The trick is to smoke the meat and not make the meat smoke
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Pizza Perfection

First Image
This past week has been a real busy one for me at the grill and to a lesser extent at the oven. This blog and the next several will cover some cool tools and new books that seem to be improving what I make. This entry will talk about some steps forward I’ve made with my grilled pizzas. You can tell I’ve busy as I have been wanting to write this entry for nearly a week. But busy cooking things is a good kind of busy to be, so no complaints from me.

“Second“Third

I broke in the dough hooks for my Kitchen Aid Hand mixer by making some Kaiser rolls. While I used these for a ham and provolone sandwich, future batches will serve as hamburger rolls and for my homemade pastrami.


The dough hooks for my new Kitchen Aid hand mixer arrived on Thursday and I decided to celebrate by making some Kaiser rolls. Now what does this have to do with grilling and smoking you ask? Well some of the burgers I’ve made call for the buns to be Kaiser rolls. Also I’ve been known to brine my own pastrami. What better to serve your own grilled or smoked food on than home made rolls. Using a hand mixer for the dough made it almost effortless and it had a real nice rise to it. Making the rolls involved using a stamp to get the typical radial creases on the top. I need to work on this technique some more because pre-stamping the pattern before the rise didn’t work. I had to stamp them again before they went in the oven. But in general I was pleased with the effort and feel confident with a little tweaking I’ll think nothing of whipping up some Kaiser rolls when I need them.

“Fourth

I spotted this book while at Williams-Sonoma and it proved to be the source for an excellent grilled pizza crust.


The next item on my agenda was going to be some grilled pizza when my parents came over on Saturday. As usual I went out to do my food shopping early Saturday morning. I also planned to run to Williams-Sonoma to pick up a stainless steel wire mesh roasting pan for the grill, which had been the subject of an email earlier in the week. Everyone I showed the pictures from the email to thought it looked great and I was looking forward to adding it to my grill tools. I’ve mentioned I wanted to do more veggies this summer. This pan allows you to grill a roast and veggies all in the same pan. While at the store two other items caught my eye and came home with me. The first was another S/S mesh grill pan. This one was more like a large lidded sautée pan. The lid was removable if you wanted, but also could be locked down into place to aid in tossing the contents of the pan. The second item was a book specifically on grilled pizza: called
Grilled Pizzas & Piadinas by Craig Priebe and Diane Jacob. This book went into the techniques for grilled pizza in depth and had tasty looking recipes.

“Fifth

The new hand mixer is outfitted with its dough hooks and it was time to make my first batch or dedicated grilled pizza dough.


I got home from my shopping trip just before it was time to start making my pizza dough. On a whim I looked to see what this new books dough recipe entailed in terms of time, experience and ingredients. The time was the same as the one I planned to make, it wasn’t rocket science and I had all of the ingredients on hand. So I switched to Plan B, which was this dough which had been tried and tested for grilled pizza. In addition to all-purpose flour, it used whole wheat flour and corn meal. This made it crispy and would give it a different taste than what I’d made up until this time. So I mixed the dough, once again with the new hand mixer, and set it aside in a dough doubling pail in the fridge to let it rise. I’d made my own pizza dough about a week ago (See blog entry
GRILLED PIZZA FRIDAY) and again the following Monday as a dry run before making it for my parents. At this point I felt I had several things down with my grilled pizza: I had the temperature down, the grilling method down, the type of sauce & cheese I wanted to use was set. The things I needed to work on were: the amount of toppings on my “meat-lovers” style pizza, making the pizza dough a little thinner, and not letting the bottom brown too much.

“Sixth“Seventh

The dough had a bit of a different texture and color but had a nice rise in an hours time.


Out of the 3 things I needed to improve the thickness of the pizza dough. This was just something I wanted to try out, but was not mandatory. However this new pizza crust I was trying appeared to address this for me, in that it made two 12” (30 cm) diameter by 1/8” (1.5 mm) thick crusts. This was thinner than what I’d made in the past by 2 to 3 times. The other two items were related to one another. The reason I had to be concerned about letting the bottom brown too much is that I’d gone heavy on the toppings on the last “meatlovers” I’d made. I’d browned up the insides of two sweet Italian sausages to add more flavor. Though this meant I was using more meat than before, I still used the same amount of other toppings. This made for a pizza loaded with great toppings, but which needed more than double the amount of time to cook. I’d cooked the crust for 5 minutes under medium low direct heat as usual, flipped and topped it on the indirect side of the grill and pulled it back over for another 5 minute of direct cooking. At this point the 5 minutes of cooking both sides of the crust left me with some nice grill marks and the rest of the crust heading towards a medium brown. Instead of another 5 minutes or so of additional indirect cooking to finish melting the cheese and heating the other toppings, it took 13 minutes. At this point the crust had darkened a bit more too. I wouldn’t consider it burned, in fact I rather liked the toasty flavor it had, but I could hear my father saying: “Next time you might want to cook your crust a little less, I ate it but it was a bit burned. I didn’t want to mess up the first grilled pizzas I made for my parents as that might be my one chance. First impressions with my dad are hard to break.

“Eighth

The dough is rolled out and on the pizza peel. Make sure to flour the peel or use enough olive oil to get a good release from the peel.


When it was time to roll out the doughs I found out the recipe had indeed produced two very thin 12” (30 cm) diameter pizza crusts. I rolled one out and put it on the pizza peel and rolled the other out and left it on the counter. This time around I worried less about getting a perfect round shape after noting not a single crust in my new book was that perfect round shape you get from a pan. This dough recipe said to use corn meal, to help keep the pizza from sticking in addition to a light coating of olive oil. Well this is where I made my first and only mistake this day, and it was almost a BIGGIE. In the past I’ve used a decent coating of olive oil and I was able to flip the peel over and have the pizza just flop down nicely on the grill. The other way I have done it is to just slide it off the peel. This pizza was far too thin to do the latter as it would no doubt tear. So I tried flipping it and disaster struck. The pizza stuck in places and didn’t come off the peel evenly and landed in a bit of a crumpled mess. I had next to no time to think and I reached for the tongs and was able to grab sections of the crust and very gently but quickly pull them out. I had to work incredibly fast because the dough starts to stiffen up almost immediately. Disaster averted and the only bad thing I had to show for it were some singed knuckles as there was no time to don gloves. I noted that where this pizza was even thinner, it had gotten stiff and the bubbles started to appear on the top in less than a minute. I knew this the thinner crust I needed to keep a close eye on this one.

“Ninth“Tenth

The veggie pizza ready to come of the grill and meet up with a fresh salad my mom brought.


At this point I also had time to stop and smell the roses, or more accurately the pizza dough. It had a different odor to it as it cooked that I liked better. I kept a close eye on these thinner crusts and I pulled the first side flip and top after 3 minutes 30 seconds. Now I had the amount of toppings on my first pizza down. The veggie pizza gets a light coating of sauce, enough to evenly coat the crust, a coating of a 4 cheese Italian blend shredded cheese, 4 thinly sliced tomatoes, fresh chopped basil, and a sprinkling of Penzy’s Pasta Sprinkle Italian herbs and spices. I moved the pizza back over to the the direct heat side and once again kept a close eye on it. I let it cook for 4 minutes and moved it over to the indirect heat side for finishing. From prior experience I knew the veggie pizza would take about 5 minutes to finish off indirectly with this amount of toppings. One last thing I did was to rotate it 180 degrees at the midpoint of the indirect time to make sure it cooked evenly. This is because the indirect heat was coming from the left half of the grill and would tend to cook the left half of the pizza faster. I scooped up the pizza from the grill, ran it into the house and sliced it.

“Eleventh

The “meatlovers” is on the grill cooking up the first side of the dough. I pre-measure out the toppings and put them in bowls. This allowed me to control the portions and pulling apart sticky items like pepperonis ahead of time makes it faster to apply them on the grill.


As I gathered up the crust and toppings for the “meatlovers” pizza, I heard my mother making “yummy noises” and my father said: “Jimmy, this is your best ever”. The “meatlovers” was far less eventful getting it on the grill. I’d used a bit more olive oil and cornmeal on the pizza and the peel. I cooked this crust for the same 3:30 before flipping and topping. For this “meatlovers” pizza I made sure I went lighter on the sauce, cheese and toppings. I’d browned up the insides of one, not two sausages. For the pepperoni and ham I’d put a little over half as much as I used the last time. I kept a very close eye on it and felt it would take 5 minutes or less to finish. Sure enough at 5 minutes of indirect heat the cheese had melted and the pizza looked great. It was off to the house to slice it and try it for myself. I’d made the “meatlovers” last since this is the one I’d want to eat and this way I’d get it hot and at its peak. My dad had held out for the “meatlovers” too. One dilemma I’d had was how many pizzas to make. At Pizza Hut we get two mediums between 4 people and come home with 4-6 slices. I figured two 12” (30 cm) pizzas would easily do it.

“Twelvth“Thirteenth

The “meatlovers” coming off the grill and sliced up and on the table. That plate became empty in record time.


Turns out I was wrong and my first bite explained why. I’d hit a home run. The new dough recipe for the crust was a star in it’s own right. It was tasty, had a nice little crunch to it, and also had an interesting gritty texture due to the whole wheat flour and corn meal no doubt. The toppings were cooked just right and I’d found the right cheese and sauce combinations from the store. Everybody had a slice of the “meatlovers”and everyone seemed surmised at how good it was. I still wasn’t worried though as my dad and I reached for our second pieces. This left two pieces which I figured my dad and I would split. As he took his third piece I inquired about the last slice of “meatlovers” saying: “Does anyone want that last piece?”.This was intended as a mere formality. I was shocked as my dad said “Yeah I do” and grabbed the last slice. Now his third slice hadn’t even been touched at that point so I figured he was messing with me. He’d land that last slice on his plate, wait a second then wink at me and put it on my plate. Well I was dead wrong, he wasn’t giving it back for anything, so I had to settle for another slice of the veggie pizza.

“Fourteenth“Fifteenth

A slice of the veggie pizza (left side of the plate) and the “meatlovers” (right side of plate. The other picture shows the bottom of the pizza crust which was cooked just the way I like it.


This was one of those satisfying days and I was grateful I was able to pull it off. We had some laughs, my parent loved the grilled pizza and I felt I have my grilled pizza fundamentals down in place. My father who can be a bit fussy at times had zero comments about room for improvement. In fact he volunteered that it was way better than Pizza Hut which was his benchmark pizza to date. When pressed he said: “Nope I liked everything about it, oh actually I do have a complaint: Next time make more, there wasn’t enough!”. My mother asked for the delivery number for their use during the week. The final compliment was my dad saying we might just do pizza at my house instead of Pizza Hut for Father’s Day. This is big because he also thinks he is sacrificing his favorite appetizer: cheese breadsticks. Little does he know that in the back of my mind I was planning to find a recipe where I could make those at home too. In a weird case of kismet or fate or whatever, four days later I get a mailing from King Arthur Flour touting their recipe for soft breadsticks just like you’d get at Pizza Hut. I’ve already made a test batch and while I made a rookie mistake, I’m confident I can equal or better Pizza Hut. That however is a possible topic for another blog. Meanwhile let me encourage you to grill your own pizzas. If you or someone you know can bake make up your own crust. You will be rewarded by some of the best pizza you have tasted.


Addendum 2010


In 2010 I discovered a variation on the cooking method shown here which has some definite advantages. See this blog entry of more information:


  BEST YET GRILLED PIZZA 2010 Blog Entry


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