“As American as apple pie” is often heard to convey our deep and abiding affection for a bakery staple that is symbolic of everything entwined with our national identity and patriotic pride.
But as history proves, apple pie isn’t originally American at all. And given the run of popularity, we could just as easily claim that another import tugs at Americans heart strings and palates: “As American as pizza pie.”
Do we love pizza? Obsessed is probably a better way to put it.
According to the USDA, Americans spend $37 billion on pizza each year, or about 1/3 of worldwide pizza expenditures, consuming 100 acres of pizza every day for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks.
Yet despite our love of consuming the pie, very little gets made at home and even less is made on the grill.
Making grilled pizza is relatively simple, inexpensive, and yields a delectable pie with unique flavors and unlimited possibilities for toppings that rivals even the best and most inventive parlor-made creation.
Great dough makes great pizza. Of course, you can make it from scratch in about 20 minutes, plus the time for rising. Here’s a great pizza dough recipe from grilling master extraordinaire, Bobby Flay.
Or if you’re more of a visual learner, watch our friend Troy of “T-Roy Cooks” make some in this step-by-step video recipe:
And if you are not the D.I.Y. type, there are plenty of shortcuts available to you, including buying fresh or frozen dough from a pizzeria, bakery, or supermarket. Now that the labor is eliminated, you are ready to hit the ground running in even less time.
Other ready-to-go alternatives to raw dough include store-bought flatbread, pita, tortilla, or pre-formed, semi-baked packaged pizza crusts.
When making grilled pizza, there’s no such thing as limited choices. Sure, you can use the best of the popular pizzeria options such as pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, onions, peppers, etc. But when you are making your own pizza anything goes. Your choices for toppings are only restricted by your imagination, budget, and what’s in your pantry.
Preparation Advice: Most vegetable and cured meat toppings can go on raw. Meat, seafood, and hard vegetable toppings should be par-cooked before putting on the pie. Grilling a pizza takes a relatively short time—5 to 10 minutes—once the toppings go on and the pizza hits the fire.
While most traditional pizzas have a red-sauce base, other options range from olive oil to barbecue sauce, pesto, spice blends—anything you want.
Here’s Troy again grilling a couple of non-traditional pizzas on his ceramic cooker. When Troy makes a pizza there’s not a speck of red sauce or pepperoni in sight.
Beef Taco Pizza
Chicken BBQ Pizza
If you want to go the traditional red-sauce route, here’s a basic, all-purpose one:
Recipe: Pizza Red Sauce
- 1 (28 oz.) can whole, peeled San Marzano plum tomatoes
- 4-5 large garlic cloves
- 1 small onion diced
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano, or 2 tablespoons fresh oregano
- 2 tablespoons good quality basil pesto, or 4 tablespoons fresh basil
- Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
- Combine the tomatoes and garlic in a blender and puree.
- In a medium sauce pan, heat the oil and sauté the onion until translucent.
- Add the tomato-garlic puree and remaining ingredients over medium-high heat.
- Bring just to a boil and reduce heat to medium or medium-low and simmer gently for 30-45 minutes, stirring occasionally until thickened.
The Fire Source
There are slightly different techniques depending on whether you are using a gas or charcoal grill or a ceramic cooker.
Advantages of using a gas grill include convenience and speed. If you want to add a smoky essence to your favorite crust, you can always use a wood chip box.
When using a charcoal grill or ceramic cooker, use a combination of briquettes and hardwood lump charcoal. This will give you a hot fire that will last for a long while. Add wood chips or wood chunks—pecan is a great choice—to infuse your crust with a smoky flavor and an attractive golden-brown hue.
Overall, for the sake of simplicity, convenience, and consistent results, using a ceramic pizza stone is the best device for creating an indirect heat source. It really gives you more control than trying to wrangle a direct-heat fire.
A pizza stone is a must and can be used by lying it on top of the grill grid.
Ceramic cookers come with a ceramic plate that acts as a heat diffuser to create a convection oven effect and is an ideal pizza stone.
If you happen to have a Weber 22.5-inch charcoal kettle or a Spirit gas grill, you can purchase a special grill grid that has a circular center cut out that fits a 12-inch pizza stone in a metal holder. The cut out allows the pizza stone to fit exactly over a direct fire to create a convection effect.
Be sure to allow the pizza stone to pre-heat on the fire for 15-20 minutes.
A metal pizza peel is essential to form the pizza and move it on and off the fire.
As far as temperature goes, you want to maintain a running temperature of at least 500°F and up to 600°F. The point is you want a hot indirect fire so the crust cooks in about 5 to 10 minutes. At a lower temperature, the crust will become hard, instead of crisp.
For each pizza when using fresh dough, cut a piece about the size of a softball and allow it to rise at room temperature. Sprinkle the peel liberally with corn meal or semolina flour to make it easy to slide the pizza on to the pizza stone. Once risen, punch the dough down and then roll it out or use your hands to press the dough on the pizza peel into shape—about 8 to 12 inches in diameter, depending on your preference for thin or thick crust.
Slide the formed pizza onto the heated pizza stone and let it bake for 5-8 minutes, checking the bottom for burning. If using whole-wheat dough, allow an additional 2-3 minutes.
Remove the pizza with the peel, turning it baked side up. Add the sauce base and toppings leaving about ½-inch edge. Then slide back on to the pizza stone and let it bake for 5-10 minutes (until the cheese melts), again, checking to make sure it does not burn.
If using one of the no-bake pizza crust alternatives, simply warm the pita, tortilla, etc. for a couple of minutes on the pizza stone. Then follow the same steps as for using fresh dough.
Have you ever tried making grilled pizza? What are your favorite topping combinations? What is your favorite non-traditional pizza topping?