Grilled Pizza is the Best Pizza

It's one of the season's most overlooked pleasures. Here's how to do it right.

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Grilled pizza is one of the summer’s most overlooked pleasures. A gas or charcoal grill is the perfect vehicle for pizza. In fact, laying a stretched-out ball of dough over blistering-hot grates yields a completely different type of pie, one that has all the melty, crispy, tangy components of a traditional pie but with much more nuance.

“One of my favorite parts about eating pizza is the char on it,” says Matt Hyland, Executive chef and founder of the uber-popular pizzerias Emmy Squared, Emily, and Violet, the latter of which specializes in grilled pizza. “It’s a little bit sour from all the carbonization and everything. When you grill a pizza, you get a lot of that.”

You certainly do. While it doesn’t entirely mimic a traditional pizza oven, a raging hot grill — and yes, it must be raging hot — does a damn good impression. And for grilled pizza — that is, a Neapolitan-style oblong-ish pie that’s charred and craggy and sophisticated in its simplicity — it works wonders. Requiring only a few minutes to complete, it’s an ideal summer dish, one that can complement other grilled dishes or firmly stand on its own as a big or small family-style dinner.

And just to set the record straight: as far as Hyland is concerned grilled pizza is, in fact, pizza. “It’s not flatbread. It has dough, sauce, and cheese, and anything with dough, sauce, and cheese is considered a pizza, says Hyland. “Grilled pizza is just pizza. And it’s great.”

We agree. And, as we’re guessing you’ll be spending a little more time in your backyard this year, there’s no better time to perfect your grilled pizza game. Here, with help from Hyland, is how to make a grilled pizza you’ll go back to again and again.

The Components of a Great Grilled Pizza

The Dough

Grilled pizza needs a be a bit more durable than a traditional pie, as it must stand up to the high heat and not leak down through the grates. For that reason, per Hyland, you want to use high-gluten flour in your dough. “You’ll have better structure, your dough won’t fall through the slates, and it will just hold up nicely when it’s grilling,” he says. (He personally uses King Arthur Flour’s special patent high gluten flour) And, while pizza dough is normally stretched out in flour, Hyland says to do this in oil because it’s going to make it both easier to work with and less likely to adhere to the grill. As for the size of your dough ball? Whatever you’re comfortable working with. However, at home, Hyland does a five or six-ounce dough that he stretches out into eight or 10 inches.

The Sauce

As far as Hyland is concerned, the simpler the sauce, the better. “Just do it like a traditional Neapolitan and you’re good,” he says. In other words, take some fresh heirloom tomatoes, run ’em through a food mill, and add some salt. No heirlooms? Sub for canned tomatoes (Hyland says American canned tomatoes have the most flavor). Grilled pizza isn’t a saucy creation; you’ll need about two ounces of sauce based on the size of your pizza.

The Cheese

Save the mozzarella for a nice Caprese salad. It’s not the best cheese to use here, as it needs a lot of time to melt — time you won’t have using this method. Instead, Hyland’s go-to’s are quick melting Havarti or Fontina (shredded yourself; pre-shredded cheese has a coating that prevents it from melting well) as your base. Whichever you use, Hyland says to also add “a ton of pecorino.” Why? “Pecorino is super salty, so it brightens up the sauce, the dough, and the other cheeses and is really just a pure MSG bomb.” Like a little bit more funk on your pie? Add some gruyere.

The Toppings

Using this preparation, a grilled pizza will be done in about two or three minutes. Thus, the only things you’re adding to the dough on the grill are the sauce and cheese. “Since all of your heat is coming from the bottom of the pizza, you can’t put anything on top that needs to be actually cooked,” reminds Hyland.

Want other toppings? Go for it. But they should be pre-grilled or able to be added raw. But, staying true to the nature of this pie, Hyland urges that less is more. “I love a classic New York pie with, like, olives, sausage, pepperoni, and everything else, but this isn’t really the place for those,” he says. “This is not a toppings-driven pie; it’s about the primal cook of the oven.” Some toppings he does suggest, however, are:

  • Roasted garlic
  • Fresh chopped herbs, specifically thyme, rosemary, and sage.
  • Pre-grilled peppers
  • Pre-grilled asparagus
  • Caramelized onions

How to Grill Pizza

Crank Up The Heat

Whether you’re using a gas or charcoal grill, the same principle remains: You want to establish a two-zone grill where one side is set to medium heat and the other side, per Hyland, “as raging hot as it can get.” This is important because you’re going to want to use both sides during the process. Using charcoal? Find the hottest burning wood coal you can find. Pre-heat them both for a minimum of 10-15 minutes (For a charcoal grill, that 10-15 minutes should begin after the coals have started to ash).

Place Your Dough

Set your stretched, oiled dough on the hottest side of the grill. It shouldn’t be a round — it should look like an oblong oval at best, says Hyland. Then, let it sit there for about 45-90 seconds depending on your heat. When it’s time to move it, the dough should be bubbly, brown, and release easily from the grate.

Flip It, Slide It, and Quickly Add Your Toppings

Once one side is cooked, flip the pizza using tongs and slide it over the medium setting of the grill. Working (very) quickly (keep your ingredients close by), add your sauce and cheese.

When saucing, Hyland says you want to add about two ounces, in about three or four dots. “Don’t make the pie too wet or overload it; just a splash-splash-splash of sauce without any particular order,” he says. When adding the cheese, Hyland says he sprinkles it from on high; where it lands on the pizza it lands.

There’s a purpose to Jackson Pollack-ing the pizza this way. “Every side is a little bit different,” says Hyland. “It has a different bite of cheese, a different bite of sauce, maybe one side is a bit more salty, maybe one side is a bit more grilled.” That kind of rusticness is the beauty of grilled pizza.

Slide it Back to the Hot Side

Once the toppings have been added (very) quickly, slide the pizza back over to the raging hot zone of your grill. Let it sit there for another 45-90 seconds or until the dough is charred and releases easily again.

When it’s ready, take it off, slice it up, and enjoy all that char.

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