Introduction: Charcoal - Grilled Thin Crust Pizza
If you enjoy thin-crust style pizza, this is a great way to get a wood-fired, brick oven style pizza without using a pizza stone or placing bricks in the oven to keep a stable and hot oven temperature. Except for making the dough, and cutting up the ingredients (cheese, tomatoes, etc.) the preparation can be done outdoors.
This pizza lends itself to simplicity, using the freshest ingredients. This is perfect for summertime, when fresh tomatoes and basil are readily available.
Adding additional toppings - mushrooms, peppers, thinly sliced onions, etc., will make it harder to get the pizza on and off the grill. It's feasible, but first, try it with minimal toppings: tomatoes and cheese; or tomatoes, fresh basil leaves and cheese (the red, green and white of the Italian flag): that's the classic and delicious Italian Margherita pizza (scroll down to the last photo) - named in 1889, in honor of Italian Consort Regina (Queen) Margherita.
Step 1: Prepare Dough
Depending on how you look at it, making pizza dough is easy, or an art.
Since this article focuses on the grilling aspects of the pizza, and rather than repeat what can be found elsewhere, general procedures for making pizza dough (search for pizza dough) can be used, such as:
I'll provide a recipe here, that we've used successfully for the grilled pizza. A thin-crust style, elastic dough is essential. This dough recipe will make four pizzas. It was adapted from the America's Test Kitchen TV cooking show.
2 cups bread flour
1 tbs sugar
1 teaspoon (or envelope package) yeast
1 tablespoon whole wheat flour (optional, adds texture and color)
1 cup water
1/3 cup olive oil
Stir ingredients together for 1 1/2 minutes.
Remove dough from bowl, cover with towel, and allow to rest for one hour in a warm location.
Cut dough into four pieces. Roll out each piece, and let rest for 15 minutes.
Then, roll out each piece to about 9 inches in diameter. Stack the rolled dough rounds, dusted with flour and separated by waxed or parchment paper (see photo), until you're ready to grill the pizzas.
A wooden "pizza peel" (photo), like those used in pizza restaurants, will come in handy. While it isn't essential, it will make the following steps easier. To find a place to buy an inexpensive pizza peel, look in the phone book for a restaurant supply shop that has a storefront address and sells to the general public.
Step 2: Prepare Topping
Immediately before adding toppings and grilling, the grilled crusts will be coated with oil, to keep tomato juices from soaking into the crusts.
Plain olive oil is fine, but it's nice to use infused olive oil:
Gently warm 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil and add 3 peeled whole garlic cloves and 1 - 2 tbs crushed dried hot pepper flakes (or to taste). After about a minute, remove from the heat and allow to cool. This infused oil should be used soon after preparation (that is, it shouldn't be stored or refrigerated for later use).
Primary topping ingredients:
Grated Gryuere, Fontina, Mozzarella, Provolone or white Cheddar cheese (and fresh grated Parmesan cheese).
Sliced, fresh, ripe Roma or other tomatoes; seeds removed, sprinkled with salt, and well-drained (gently press out the liquid in a strainer).
Fresh basil leaves, torn (not cut - I was admonished by a native Italian never to cut basil) into small pieces.
Step 3: Prepare the Grill
I prefer using hardwood charcoal, because the intense heat helps quickly sear and brown the crust. The hotter the better.
With hot charcoal, cooking time for the first step is about 1 minute, and after adding the toppings for the second step, just 1 to 2 minutes. (Watch your fingers, or use tongs.)
The recipe wasn't tested on a gas grill, or using lump charcoal briquets, although they may work just as well. YMMV...
Step 4: Grill the Crust - Part 1
Dust the pizza peel (or large, flat plate) lightly with flour, and place a dough round on the peel (drop from the stack of waxed or parchment paper, see Step 1).
Using fingers or tongs, gingerly and quickly slide the dough onto the prepared charcoal grill.
The proper "gliding" motion comes with a bit of practice; don't despair if the first try seems clumsy. Try to get it flat (without wrinkles, as shown in the photo of the first dough grilling).
After searing / grilling, the dough will be easier to remove than it was to slide onto the grill.
Step 5: Grill the Crust - Part 2
After about a minute (watch closely), the dough will begin to puff up (see close-up photo). Peek under the edge (use tongs); when beginning to brown, remove the dough by grabbing with tongs at the edge and sliding it back onto the angled pizza peel or plate. This is really where having a peel comes in handy; made easier by the peel's thin wood and angled leading edge.
Step 6: Grill the Crust - Part 3
Flip the crust over onto a storage plate, grilled side up, as shown.
Repeat the above grilling step, stacking the crusts as shown. Having the grilled sides facing upwards makes it easier in the following steps.
Step 7: Add Toppings to Pizza and Grill It
The pizzas, like the dough rounds, will be grilled one at a time. The cooking is equally quick.
Place a grilled piece of dough, grilled side up, onto the pizza peel, which has been dusted with flour.
Thinly spoon and spread, with back of spoon, olive oil (or preferably infused olive oil, mentioned above) on the grilled side of the dough (photo).
Follow with sliced tomatoes, grated cheese, and basil leaves.
Carefully slide, using your fingers or tongs, onto the grill (second photo).
Cover the grill. The pizza (with hot coals) will be finished in about a minute...
Step 8: Serve the Dish
We made two pizzas with tomatoes and cheese, and two Margheritas. The four can be churned out in short order with a hot fire. With a hot fire, the first is still hot by the time that the fourth is done.
One last thing. I lied about this recipe serving four. The two of us quickly ate all four pizzas. ;)
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