Grilled Pizza Is the Greatest Weeknight Victory
I don’t really think of myself as a Big Griller. I don’t hack my grill to make it a smoker; I don’t cook much on it beyond chicken and zucchini; and I don’t even use charcoal. (It’s a basic gas grill for me, and happily so.) But there is one thing I do grill that makes me feel like a rock-star chef, and that is pizza. Besides the crackled crust and bungee pulls of melted cheese, the beauty of grilled pizza is that all the real work is done ahead, so the final cooking goes fast. In other words, it’s not a special-occasion treat; it’s a weeknight victory.
I made pizza last night for me and my husband while our children screeched, racing into walls indoors on a scooter and a bike (quarantine calls for rule suspension in so many ways). Amid the chaos I felt pretty handy tossing this pizza on the grill and pulling it off even while my children mounted a campaign on the candy box in the pantry. But it was only possible because I had done a teeny-tiny bit of work ahead, and how worth it: The crust on the pizza I am about to press upon you is almost paper-thin, shattering with a spray of cornmeal and garlicky sauce, the delicate ricotta and mozzarella melting into each bite and the scent of basil coming through the smoke of the crust’s charred edge. Even my 2-year-old demanded a shard.
If you have a grill, and you like pizza, this is absolutely your first mission this summer grilling season. In our stay-at-home world we all need cooking victories, those meals we can feel doubly proud of as they didn’t just mean survival — they expressed our swagger and our creativity as cooks.
So let’s talk it out. Here’s how I did grilled pizza this week, what I prepped ahead, and how it came together on Wednesday (and Thursday!) nights.
First, Why Grilled Pizza?
Because the grill means minimal cleanup. Because the grill gets super hot — hotter than most ovens (and you want screaming heat for good pizza). Because the grill adds just a whiff of smoke, like a wood-fired oven. Because standing outside, even for the five minutes it takes for pizza to cook, is very good for you right now. Because pizza is the food of superheroes and small children and everyone else in between.
What Makes a Great Grilled Pizza
If you’ve never grilled pizza, all the principles of great pizza still apply here: The dough and crust are crucial to the taste, so choose one with a slow rise to build flavor. Sauce should be simple and fresh (not cooked), and toppings should be light and breezy (not heavy). But also, remember the other ingenious way to make grilled pizza: Just grill yourself a frozen pizza! Seriously the best way of all to cook a frozen pie.
How to Prep for Grilled Pizza on a Weeknight
Here’s my weeknight playbook for grilled pizza; let me just spell it all out for you. You can do this. It’s all right here! Prep all this when you have a few extra minutes — in the morning early, or on a weekend.
- Make this pizza dough. Our riff on Peter Reinhart’s pizza dough is really, truly the best pizza dough. It is best made ahead (although you can also make it on the day-of). Make it and put it in the refrigerator overnight. When you make the dough you also cut it into six pieces so the balls are all set and ready for your pizza shaping.
- Get (or make) your sauce. You can use any jarred sauce or, if the grocery store leaves your Rao’s pizza sauce out of your order like they did for me, make pizza sauce the simple way by whizzing together a few cloves of garlic, 12 ounces-ish of canned tomatoes or tomato sauce, a dash of balsamic vinegar, and salt and pepper. Honestly, this is probably the best sauce anyway (extra garlic for me). It may look extremely thin like mine, but that is fine; the flavor is what you want, not a salsa layer.
- Assemble your cheeses (yes, cheeses, plural). I skip the shredded cheese on pizza; I love a ball of fresh mozzarella torn into shreds with my hands or roughly chopped with a knife. Remember you don’t need to blanket your pizza like a shag rug! Dot it delicately; it will spread and bubble. I also love ricotta on pizza. It melts beautifully and a little goes a long way. For one of my pizzas I just smeared spoonfuls of ricotta right over the tomato sauce. And pretty much every pizza should get a finishing flurry of Parmesan cheese, no matter what cheese you’ve already added.
- Prep at least two toppings, but ideally more! One of the reasons pizza is so great in the middle of the week is that it uses up all your scraps. A bit of crumbled bacon, one last half of a baked potato, the end of a jar of pickled peppers, the handful of cheese that isn’t enough for a quesadilla — throw them all into a big Tupperware container throughout the week and then haul it out and combine it in fun ways to top your pizza. Again, a little goes a long way. One of my favorite pizzas right now has ricotta, basil, torn prosciutto, and chopped preserved lemon (fancy! So good!). Another unorthodox classic in my house is fresh mozzarella studded with sauerkraut and sliced kielbasa.
Stash all that in your fridge and feel proud.
Now, the Main Event: How to Make Grilled Pizza
When you’re ready to pizza it up, heat your grill on blast. Hot as you can, please. (A couple hours before this you should take your dough out of the fridge; let it proof at room temperature so it gets supple and soft.) Set out all your toppings and make sure you have plenty of room to work. Now comes your most key secret tool for pizza: parchment paper. Get yourself a piece of parchment paper, lay it on a cutting board or an upside-down sheet pan. Scatter a little coarse cornmeal if you have it, or spray with cooking spray.
Now pull, pat, and toss your pizza dough into as thin of a shape as you can. Personally I stink at making pizzaiolo-style perfectly round pies. I don’t let it bother me. It doesn’t matter if your dough looks like South America; just pat it thin.
Add a thin smear of sauce, handfuls of cheese, and toppings. Finish with a flurry of Parm, a drizzle of olive oil, and salt and pepper. Your pizza will be gorgeous. Admire it.
Now, slide that whole thing on the grill, parchment paper and all. Yes, the parchment is going to burn. No, that’s not a problem. If you don’t have a pizza peel this is by far the easiest way to maneuver delicate dough onto a hell-hot grill. Now close the lid and walk away for at least five minutes.
After the five minutes are up, come back with your other secret tool — kitchen tongs (like our favorites here) — and check the dough. Does it look crispy with grill marks, like the picture above? If so, carefully use the tongs to scoot that burnt parchment out from under the pizza and discard. Then close the lid and let your pizza cook for two to three more minutes. The cheese should be bubbling; the edges should be crisp.
Use the tongs to tug that pizza onto a platter or light cutting board. You MUST let it rest and settle down. Hot pizza is a hazard and honestly not good to eat. Give it a few minutes to meld, then hack it into pieces and eat it. Standing up, sitting down — doesn’t matter. This isn’t a dinner party dish; when the pizza is ready to eat, you should eat it without ceremony or plates. It will be sublime, the kind of thing you sort of remember hazily later as “that night we made pizza and stood outside with cheap cold wine and burned our mouths a little bit on cheese because we didn’t listen to Faith and ate it too fast and honestly it was magical.”
And that magical memory is one that tells you that you’re a cook who can meet weeknights not just in plodding diligence, but with style and confidence and pizza from the grill, which is everything you want when you need dinner but want a soul-raising victory. I really want that weeknight victory for you, so don’t let me down.
P.S.: Tell me all about it here in the comments and show me on Instagram.