, plus extra for oiling the bowl
1 teaspoon sugar or honey
1 package active dry yeast
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra as needed
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1. Place the water, oil and sugar in a large bowl. Sprinkle the yeast on top and let sit until foamy, about 5 minutes.
2. In a medium bowl, combine the flour and salt. Add to the water mixture, ½ cup at a time, until well incorporated. If the dough is stiff, add more water. If it is very sticky, add extra flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough is soft and slightly sticky. Continue to mix until it feels elastic.
3. Turn the dough out onto a well-floured work surface. Knead for about 1 minute, until just smooth and easy to work with, adding extra flour to the surface as necessary to prevent the dough from sticking. Do not overwork the dough or it will be tough.
4. Place the dough in a clean, oiled bowl. Turn it several times to coat all over with the oil, then drizzle the top of the dough with a little more oil. Cover tightly in plastic wrap, place in a warm spot, and let rise until it more than doubles in volume, about 1 hour.
5. Punch the dough down and knead on a lightly floured surface for 1 to 2 minutes, until smooth. Divide into two equal-size balls and proceed with your pizza making. (The dough may be made ahead, frozen for up to a month, and thawed at room temperature before using.)
“Pizza on the Grill: 100 Feisty Fire-Roasted Recipes for Pizza & More,” Elizabeth Karmel and Bob Blumer