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Best YET Grilled Pizza

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In my opinion grilled pizza is the best way to prepare pizza - period. This week I learned a variation to the method used for cooking grilled pizzas that have made a noticeable improvement. This blog will describe the change in technique. I’m not going to use a whole lot of pictures in this blog. If you are interested in seeing some of the pizzas I’ve made this week I will provide some links at the end.

Grilled pizza done right is a wonderful experience. There are several tricks to good grilled pizza to insure success. The biggest key is getting the right temperature. If your temperature is too high you run into the problem where you pizza goes from raw to burnt at the blink of an eye. A second problem is you may suddenly have a burnt crust and uncooked toppings. Typically grilled pizza uses toppings in moderation. Sometimes the toppings would be put on in reverse order to help get them to cook. The new cooking method seems to help out with the amount of toppings you can use. But once again the most important item is get the temperature right and if you are going to be off it is better to have the temps a bit too low than too high.

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If you want to get started making pizza on your grill (and trust me you do), this book is a great place to start

This week I cracked open the book Pizza on the Grill by Elizabeth Karmel & Bob Blumer. It was a very thorough cookbook with recipes for crusts, sauces, creative toppings even some side dishes. In addition they had a very thorough set of directions for cooking based on the type of grill you plan to cook on. I noticed their cooking method while overall similar, differed in several details. Up until now the method I had learned was to use a combination of direct & indirect cooking using medium heat. Pizza on the Grill also used direct and indirect cooking but initially started with all burners lit and turned some off partway through. I have a 6 burner gas grill. In the past I would light burners 1,2 & 3 and set them to medium. Burners 4,5 & 6 would be left off. The crust would be placed over the lit burners and cooked for about 3 or 4 minutes with the lid closed. Once the first side of the crust was cooked it would be flipped and dragged over to the unlit side for topping. Once the pizza was topped it would be dragged back over the lit burners and the lid would be closed. Once again after 3 or 4 minutes the crust would be cooked. If you used a very thin layer of topping, you would be done. It the toppings weren’t cooked, you could pull the pizza over to the unlit burners and indirect grill the pizza a little longer. You could usually get another 5 minutes of cooking this way without overcooking the crust.

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Both methods have you start out by direct grilling the first side of the pizza. The differences begin after that

Pizza on the Grill did things slightly differently. They had you light all of the burners and the first side of the pizza was cooked with all burners on. They also implored you not to peek at the pizza until 3 minutes has elapsed - this means you have to get your temps right because if they are too high the crust can start burning after as little as 1:30 or 2:00. Don’t ask me how I know this. I will also add this is a distant memory. After 3 minutes you check the crust for doneness and continue cooking until it is a nice golden brown and well marked. At this point they have you remove the pizza from the grill completely to top it and shut the lid. After the pizza is topped you turn off the burners that will be under the pizza when you return it to the grill. In my case that means I turn off burners 3 & 4 while leaving 1,2, 5 & 6 on. Then you return the topped pizza to the grill and finish it off indirectly for another 7-10 minutes. At first I was going to use the pizza recipes from Pizza on the Grill and my old faithful cooking method. After all I had made the best thin crust pizzas I’ve ever had using this method, how could I improve on that? I gave it some more thought and decided to go with the flow and use their techniques for cooking as well. Part of the reason I decided to change is these pizzas were a test run. If the cooking method was a bust it wouldn’t be the end of the world.

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Having the ingredients for each of the pizzas on their own separate trays helps avoid mistakes out at the grill

The dough recipes provided made two 12” crusts and I’d decided to make two different pizzas that shared the same sauce and cheese. I assembled the toppings, made the sauce and when their was 15 minutes to go I lit all 6 burners on the grill. I also made a change in my prep methods to help keep things straight between the various pizzas. I measured out and assembled the toppings for each pizza on their own separate 1/4 sheet pan. When it was time to head out to the grill I would place a pizza crust and the 1/4 sheet pan of ingredients for that pizza onto a full sheet pan, along with tongs and a cookie sheet. When it was time to top the pizza I pulled it onto the cookie sheet and placed it on one side of the full sheet pan next to the personalized tray of toppings for that pizza. This way there was less chance of error when making several pizzas. In terms of temperature I have gotten pretty good at setting the burners to the right temperature to get medium to medium low heat for cooking breads and doughs. Although a bit nervous about things, I kept the lid down for the full 3 minutes before checking under the hood. As it turns out the crust was browning but was not quite done.

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Using the old method I’d top the pizza right on the grill. This was messy and you lost a lot of heat having the lid open. The pizza would be dragged from direct the direct side of the grill over to the indirect side to top. Then it was back to the direct side for side 2. Often this wasn’t enough to cook the toppings & you had to finish side 2 indirectly.

I will take a brief side bar here to mention something about olive oil and browning. There is a somewhat fine line to brushing or spraying the pizza with olive oil. Not enough and the pizza crust will burn and may stick to the grill. Too much and the crust will not really turn a nice golden brown and will not really mark much at the grill grates. This will be something you will need to learn through trial and error. But if your crust doesn’t brown but is crispy, then back off a bit on the olive oil.

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With the new method the pizza is removed from the grill to be topped. In these pictures the two pizzas are sitting on a cookie sheet next to the tray with that pizza’s toppings. The cookie sheet and the 1/4 sheet pan are sitting in a full sheet pan on the side table of the grill

Before I took us off on a tangent, the first side of the crust was finished and it was time to remove it from the grill. I used my tongs to help pull the crust onto a non-stick cookie sheet. Now I could have used the pizza peel I brought the crust out on for the topping phase but there was a method to my madness. I like to cut and serve the pizzas right on the pizza peel. Topping the pizza can get a little messy and rather than spill toppings onto the same peel I was going to serve on I used a cookie sheet. Having all the toppings per-measured makes topping the pizza go quickly. Another benefit to the new method is you are topping on a cookie sheet, not your grill grates. You can work faster and worry less about spillage. Just before I was going to put the pizza back on the grill I turned off burners 3 & 4. Next I opened the lid and quickly returned the pizza to the grill. Another advantage to the non-stick cookie sheet is there is less friction between it and the pizza crust than a wood peel and the pizza crust. I lowered the lid and began the indirect phase. I will admit to being a bit nervous about the bottom cooking too quickly as burners 3 & 4 were turned off a minute before the pizza was returned to the grill. Due to my nervousness I checked the crust after 5 minutes. The crust was cooking, but no where near getting burned and the cheese hadn’t started melting yet. I gave it another 2 minutes and checked again. This time the cheese was beginning to melt and the crust was coming along nicely. I checked in another minute and the pizza was done. It had a nice golden brown crust which was well marked. The toppings were heated through and melted.

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The second sides of these two pizzas are topped and back on the grill. The two burners underneath the pizzas have just been turned off

The Queen Margherita pizza was delicious, I inhaled a piece before I headed back out to the grill. In fact it was so good I grabbed a second piece even though the Sausage & Sweet Pepper pizza I was making next was the pizza I’d been interested in. When I went back out to the grill I was much more confident in this variant to the cooking method. Once again it took about 4 minutes to cook the first side. The difference was this time I wasn’t nervous waiting the first 3 minutes before peeking. When I went to remove the pizza for topping I used my Bonjour Laser Probe thermometer to take readings of the temperature at the grill grates in several locations. While the lid thermometer was reading around 400 (205 C), the grate temps were at 500 (260) to 525 (275). This way I can insure repeatable results in warmer or colder weather. Regardless of what the lid thermometer says I won’t start cooking until I have the grate temperature at 500-525 (260-275) or a little less. The Sausage & Sweet Pepper pizza had more toppings on it than typical for a grilled pizza. While I did have to cook it for 9 minutes vs. the 8 for the last pizza, when it was done the crust was perfectly cooked and the toppings were cooked through as well. It was time to go in and enjoy the pizza.
 

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It doesn’t get any better than this. Of course I said that a year ago too when I thought I had perfected the grilling technique for grilled pizza. I will keep an open mind about trying new things

As I was enjoying this second pizza my mind began analyzing why this method had turned out a crispy golden brown crust and a fully cooked thicker layer of toppings. Initially I had been skeptical of this method and I was quickly becoming a convert. This is what I am thinking some of the differences are. First with the new method you have all 6 burners going and so the interior of the grill is going to be warmer for the second indirect phase. In the past I was topping directly on the grill with the lid up and you lose the temps you have built up. Granted you get some of the temps back while you are direct grilling the second side of the crust, but 4 minutes isn’t a lot of time. Then you lose temps again pulling the pizza to the indirect side of the grill. The second difference is you turn the burners under the topped pizza off just a minute before putting the pizza back on the grill. The residual heat from these burners must help get the the grilling of the crust started, but the process is gentler since the burners are cooling. In my old method you grill the bottom of the topped pizza before moving it over to the unlit side. You don’t have a lot of time left before the bottom starts to become over done. In the new method the burners you’ve just turned off may start cooking the pizza bottom before they die off, but the bottom is not fully cooked 4 minutes in. By keeping the lid down while topping the pizza you keep most of the heat you have built up and so you are cooking with a higher indirect heat when the pizza goes back on the grill.

To sum up here are the advantages and disadvantage I see for this new variation of direct and indirect cooking of grilled pizza:

Advantages

  • You are cooking with higher indirect temperatures so you can choose to use more toppings.
  • Having a higher indirect temperature probably helps with the temperature losses when you do raise the lid.
  • You are topping the pizza off the grill, so you don’t have to keep the lid open while you top. You will have less temperature loss so the indirect phase will be more effective. I don’t grill pizzas in real cold weather, but the new method has me rethinking this. In the summer you use the side table of the grill, in the winter you simply run the pizza into the Kitchen to top it. To be fair you could remove the pizza from the grill top it using the old method. But you will loose temps when you have to move the topped pizza from the direct to the indirect side of the grill.
  • Topping the pizza off the grill means you can actually work faster. You don’t have to be as neat topping on a cookie sheet vs topping on the grill grate. Working over the grill grate you end up working more slowly to avoid getting the toppings on the grates.
  • With 6 burners lit you can land the pizza dough anywhere. The trickiest part of grilling pizza is transferring the dough onto the grill. The dough stretches out and landing it isn’t a precision operation. Land it wrong where it is partially over the unlit side of the grill and you have seconds to try to move it. Landing the dough can be somewhat tight front to back. With the old method I also had to land the dough over burners 1,2 or 3 and it was somewhat precise since the dough ends up covering parts of each burner. With 6 burners lit I can shoot for landing it in the center of the grill and only have to be really worried about the front to back positioning.


Disadvantages

  • You will use more propane.
  • The cooking time may be longer since you are no longer direct grilling the crust on the second side.
  • On my grill with 6 burners the placement for the indirect phase is critical. You don’t want part of the pizza over a lit burner. If you do miss at this point when you initially land it on the grill for indirect grilling it is relatively east to move. I have also been favoring more rectangular pizza shapes which allows me to place the narrow direction side to side to help keep the pizza over the unlit burners.

Since the pizzas I’ve made this week are the best grilled pizzas that I have ever made, I would say the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages. If you are a pizza lover and haven’t tried grilled pizza yet, do it don’t wait, do it today. To get you started I can certainly recommend Pizza on the Grille to get you off to a successful start.
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SOME RELATED LINKS:
Here are links for the Picture Entries for the 3 pizzas made so far using this new method for grilling pizza. I’ve also included some earlier entries on grilled pizza.

  PINEAPPLE & PANCETTA PIZZA Pizza Picture Entry
  QUEEN MARGARITA PIZZA Pizza Picture Entry
  SAUSAGE & SWEET PEPER PIZZA Pizza (Picture Entry
  PIZZA PERFECTION Blog Entry
  GRILLED PIZZA FRIDAY Blog Entry


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