Classic Margherita Pizza with fresh basil
It’s summer, the time of year where the grill gives the oven a much-needed vacation. But the open flame is not just reserved for burgers and hot dogs. Some of the most memorable gatherings at our house featured grilled pizza. We once had a request to host one of our grilled pizza parties for a friend and her children and ten years later they’re still talking about it! I am often asked for tips on grilling the perfect pizza, so here is what I’ve gleaned from the masters and from making every mistake in the book.
- Make your dough one or two days prior. Form it into balls, no larger than 8 ounces in weight, and place on a well-oiled, covered pan and keep chilled until two hours before you plan to start cooking. Use unbleached all-purpose flour and your favorite pizza dough recipe.
- Prepare all your toppings, cheeses, and sauces in advance, each placed in easy-to-access bowls or containers laid out on a side table near the grill. I like to use a squirt bottle for applying the pizza sauce so that it can be squeezed over the top rather than ladled. Pre-cook (sauté or roast) any vegetables and raw meats.
Light & Fresh Napa Valley Salad Pizza with Yellow Tomatoes and Arugula
Two is better than one
- If possible, use two grills (or use one large grill with hot and medium-hot zones). You can use charcoal or gas, but I prefer using one charcoal grill, like a Weber Kettle, and one gas grill with temperature controls. The coal grill is the hot one capable of baking the underside of the dough to the point of bubbling and char marks within one minute. The temperature of the second zone, whether with coal or gas, should be at medium heat, requiring about three minutes to crisp the other side of the dough to a golden brown with a few char marks.
- Do not use a pizza stone – bake directly on the grates over the heat source (otherwise, why bother using the grill?). Mist some olive oil pan spray on the grates just before putting on the dough to minimize sticking.
- Set up a table next to the hot grill, along with a large cutting board. Rub some olive oil on the board and place a dough ball from the oiled pan in the center of the board. Rub the top of the dough with olive oil and use a rolling pin to gently roll it out into a large oval, just under 1/4-inch thick. With oiled hands, lift the dough and lay it over the grate on the hotter of the two grills – the dough can be an amorphous oblong if that’s how it lays. Use a pair of tongs to lift off the dough as soon as the underside chars and the dough begins to bubble. This will probably take about 45 to 60 seconds. Flip the dough over and transfer it to the cooler grill, with the uncooked side facing down.
Bean it up – white Bean Pizza with Loads of Basil and olive oil
- Add your cheeses on top of the cooked side, then the other toppings. Drizzle the pizza sauce over the toppings. If you have a grill lid, lower it to increase the ambient heat and cook for approximately two to three minutes, or as long as it takes to melt the cheese. Cook the underside to a light char. Remove the pizza to a clean cutting board with a long metal flipper or a pizza peel. Garnish with fresh herbs or scallions and serve immediately.
- Make a finishing sauce (or sauces) to drizzle over the top after the pizzas are baked. Examples: pesto, hot chili oil (with smoked paprika, option), garlic oil, truffle oil, or vinegar splashes made with either wine or balsamic vinegar pureed with red bell or red jalapeno peppers, fresh garlic, pepper and salt.
Sweet & Salty – Prosciutto Ham & Pineapple Pizza
One last bit of advice: You may want to do at least one practice run to work out your system and get used to the heat zones and timing of your grill. For more on pizza by Peter Reinhart, including instructional videos, visit www.pizzaquest.com.
PIZZA ON PAPER
There are a number of good books on grilling pizza, such as “Pizza on the Grill” by Elizabeth Karmel and Bob Blumer, “Grilled Pizzas and Piadinas” by Craig Priebe and Diane Jacob, and my own, “American Pie: My Search for the Perfect Pizza,” in which I tell the story of the creators of the first and best grilled pizza in America, George Germon and Johanne Killeen of Al Forno Restaurant in Providence, R.I. Any of these books can serve as guides for both novice and experienced grillers.
Peter Reinhart is the author of nine books on bread, pizza, food and culture. His books have won four James Beard Awards including Book of the Year (for “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice”). He is the consulting partner at Pure Pizza, and organic, farm to fork pizzeria, and consults with many companies on menu and product development. In addition, he hosts the website, Pizza Quest (www.pizzaquest.com), which continues the story of Peter’s never ending pizza hunts, as chronicled in his book, “American Pie: My Search for the Perfect Pizza.” He is a chef instructor at Johnson & Wales University and lives in Charlotte, NC with his wife, Susan.
Image courtesy of the Idaho Potato Commission
Steak and potatoes – for many, this is a tastier culinary pairing than peanut butter and jelly. I get the opportunity to visit a lot of restaurants and one thing I’ve noticed is the ones that make a great baked potato have a couple of things in common. Everyone has their own idea of what makes the perfect baked potato. But the good news is, the finest steakhouse-baked Idaho® potatoes follow a similar preparation that you can do at home.
- The potato was nowhere near a microwave. For convenience sake, it’s ok to microwave potatoes at home, just know that they are not going to taste the same as something that came out of a piping hot oven. Potatoes have about 20% solids (or “starch”). The other 80% is moisture. Baking in a dry, hot oven or on the grill forces much of that moisture to evaporate, leaving a nice crispy outer skin and a dry fluffy interior. So unless you are in a big hurry, turn on the oven.
- Since restaurants use their ovens for a lot of different cooking applications chances are they are cooking the potatoes longer and hotter than you do at home. I recommend preheating the oven to 400°F and setting the timer for an hour. The potato is done when the internal temperature is at 185°F to 210°F.
- Don’t store potatoes in the refrigerator. The natural starches will convert to sugar and the potato will taste sweet when baked. Store in a cool dark place such as your pantry.
- Don’t wrap the potato in foil. This just steams it and makes the skin wet. Yes, some restaurants do this, but primarily they are trying to hold the potatoes longer and to dress them up.
- Use a fork to pierce the potato on both sides to let steam escape and then place the potatoes (with spacing around each) in the oven right on the racks so they will cook evenly and faster than if bunched together or on a cold metal tray.
- When a potato is done baking you can usually start to smell the aroma leaking out of the oven. Pull one of the potatoes and poke it with a fork until you don’t see its tines. Just like baking a cake, when the potato is thoroughly baked the fork should come out nearly clean. If you need to hold a potato until dinner is ready, turn off the oven, keeping the door closed, and the heat will stay in for another 10-15 minutes. That’s about how long it takes for me to start and finish a steak on the grill.
- Open the potato with a fork, cutting a cross into the top of the potato. Then push in both ends of the potato and it will blossom open, just like at your favorite steakhouse. If the potato is still moist inside, pop it into the microwave for 30-45 seconds.
Give these tips a try and tell us what you think. Did it come close to your favorite restaurant’s baked potato?
Did You Know?
The variety of the potato has a lot more to do with a perfect baked potato than you might think. Of course, I’m assuming that you look for the “Grown in Idaho®” seal on the nearby bagged russets and found that Idaho is one of the few states (in fact, the first) to label the variety right on the bag or plastic white enclosure tag. Look for the words Russet Norkotah, Russet Burbank, or other Idaho variety names such as Ranger, Umatilla, Alturas, etc.
Don Odiorne joined the Idaho Potato Commission in 1989 and today is their Vice President of Food Service. Along with spreading the good word about Idaho potatoes, he also works with high volume unit chefs cultivating the usage of the product.
My father is a really talented guy. He can do a lot of things well, but a barbecue king he is not. My earliest memories of barbecue are of Dad firing up the grill, getting those flames going really hot, and burning some poor piece of chicken until it looked like black rubber. Now that I am a chef (a career choice he is not convinced of, but that’s for another blog), I have shared with him that barbecue does not mean burn-a-cue. But like many folks intoxicated by the thrill of the grill and the excitement of spearheading the patio party, he’s still at it.
Dad’s main mistake, or “chicken error on the grill,” however, is actually quite common. His thought to sear the chicken on a very high and intense heat to achieve what’s called the Maillard reaction (a fancy way of saying browning) is the correct method. He is right -if you’re in the house and have a pan and an oven. Once the sear is complete and the juices are locked in, chicken can typically be finished in the oven. On the grill, however, so many keen backyard cooks, like my old man, end up by starting and finishing the meat on a high and direct heat. By the time the chicken is cooked through, the outside looks like a hockey puck.
The trick to grilling great chicken is in the heat. By keeping one side of the grill at a high heat with a direct flame while maintaining either a very low temp or even turned off heat on the opposite side of the grill, we can cook chicken using the same technique used in a high-end restaurant. After browning the chicken on the hot side of the grill, transfer it over to the cooler side and close the lid. This traps all the heat from the hot side and creates an oven effect, finishing the cooking process without torching the outside of the protein. The chicken will stay juicy and not be the color of asphalt.
Here is my recipe for Orange, Chili, and Fennel Chicken in honor of my Dad. It pairs beautifully with grilled vegetables and a sun-dried tomato vinaigrette. Happy grilling!
Contributed by Shahir Massoud
Shahir Massoud is an innovative and highly creative award winning chef. One of the youngest chefs in Ontario to achieve the highly esteemed “Very Good” review from Toronto Life – he is the founder of Black Sheep Pop-Up, a unique dining experience for enthusiastic food lovers. You can visit Chef Massoud at Black Sheep Pop Up Co.