When it comes to summer cooking, we have a pretty strict family policy: Do everything you can to avoid turning on an oven. Which is all well and good except that it clashes with our other family policy: Eat pizza once a week. By pizza, we don’t mean the takeout pie from Tony’s on Main Street or the personal pans the kids get on Fridays at the school cafeteria. We’re talking pizza – made, when possible, with a homemade crust — that may or may not include cheese, is topped with fresh ingredients (potatoes and bacon, arugula and ricotta), and can bring even the most reluctant eater (e.g., Abby) to her little knees with gratitude. In our minds, pizza is the ultimate family dinner – you can have three entirely separate meals on one crust and still, if you close your eyes, pretend that you’re all eating the same thing. But to keep our strict family pizza policy intact this summer, we had to learn how to do it without turning on the oven. We had to learn to cook it outside. This took some doing. We burned a lot of crusts, and yet, we fought on, grilling pizza after pizza after pizza until we got it right. Here is what we learned.
HOW TO GRILL PIZZA: SIX VERY IMPORTANT RULES
1. Oil Everything. If the crust sticks to the grate, you’re done. Avoid this by brushing the grate and both sides of the crust with olive oil.
2. If you have an extra set of hands, avail yourself of them. When laying the crust on the grate it’s much easier to keep it stretched out when two people hold opposite sides and lay it down together. Or divide dough in half and grill smaller pizzas.
3. Don’t roll your crust too thin. One, it will burn too quickly, and two, it will rip as you try to move it from the baking sheet to the grill.
4. Use a Cookie Sheet. After grilling one side of the crust, flip it onto a greased cookie sheet, cooked-side up. This will give you time to add your toppings without rushing. (If you add toppings while it’s on the grill, you risk the crust cooking faster than the cheese melting.)
5. Pre-cook Your Toppings. If they need to be wilted or browned, it’s best to do it on the stovetop before you add to the pizza. Without top heat, and with such a short cooking time, you’ll end up with raw, uncooked vegetables. Cheese should be finely shredded or sliced paper thin whenever possible. The pizza below has you fry your tomatoes and onions before you start grilling.
6. Three words: slow and low. This is crucial: let the coals die way down before you put the crust on the grill. The coals should be gray all the way through and no flames should be coming up. Until we figured this out, too much heat wrecked us every time.
Grilled Pizza Two Ways
Half Fried Green Tomatoes and Sweet Onions/Half Basic Marinara
Make Fried Green Tomatoes
Slice 2-3 green tomatoes ¼ inch thick. Season with salt and pepper. Dredge each slice in one whisked egg, ½ cup cornmeal, ¼ teaspoon cayenne, salt and pepper to taste, and fry in two tablespoons of olive oil until crust is golden, about 2 minutes a side. Drain on paper towels.
In a large skillet set over low-medium heat, add 3 tablespoons olive oil and 1 large onion (sliced), salt and pepper, and cook until caramelized, about 15 minutes. Stir in 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar and remove from heat.
2 balls storebought pizza dough (we used whole wheat), rolled and brushed with olive oil on both sides
1 cup good pizza sauce (such as Don Pepino)
1 ball mozzarella, sliced extremely thin
4 ounces hard strong cheese such as aged provolone, asiago, or Italian fontina, shredded
3 green tomatoes, sliced (or fried green tomatoes, see bonappetit.com for recipe)
caramelized onions (see above)
Prepare grill: Spread hot coals evenly over the bottom of grill and let burn until heat is relatively low, about 30 minutes. There should be no flames coming up from the coals.
Place first rolled dough flat on the grill very carefully. (You may need to enlist a partner in this, as the dough stretches and makes this hard with just two hands.) Lift up each corner with your spatula as crust cooks (to make sure it’s not sticking) and flip when bottom looks golden but not burned, not more than 2 minutes. Flip onto an oiled cookie sheet, grilled side up. Using a spoon, spread pizza sauce on top, then dot with mozzarella. Return to the grill, cover, and grill until cheese has melted and bottom of crust looks golden but not burned, another 2 minutes.
Grill second rolled dough as directed above. When it has been flipped onto oiled cookie sheet, sprinkle with provolone and return to the grill. Cover and cook until cheese has melted and bottom of crust has cooked. Top with green tomatoes and caramelized onions.
Though this arugula-ricotta pizza you’re looking at wasn’t grilled, it would be a good choice for grilling because you add the toppings after the crust is done.