Grilling pizza is an adventure: a hot, thrilling culinary challenge that tests your ability to master the nuances of a charcoal grill. Will you get it right the first time? Maybe … or probably not. Will the failed attempts be worth the trouble when you succeed? Absolutely.
“You’re going to get a flavor, a smokiness, you just can’t get from an oven,” explains Zach Crady of The Wood Fired Oven, a mobile pizzeria that travels to gatherings across Western North Carolina from its home base in Asheville. To keep the do-overs to a minimum, Crady offers some key pointers.
Build Your Base
To begin with, a thin Neapolitan-style crust is the only way to go when you’re cooking over coals. The dough is designed for a fast cook time at high temperatures, so it’s going to ensure a better rise. Keep a couple of balls of dough handy in case your first tries combust.
When it comes to toppings, less is best. The more ingredients you add, the longer the pie has to stay on the grill and the better the chances that the delicate crust is going to burn. Even the thickness of the sauce is important. For Crady, a go-to recipe is made by smashing fresh tomatoes, basil, and a little salt in a bowl. Another simple and savory option is olive oil and goat cheese.
Bring the Heat
When you’re ready to fire up the grill, get it hot—really hot. This is when getting to know your grill becomes an art, because each one is a little different. On your maiden voyage, shoot for 700 to 800 degrees, which could take about 30 minutes of preheating. Then rake the coals to the outer edges of the grill to create an indirect heat. Place a pizza stone in the center of the grate, cover the grill, and let it heat up for 10 minutes before sliding the pizza onto the stone.
Get Your Grill On
Things are going to move fast now: in just two minutes, lift the crust with a metal spatula to check the color. Crady says don’t be afraid of a little char, but if the bottom is black, toss it and try again. At most, you’ll need six to eight minutes of total cook time. When you pull it off the grill, leave the stone behind to let it cool down on the covered grill.
And what if your pie still isn’t perfect? “Just play around with it,” Crady says. “It’s not the end of the world if you burn a pizza. Try again. I promise you, once you get it right, you will enjoy it.”
The Wood Fired Oven