It’s a Pizza Party … on the Grill

Use your backyard grill’s open flame to re-create wood-fired goodness

Written and Photographed by Paulette Phlipot

The mere mention of a backyard barbeque most likely conjures up images of burgers and hot dogs. But, pizza, another traditional American staple, is steadily working its way onto the open flame. The grill’s ability to provide high heat makes it an optimal vessel for cooking pizza. Plus, grilling pizza outdoors helps keep your kitchen cool on a hot summer day. It’s basically a win-win. 

The process doesn’t have to be fancy or complicated. You can use store-bought dough or make your own dough from a variety of flours (even for the gluten-free crowd). Stock up on fresh farmer’s market toppings, such as peppers, radishes, tomatoes, artisanal cheeses (like those from Lark’s Meadow Farms in Rexburg, Idaho), fresh herbs, and fairy tale eggplant (from Canewater Farm in Victor, Idaho). These additions add color, flavor and, of course, nutrition to your next backyard party. 

Crust Perfection

If you’re a grilled pizza newbie, you may be wondering, “Doesn’t the pizza just fall through the grates?” 

A few tricks will help prevent this from happening. First, stretch or roll your dough to its desired shape and size, then brush it with olive oil. The oiled side will be put on the grill grate. Next, carefully place the dough onto the grates and grill it for about two minutes. After that, the dough should be lightly browned and firm enough to flip. (Tongs work great for flipping!) Once both sides are “pre-cooked,” remove your crust from the heat and transfer it to a pizza paddle or cutting board and add the sauce and toppings. Place the pizza back onto the grill, close the lid, and grill your masterpiece for two to three more minutes or until the cheese has melted and the bottom of the crust is crisp and slightly blackened. (You may need to lower the temperature if your crust is beginning to burn.)

If you do end up sacrificing your first couple of crusts to the pizza gods, don’t despair—the learning curve is quick. If you prefer, you can always cheat and put your dough on a pizza stone placed on top of the grates. Just be sure to heat the stone first.

Prep Like a Pro

The more practice you have with grilling pizza, the faster you will get and the easier it will become. If you are like me and prefer to prepare things before your guests arrive, partially grill the crusts ahead of time. Just make sure to place each crust on a rack to cool, so that it does not get soggy. (It’s best to use crusts within the hour.) And, as always, have the table set, cold drinks on hand, and a big green salad ready to go so that you can eat the pizza right after it comes off of the grill.

Pizza pros prefer using 00 flour over unbleached all-purpose flour due to its extremely fine texture. The 00 flour does, indeed, create flavorful results, as adding cornmeal yields a crunchier crust, and using cassava flour pleases the gluten-free crowd. Different types of flour create completely different results and endless options for creativity on the grill. 

Firing Tips

Every grill is different, so firing times will vary depending on your grill. Be sure to keep an eye on the heat, especially if your crust is super thin. You may have to turn down your grill to find its “sweet spot.” 

A few other things to note:

  1. Be sure the grill is heated high enough (for best results, heat your grill to 450°F).
  2. Lightly coat the grates with olive oil before placing the dough on top.
  3. It’s easiest to work with small, thin crusts.
  4. Make sure your cheese and all other toppings are ready before you start grilling, and
  5. Less is more! When topping the pizza, do not add too much sauce or too many toppings.

Sourdough Pizza Bianca with Ricotta, Radish, and Thyme

Makes 4 medium pizzas

A nutritious sourdough crust provides a hearty base for this summery pizza topped with fresh ricotta, farmer’s market radishes, and thyme. Just make sure to feed your starter the night before so you have enough to form the dough.

For the crust

1 ¼ cups all-purpose (or 00) bread flour
¼ cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups sourdough starter (make your own or purchase from  inseasonjh.com)
2 tablespoons olive oil

For the toppings

Olive oil (Use a really good one!)
Ricotta
Red pepper flakes
Radishes
Fresh thyme
Lemon zest

  1. Combine dry ingredients in a mixing bowl.
  2. Add starter and mix with a dough whisk (if you have one). When dough becomes set, mix with your hands. (You may need to add a little flour or water a to get a good consistency, but you don’t want the dough to stick to your hands). 
  3. Add olive oil and continue mixing and kneading for several minutes.
  4. Form the dough into four balls. Place the balls into oiled bowls, cover in plastic, and let them sit at room temperature to rise (approximately 1 1/2 to 2 hours, if it’s warm). 
  5. Once the dough has doubled in size, stretch each ball to form a circle (or roll it with a rolling pin to desired thinness). 
  6. Brush one side of the dough with olive oil and place that side onto the heated grill grate or onto a heated pizza stone on the grill. Grill your dough to “crust perfection” (see above).
  7. Remove the crust from the grill, drizzle it on olive oil; add ricotta and a sprinkle of red pepper flakes. Place it back on the grill to cook. 
  8. Once done, top with sliced radish, fresh thyme, lemon zest, and another drizzle of oil.  

* Crust recipe adapted from breadtopia.com.


Cornmeal Crust Pizza with Pesto, Prosciutto, and Arugula

Makes 4 medium pizzas

A cornmeal-crusted pizza reminds me of eating polenta without all the heft. Paired with pesto, prosciutto, and arugula, it’s bound to be a party favorite.

For the crust

1 ½ cup cornmeal
1 ½ cups all-purpose (or 00) flour 
1 package active dry yeast (2 ¼ teaspoons)
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup warm water
2 tablespoons olive oil
cornmeal, for sprinkling 

For the toppings

Pesto (check out Chasing Paradise’s pesto at the farmer’s market)
Feta
Mozzarella cheese
Prosciutto (imported)
Arugula
Balsamic vinegar

  1. Combine the flour, yeast, and salt in a mixing bowl. Add warm water and olive oil. Mix to combine all ingredients (an electric mixer works great here). 
  2. Stir in the cornmeal using a wooden spoon.
  3. Place the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Knead for about 8 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic and begins to feel stiff. 
  4. Divide the dough into four balls. Cover and let rest for 10 minutes.
  5. Dust a flat surface with cornmeal. Roll out each piece of dough until it’s about 1/4-inch thick, pinch around the sides, and prick with a fork several times.
  6. Place the dough onto a hot oiled grill and cook until the bottom is set with grill marks. Flip it over and grill for another minute. Remove from heat. 
  7. Top crust with pesto, feta and mozzarella cheeses, and prosciutto, then cook for an additional 2 to 3 minutes or until the cheese is melted and the crust is golden brown.
  8. Once cooked, top with arugula and drizzle with balsamic vinegar.

* Crust recipe adapted from grouprecipes.com.


Cassava Crust Pizza Margherita

Note: We like to make a sauce using Bionaturae tomato paste (available at Whole Foods or Barrels and Bins) seasoned with salt, pepper, fresh garlic, Italian seasoning, and fennel seed (optional).

Gluten-free guests will love this traditional margherita pizza on a crust they can eat! Pre-bake the cassava crusts in the oven ahead of time so they will be party-ready.

For the crust

1 ½ cups cassava flour
1 cup arrowroot 
2 teaspoons sea salt  
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder 
2 eggs
½ cup olive oil, plus more for oiling the dough     
1 cup water 

For the toppings

Tomato sauce
Fresh mozzarella
Fresh tomatoes
Fresh basil
Sea salt
Fresh ground pepper

  1. Preheat your oven to 425°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.  
  2. Mix cassava flour, arrowroot, sea salt, onion, and garlic in a medium mixing bowl.
  3. Add the wet ingredients and mix well. Let the dough sit for a few minutes to firm up.
  4. Divide the dough into four pieces by wetting your hands and forming each piece into a round ball (if the dough is sticking to your hands, put a little olive oil on your hands). Add more cassava flour—a little at a time—if it seems too wet to work with.
  5. Place two pieces of dough onto one parchment-lined baking sheet and the other two onto another. Press each ball down to form about a 5-inch circle. Bake for 10 minutes.
  6. Remove dough from the oven, top with tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, and fresh tomatoes. Place pizza directly onto the grates of a hot grill for about 2 to 3 minutes or until the cheese is melted and the crust is brown.  
  7. Remove from heat and top with torn basil leaves, sea salt, and fresh ground pepper to taste.

* Crust recipe adapted from mommypotamus.com.