Memorial Day is for cooking with fire. Grilling provides a perfect low-stakes reason to be outside in the warm weather that requires no commitment beyond trusting that you’ll feel hungry in a little bit. It’s a simple celebration of having the time to make dinner an event, the ambient temperature to enjoy doing so on a porch or patio, and hopefully good friends to share the food. Besides, holiday traditions don’t have to make sense. There’s nothing wrong (and a lot right) with relying on the classic combo of heat and meat in the form of burgers, sausages or steaks. But while you’re at it, grill a pizza.
Sure, pizza is easily outsourced and just fine baked, but the grill does the trick of recreating whatever overpriced gourmet pie they serve at your favorite brick-oven pizzeria. Bake dough, tomato, and cheese in the oven and you have a passable meal. Sear it on a stone surface in your grill and you have a masterpiece in a fraction of the time. Trust me when I say that grilled pizza is really fucking delicious, and you can serve a damn good pie for cheaper than a party’s worth of meat (and without pissing off your vegetarian friends). It’s a little tough to master—miscalculate how much structural integrity your dough has just once and you’ve got a pile of burned ingredients that suddenly aren’t looking so cost-effective—but it’s worth the effort.
One of the main reasons that pies from brick-oven or wood-fired pizzerias taste so much better than the ones you make in your home oven is that industrial pizza ovens get really hot. Opting for the grill over your home oven is a step in this direction. You could hypothetically put a pizza stone right down on a grill and keep the lid closed so that it gets as hot as it can before throwing the pizza on, but it’s not necessarily the best route. (The issue here is that a regular grill doesn’t retain heat all that well, which means losing out on some of that brick-oven/wood-fired flavor and crust.)
If you’re more serious about grilling pizza, you’ll want to invest in something that will capture and retain the grill’s heat (or, I guess, an actual backyard pizza oven; but I can’t really endorse spending that kind of money). You can get somewhere in between the regular grill and skipping a month’s rent for the sake of better pies with grill attachments made specifically for this. I have one of the Kettle Pizza kits. The main selling point of these kits is the stainless steel frame with an open slot that you put on top of your grill to create a largely enclosed “oven” that has an opening to retrieve the goods from. Basically, it turns your grill into an oven. It’s a super simple design that’s undoubtedly overpriced, but it does exactly what it’s supposed to do: It keeps the heat from dissipating so your pizza cooks at a higher temperature than you could ever achieve in your oven or on a normal grill setup.
A pizza stone: You can’t really screw this one up, as long as you go with clay or stone.
An aluminum pan: Or something that can handle an unbaked pizza and the grill’s high heat. Real pizza chefs don’t need this. They are nimble enough with the dough to slide it right from the peel onto the hot stone. We’re not there yet. And you’re probably not either.
Pizza peel: You know, the thing you use for shuffling pizzas onto hot surfaces. You don’t need a long handle like the pros use to get to the back of their industrial-sized oven.
Tongs: The grilling kind with the wooden handle are good for not burning your hand—but an oven mitt will work for that, too.
A really good grilling mitt: Think glove, not mitten, so you have finger mobility.
Some combination of wood or hardwood charcoal: Don’t use charcoal briquettes.
Ingredients: Don’t let me tell you how to top your pizza. Put whatever you want on top of the dough* (might I suggest honey?) as long as you put cornmeal underneath. Sprinkle some wherever you’re prepping the pizza to keep the bottom of the pie from sticking to various surfaces it’ll come in contact with.
Now we’re ready to grill some pizza.
Pizza stones retain heat. This is why they’re so good for grilling pizza, but this also means that they take a really long time to heat up, and you’ll need to factor in this preheat when plotting out when to light the grill. You can start the stone on the grill or even in the oven, but if you opt for the latter, bear in mind that you won’t be able to get it as hot as you will on the grill. Why? Because you’re grill is going to get really, really hot. Maybe there’s more nuance among the better experienced, but generally: hotter is better. Don’t grill your pizza on anything less than 500 degrees, and if you can get your grill hotter than that to start with (we let it get up to around 700 degrees, which is as high as the thermometer on the grill measures, so it could have been higher), you’ll buy yourself more grilling time, provided you keep a close eye on your pies.
This is not a grilling tutorial because I am not a grilling expert so, let’s assume you’ve lit the grill, and given your pizza stone at least 20 minutes to heat up. Take the pizza you made on the aluminum pan (but not before laying down some cornmeal) and place it on the stone on the grill, pan and all. Don’t get fancy with this, just use your gloved hands to push it through the opening and feel a little bit of shame because we’re already cheating.
Ideally, you’d shuffle the pizza right from the peel surface to the hot pizza stone where it would quickly form an unmistakable crust. However, this is where many a grilled pizza goes wrong. The uncooked dough is a little sticky, and maybe you stretched it a little too thin, and in your overeager glutton stacked it a little too high with heavy ingredients that are creating dangerous drag. Cooking it for just about a minute on the aluminum pan gives your pie the structural integrity it needs to handle the novice maneuvering. So, after a minute, you’ll want to get the pizza directly on the stone. To make this really easy, you can pull the pan out, slide the pizza onto the peel and then shuffle it onto the stone. By the end of the afternoon, you should be able to just use the gloves and the tong to pull the pan out from under it without taking your semi-cooked pizza out of the grill.
A few minutes later—really, it’s that fast, just keep an eye on how dark the crust is getting—your pizza is ready to come off the grill—again, tongs will help you guide it onto the peel, or right on to your personal plate.
*Some thoughts on dough: If you have a dough recipe that you know and trust, by all means, use that. Grilling pizza requires predictable, reliably homogenous dough, and you wouldn’t be out of line outsourcing that part of the process—especially to a reputable producer. Homemade pizza dough is wonderful, and a worthwhile thing to master, but I’m sure your favorite pizzeria makes good dough, too, and they’re probably willing to sell it to you. In fact, pick some up right now, and you could be eating home-grilled pizza for dinner.