Taste grilled pizza and you'll be a convert

Pizzas on the grill - sausage and sundried tomato in front and artichoke, mushroom and basil - are simply delicious! BY JACK CLEMONS
June 4, 2012

With temperatures in the 80s and a houseful of guests to feed, we turned to our outdoor grill as the preferred cooking location: barbecued ribs, cheeseburgers and hot dogs for our Memorial Day celebration and (my favorite) grilled pizza for lunch.

If you weren’t surprised at the idea of grilling pizza, you may already know the smoke and high heat of a charcoal grill is a reasonable facsimile of the wood-burning oven at your favorite pizza parlor. The keys to success are easy to accomplish at home: preparation, timing and a scrupulously clean grate (unless you’re trying to add flavors from a previous meal).

Once the grill is cleared of any burned bits and charcoal crumbs, brush it liberally with canola oil or give it a generous coating of cooking spray. Although some recipes suggest using flavored oil for this step, it’s not a wise use of an expensive infusion. Set the grate aside while you prepare the charcoal, arranging the coals so that a portion of the grill will stay unheated, giving you a place to move the crust when you add toppings. Although a kettle grill or hibachi is preferable for this grilling job, our portable gas grill was fine.

The next bit of preparation is to find a work surface as close to the grill as possible. Have your spatula, olive oil, silicon brush and various toppings arranged conveniently at hand. When selecting toppings, the notion of “less is more” certainly applies. When multiple ingredients are layered on too thickly, the dough will burn before the cheese can melt. With some ingredients - mushrooms and onions, for example - the flavor can be enhanced if you first sauté them, instead of using raw slices. To make it easy to start with tomato sauce as the first layer, have a ladle handy to scoop up the sauce and smooth it around the surface of the dough.

Either premade pizza dough (sold at the grocery packaged in a blue tube) or pizza crust mix will work for this dish. If you opt to make your own dough, be sure to use all-purpose, unbleached flour, which has the right amount of gluten to create appropriately elastic dough. Use your hands instead of a rolling pin to form the shape and size that fits your grill (or smaller if you prefer to make multiples). The irregularities in the surface and gentle handling will help create a crisp, chewy texture.

Now that you have the dough flattened to about three-eighths of an inch thick, brush one side with olive oil and place it on the hot grill, oil side down. As it cooks for about two or three minutes, it will become puffy on top and nicely browned on the bottom. Slide it over to the cool side of the grill and brush the raw side with olive oil. Turn over the crust, arrange your toppings and place it back on the hot grill, topping side up. It should take another three minutes or so to cook the bottom and melt the cheese.

Since I was using a single-burner gas grill, there wasn’t any cool section of grate to use at this point. I had a cookie sheet coated with nonstick spray and a dusting of cornmeal at the ready, sliding the half-baked crust onto it to add the toppings. The dough seemed to be cooking more quickly than I expected, so once the pizza was back to grill the second side, I turned off the gas and closed the lid, resulting in a perfectly browned crust and melted cheese. As with many recipes, you may need to experiment to find the technique that works best for your equipment.

Tomato sauce
Sliced tomatoes
Sun-dried tomato slivers
Italian sausage (casings removed and sautéed)
Crumbled ground beef (cooked and drained)
Meatball slices
Thinly sliced mushrooms (sautéed or raw)
Caramelized onions
Sliced black olives
Prosciutto and pineapple chunks
Quartered artichoke hearts
Roasted red pepper
Pepperoni slices
Feta cheese
Goat cheese
Asiago cheese
Swiss cheese
Mozzarella cheese
Fresh or dried herbs

Once you’ve tasted grilled pizza, you’ll likely agree it’s much better than anything that comes out of a conventional oven. In the photo, one pizza combined crumbled Italian sausage, caramelized onion, sun-dried tomato and mozzarella cheese; the vegetarian pizza was topped with chopped artichoke, mushrooms, basil and shredded Parmesan cheese.

Next time we grill pizza, I plan to follow advice from our neighbor, Bob LaMorte. No matter what else he adds, the cheese is one-half shredded Swiss and the other half mozzarella, adding a slightly nutty flavor and richness to the melted topping.

I’ve given you a recipe that describes the basic technique; now all you need to do is pick your toppings and fire up the grill.

Grilled Pizza
dough for 1 pizza
olive oil

Ready a grill with hot coals or heat a gas grill to high.

Divide dough in half and, using your hands, gently stretch the dough until about 3/8-inch thick. Brush olive oil on one side of each piece of dough.

Place them on the grill (one at a time, if not enough space) and cook for about 3 minutes. Remove to a cool place and coat the uncooked top with olive oil. Turn over the crust and add toppings, as desired.

Return to the grill and cook until cheese is melted, about 3 to 4 minutes. If using a gas grill, reduce heat to medium or low and cover when cooking toppings.