A really hot trend: Pizza on the grill

As grills have gotten more sophisticated and easier to use, and the number of grilling apps and cookbooks have exploded to epic proportions, people have taken to backyard cooking like ketchup to hot dogs. 

Now that we‘‍re more than a month into the backyard BBQ and grilling season, though, let’‍s admit we’‍re getting just the teeniest bit tired of the usual suspects, such as burgers and chicken. Time to give the meat thermometer and marinade recipes a rest, and start preparing pizza dough. 

Grilled pizza isn‘‍t a spanking-new trend; chefs, and ambitious grillers, have been flipping dough on grates for years. But it does continue to grow in popularity with home cooks as they realize how easy it is -- with a little practice --  to make pies on a gas or charcoal grill, and experience the glory of its crunchy, slightly smoky crust.

Pizza on the grill

Gretchen McKay shows us one of summer's hottest trends, pizza on the grill. (Video by Andrew Rush; 7/23/2014)

Pick up any grilling cookbook published in the last few years, and you’‍ll find at least a few recipes for grilled pizza tucked in among those for steaks and sliders, if not an entire chapter devoted to the Italian flatbreads. Pizza also is all the rage in high-end cooking catalogs such as those put out by Crate & Barrel and Sur La Table, which counts more than three dozen products for homemade pizza on the grill --  everything from clay and ceramic stones and stainless and wooden peels to pizza scissors, specialty flours and dough flavorings. 

Americans average 43 slices of pizza a year. So “when you think about crossing the most popular food with the most popular cooking technique, it only makes sense that grilled pizza would captivate our palate,“ write Elizabeth Karmel and Bob Blumer in “Pizza on the Grill: 100+ Feisty Fire-Roasted Recipes for Pizza & More” (Taunton, April 2014, $17.95). 

Grilled pizza also fits the way many Americans want to eat today -- with an eye toward freshness and a tie to the garden (or farmers market). Plus, it’‍s budget-friendly. Not to mention fast.

“We like pizza because it‘‍s full-flavored without being heavy, ethnic without being ’‍weird,‘‍ and can be customized any way we like it -- plain, loaded, vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, seasonal,“  Karen Adler and Judith Fertig note in ”Patio Pizzeria: Artisan Pizza & Flatbreads on the Grill (Running Press, May 2014, $20). 

The key to good pizza, of course, lies in the dough, which needs to be rolled or patted fairly thin so it cooks to a crisp in a matter of minutes. You mustn’‍t be a seasoned baker to master this step, especially if you cheat and combine the ingredients in a KitchenAid mixer. You do, however, have to have a light tough when it comes to kneading, as overworking the dough will make it tough. Don‘‍t tell us you don’‍t have the time to make it from scratch, because you do -- many homemade pizza dough recipes only have to rise for about an hour before you can punch it down and shape it. Roughly the same time it will take you to run to the grocery store to buy a bag of pre-made stuff. 

Whole-grain flours make dough with texture and fiber; Italian “00” flour makes a dough you can roll super-thin. All-purpose flour mixes with water and yeast into a soft, workable dough.

Not so nimble with your fingers? The folks at King Arthur Flour suggest shaping the dough this way: Turn a round-bottomed bowl upside-down on your countertop. Spray with non-stick vegetable or olive oil spray. Shape pizza dough into a disk, lay it atop the bowl's bottom, and gently stretch it over the bowl. Gravity will help it stretch.

Easier still is to roll it between two pieces of greased parchment or waxed paper.

Don‘‍t obsess on how the rolled-out dough is going to stick to the grates, because it won’‍t if you‘‍ve done your homework and preheated the grill so it’‍s super hot. (That‘‍s another reason it’‍s great to cook pizza outdoors -- your grill can do what your indoor oven can‘‍t in terms of temperature.) The flattened disks will quickly puff up. On the other hand, if your grill is too hot, it will char instead of developing those golden-brown grill marks you desire.

Some recipes insist the pizza be cooked via indirect heat (i.e. no burner) while others say to lay the dough on the hot part of the grill. I thought my crusts turned out best somewhere in between, grilled over a very low flame.

Mozzarella might be America‘‍s favorite cheese (we eat 11.5 pounds of it each year, according to the USDA) but it’‍s not the only horse in this rodeo. Depending on the other toppings, you also can sprinkle on Parmigiano-Reggiano, queso Oaxaca, asiago, fontina, Roquefort, feta ... the list goes on and on.

Same with the toppings. From vegetables to fruit to meat to  seafood, anything goes. And don‘‍t forget about pizza for dessert. It’‍s as easy as slathering Nutella, bananas and chopped nuts on top of a cooked crust and letting it melt, or spreading a pie with sweetened ricotta and berries. Drizzle of honey optional. 

Below, we offer two recipes for crust -- one flatbread and one basic pizza -- as well as several recipes for dressing them up. If desired, you can flavor both doughs with herbs, garlic, olives, grated hard cheeses, sun-dried tomatoes and even dried fruits. Also, both doughs can be made with gluten-free flour with a little tweaking (you‘‍ll need to add xanthan gum).

Some additional tips:

· Precook, on the stove or grill, any raw toppings before making the pizza. The pie is on the grates for such a short time, they won‘‍t cook otherwise.

· Make sure all your toppings are made in advance and are at-the-ready near the grill. You’‍ll have just minutes to add them after the crust is cooked. Don‘‍t forget tongs.

· If you‘‍re cooking on a charcoal grill, move the briquettes (when they turn ash-gray) to one side to allow for indirect grilling. Or bank the coals on both sides of the grill  (the center will be the indirect cooking area).

· Take pizza dough out of the fridge at least an hour before using (keep it wrapped with greased plastic wrap). This allows it to relax. 

· Make sure the grill is hot, but not so blazing that it blackens and chars the crust as soon as you lay it on the grates. If using a charcoal grill, briquettes should be covered with white-gray ash; gas grill should be pre-heated to medium.

· Don’‍t stress if your first few pies are an epic fail! It happens. Practice makes perfect. Once you master the technique, though, you may never order takeout again.


Stir-Together Flatbread Dough

PG tested

Super-quick and easy. 

2 cups bread flour

1 1/4 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons instant or bread-machine yeast

1 cup lukewarm water, plus more if needed

1 teaspoon honey

1 tablespoon olive oil

In medium bowl, stir flour, salt and yeast together. Combine water, honey and olive oil and stir into the flour mixture until dough comes together. If dough is dry, add 1 tablespoon water at a time until dough is just moist.

Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature until doubled in size, about 1 hour. Use immediately or refrigerate for up to 3 days before baking. Let come to room temperature before using.

Makes 1 pound dough for 4 individual flatbreads.

-- “Patio Pizzeria: Artisan Pizza & Flatbreads on the Grill” by Karen Adler and Judith Fertig (Running Press, May 2014, $20)

Basic Pizza Dough

PG tested

We liked this dough the best. It was easy to roll out and crusts were light and airy. Dough may be made ahead, frozen for up to a month, and thawed at room temperature before using.

1 cup lukewarm water, plus extra as needed

1/4 cup olive oil, plus extra for oiling the bowl

1 teaspoon sugar or honey

1 package active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra as needed

1/4 teaspoon salt

Place water, oil and sugar in large bowl. Sprinkle yeast on top and let sit until foamy, about 5 minutes.

In medium bowl, combine flour and salt. Add to water mixture, 1/2 cup at a time, until well incorporated. If dough is stiff, add more water. If it is very sticky, add extra flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, until dough is soft and slightly sticky.

Continue to mix until it feel elastic. Turn dough out onto a floured work surface. Knead for about 1 minute, until just smooth and easy to work with, adding extra flour to surface as necessary to prevent dough from sticking.; Do not overwork the dough or it will be tough.

Place dough in an oiled clean bowl, turn it several times to coat all over with oil, then drizzle top of dough with a little oil. Cover tightly with plastic wrap, place in warm spot and let rise until it more than double in volume, about 1 hour.

Punch dough down and knew on a lightly floured surface 1 to 2 minutes, until smooth. Divide into 2 equal-sized balls and proceed with your pizza making. 

-- “Pizza on the Grill: 100+ Feisty Fire-Roasted Recipes for Pizza & More” by Elizabeth Karmel and Bob Blumer (Taunton, April 2014, $17.95)

Queen Margherita Pizza

PG tested

You can‘‍t go wrong with this classic pie, which was created in Naples, Italy, in 1889 in honor of Queen Margherita. You can find fresh mozzarella at Pennsylvania Macaroni Co. in the Strip District. 

1/4 cup uncooked grits or polenta, for rolling the dough

1 ball prepared Basic Pizza Dough, at room temperature

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup Crushed Tomato Sauce (recipe follows)

1 large clove garlic, minced

8 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices, or 1 cup grated 

10 fresh basil leaves

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat grill.

Roll out and shape dough: Sprinkle work surface (a cutting board or pizza peel works best) generously with grits or polenta. Place dough in middle of surface and roll in the grits until ball is evenly dusted. Drizzle dough generously with oil (that generates a crispy crust.) Roll dough out with rolling pin, or stretch out with hands or press it out from the center against the work surface. Your ultimate goal is to get the dough 1/8- to 1/4-inch thick.

Stretch your dough into a rectangular or oblong shape. Don‘‍t worry about making it perfect.

Transfer dough to the grilling area and pick it up by the two corners closest to you. In one motion, lay it down flat on the cooking grate from back to front. The dough should NOT stray over the direct heat source. It should sit entirely over the indirect heat section of your grill.

Close lid and grill for 3 minutes, then check crust and, if necessary, continue grilling until bottom is well marked and golden brown. If your grill cooks unevenly, finesse the bottom by rotating the crust and/or moving it to another part of grill. 

Once bottom is well browned, use tongs to transfer crust from grill to pizza peel or rimless baking sheet, then immediately close lid of grill; this will keep the grill at ideal temperature. Flip crust to reveal the grilled side.

Spread entire surface with sauce, sprinkle with garlic and top with cheese. 

Before returning pizza to grill, switch grill to indirect heat (i.e. no burner). Transfer pizza onto grate over the unlit section and close lid. Grill until bottom is golden brown and crispy, and cheese is melted, 7 to 10 minutes. Rotate pizza after 5 minutes.

Remove finished pizza from grill, garnish with basil leaves and season with salt and pepper. Slice and serve immediately.

Makes 1 pizza.

-- “Pizza on the Grill: 100+ Feisty Fire-Roasted Recipes for Pizza & More” by Elizabeth Karmel and Bob Blumer (Taunton, April 2014, $17.95)

Crushed Tomato Sauce

PG tested

28-ounce can crushed tomatoes, with or without basil, undrained

1 clove garlic, minced

Sea salt and pepper to taste

Pour crushed tomatoes into a small nonreactive metal or glass bowl. Add garlic and season with salt and pepper. Drain excess liquid from tomatoes and discard.

Makes 1 1/2 cups.

Handheld Grilled Chicken Caesar Mini Pizzettes

PG tested

This will please the salad-lovers in your life. I cheated with a rotisserie chicken.

For Caesar salad dressing

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons grated Romano or parmesan cheese

2 tablespoon mayonnaise

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon anchovy paste

1 garlic clove, minced

Kosher or sea salt

4 cups chopped romaine lettuce

1 cup chopped grilled chicken

For pizzettes

1 pound pizza dough, refrigerated or homemade

All-purpose flour for rolling out and dusting

Olive oil for brushing

Freshly ground black pepper

Freshly shaved parmesan cheese for topping

Prepare an indirect medium-hot fire in your grill, with heat on one side and no heat on the other.

In bowl, combine olive oil, cheese, mayonnaise, lemon juice, mustard, anchovy paste and garlic. Season to taste with salt. Mix together with a handheld immersion blender.

In a larger bowl, combine lettuce and chicken and dress with about 4 tablespoons of the dressing. Set aside.

Divide pizza dough into 8 portions. On a floured surface, pat or roll each portion into a 3- to 4-inch-diameter circle.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Brush oil into 2 circles a little larger than each pizza, then place each dough round on an oiled circle. brush top of rounds with olive oil.

Lift dough by holding ends of parchment paper. At height of 6 inches above grill, flip dough circles onto the hot side of the grill grates. Quickly peel off parchment and close the lid. Grill pizzettes for 2 to 3 minutes, or until they have good grill marks. Turn pizzettes with tongs and move them to the indirect side. Cover and grill for 1 to 2 minutes, until lightly browned. Repeat process with other pizzettes.

To serve, top each pizzette with the Caesar salad mixture, freshly ground pepper and several shavings of Parmesan.

Makes 8 mini pizzas.

-- “Patio Pizzeria: Artisan Pizza & Flatbreads on the Grill” by Karen Adler & Judith Fertig (Running Press, May 2014, $20)

Hawaiian Barbecue Pizza

PG tested

This caught my eye because of the pineapple, which gets super sweet when you cook it on the grill. Next time I’‍ll also add bacon.

1 pound refrigerated or fresh pizza dough, at room temperature

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 pineapple, peeled, cored and cut into rings

1 bunch scallions, green parts finely chopped and whites reserved

1/4 cup barbecue sauce

1 tomato, diced

1 cup shredded pepper jack cheese (about 4 ounces)

1/2 cup shredded muenster cheese (about 2 ounces)

1/4 pound deli-sliced ham, cut into large pieces

Prepare the grill for high direct heat. Prepare a small bowl with olive oil for greasing the grill grates and for brushing the pizza.

Shape the pizza dough by flattening it with your hands on a slightly floured surface or piece or parchment. Using your fingers, stretch the dough out. Push out the edges with your fingers again, until you have a nice round shape, about 12-inches in diameter. Brush with olive oil and set aside.

Grill pineapple rings until marked, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer to plate. Grill scallion whites, turning, until charred, about 4 minutes. Transfer to plate with the pineapple. Combine barbecue sauce and tomato in small bowl.

Lift the pizza by holding the ends of parchment paper. At a height of about 6 inches above the grill, flip circle of dough onto the hot side of the grill grates. Quickly peel off parchment and close lid. Grill pizza for 2 to 3 minutes, or until it has good grill marks. Turn the pizza with tongs and move it to the indirect side.

Spread the sauce on top of the pizza dough. Sprinkle with pepper jack and muenster cheeses and top with grilled pineapple, ham and scallion whites and greens.

Return pizza to the hot side of the grill and cook until cheese is bubbling and crust is golden. Transfer pizza to a cutting board and slice.

Makes 1 pizza.

-- Adapted from Food Network Magazine

Thai Shrimp Pizzettes with Coconut and Chiles

PG tested

This is on the spicy side, but that can be tempered with a cold beer. You can find green curry paste in Asian markets or the Asian aisle in your grocery store. 

For curry sauce

1 cup canned coconut milk, well shaken

2 teaspoons green curry paste

Juice 1 lime

For pizzettes

1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined

Extra-virgin olive oil for brushing

1 pound pizza dough, fresh or refrigerated

All-purpose flour for rolling out and dusting

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Make sauce: Stir together coconut milk, curry paste and lime juice in a small bowl. Set aside.

Prepare skewers: Soak 8 bamboo skewers in water for at least 30 minutes. 

Prepare an indirect medium-hot fire in your grill, with heat on one side and no heat on the other.

Thread shrimp onto prepared skewers and brush with olive oil. Grill shrimp over direct heat for 3 to 4 minutes per side, or until firm, opaque and pink.

Divide dough into 4 portions. On floured surface, pat or roll each portion into a 6- to 8-inch-diameter circle. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Brush olive oil into a circle that’‍s a little larger than your pizza, and then place pizza on the oiled circle. Brush tops with olive oil.

Lift the pizzas by holding the ends of parchment paper. At a height of about 6 inches above the grill, flip circle of dough onto the hot side of the grill grates. Quickly peel off parchment and close lid. Grill pizza for 2 to 3 minutes, or until it has good grill marks. Turn the pizza with tongs and move it to the indirect side.

Spread pizzas with 1/4 of the green curry coconut sauce. Cover and grill for 2 to 3 minutes, or until topping has melted. Repeat with other pizzas.

To serve, top each pizza with grilled shrimp and cilantro. 

Makes 4 pizzas.

-- “Patio Pizzeria: Artizan Pizza & Flatbreads on the Grill” by Karen Adler and Judith Fertig (Running Press, May 2014, $20)

Jalapeno Pesto Pizza with Feta and Sun-Dried Tomato

PG tested

This recipe demonstrates pizza‘‍s versatility. Instead of traditional tomato sauce, it’‍s topped with pistachio pesto. 

For dough

1 package active dry yeast

1 1/4 cups warm water, divided

2 3/4 cups flour

1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon red pepper flakes

1 tablespoon olive oil

For pesto

2 cups fresh basil

2 cups cilantro

6 cloves garlic

6 jalapenos, stemmed, seeded and quartered

1 cup pistachios, shelled and toasted

1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted

1 cup olive oil

For toppings

4 tablespoons butter

6 medium yellow onions, thinly sliced

2 cups sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained and chopped

4 cups feta cheese, crumbled

In small bowl, sprinkle yeast over 1/4 cup warm water and let stand for 10 minutes. 

In food processor, blend together flour, sugar, salt and pepper flakes for 5 seconds. Add yeast mixture and process for 10 seconds longer. 

In small bowl, combine oil and remaining 1 cup lukewarm water. With food processor running, drizzle oil-water mixture through the feed tube. Process until dough gathers, about 2 minutes. The dough should be somewhat sticky. Divide dough into 2 equal portions. Knead each portion on a floured surface until smooth, and roll into 2 discs. Let rise for 10 minutes.

Prepare pesto: In food processor, combine basil, cilantro, garlic, jalapenos, pistachios, pine nuts and olive oil and pulse to a paste. Set aside.

In pan over medium heat, melt butter. Add onions and saute until caramelized, about 15 minutes. Set aside.

Make pizza: Sprinkle a pizza peel or flexible cutting board with half the cornmeal. Arrange 1 pizza circle on the cornmeal-dusted peel.

Hold pizza peel level with grill rack so that dough round will slide onto the center of the hot pizza stone. With a quick forward jerk of your arm, slide the dough round from the peel to the stone. Close lid and grill-bake for 2 to 4 minutes, until crust is browned on the bottom and firm. Turn pizza crust with tongs and spread quickly with pesto. Spoon the onions over it, and scatter tomatoes and cheese over the onions. Cover and grill for 2 to 3 minutes or until cheese has melted. Repeat with other pizza.

Makes 2 pizzas.

-- chilepepper.com

Orange Chocolate Truffle Pizza

PG tested

Nutella. ‘‍Nuf said.

1/4 cup all-purpose flour, for rolling dough

1 ball prepare pizza dough, room temperature

2 tablespoons vegetable or nut oil

3/4 cup chocolate-hazelnut spread

1 tablespoon orange liqueur

2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, broken into small pieces

1/4 cup chopped hazelnuts, toasted

Zest 1 orange, finely grated with a zester

Fleur de sel or kosher salt to taste

Preheat grill, roll out and shape dough and grill the first side of the crust. Use tongs to turn over and continue grilling until bottom crust is lightly browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Use tongs to transfer crust from grill to a peel or rimless baking sheet.

Spread entire surface with chocolate spread, drizzle with liqueur and sprinkle with the chocolate and nuts.

Finish grilling pizza until bottom is well browned and chocolate has melted, about 3 minutes.

Remove from grill, sprinkle with orange zest and season with salt. Slice and serve immediately.

Serves 2 to 4.

 -- “Pizza on the Grill: 100+ Feisty Fire-Roasted Recipes for Pizza & More” by Elizabeth Karmel and Bob Blumer (Taunton, April 2014, $17.95)

Gretchen McKay: gmckay@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1419 or on Twitter @gtmckay.

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