There's nothing like the smoky, slightly charred flavor of a pizza cooked in a wood fired oven, but we all know that those flavors can only be enjoyed at a restaurant, right? Well, not necessarily. With a good grill and a little practice, just about anyone can create similar, tasty pizzas right at home. There are many schools of thought regarding the grilled pizza, and inevitably, those who scoff at the inauthenticity of the entire practice, but I say open your mind, whip up some dough and get busy!
A great dough is, of course, at the heart of any great pizza. Here are two recipes that I think are especially good. The first dough, created by chef Peter Reinhart, must be made a day in advance to allow for a slow, gentle rise. This results in a consistently perfect pizza crust with just the right balance of crispiness and chewiness. The second dough, a simple recipe by chef Wolfgang Puck, is much quicker to make, and ready to use in less than 2 hours, but tends to be a little more chewy and less light than the first.
Once you've mastered the dough, it’s time to turn your focus to perfecting the toppings. I think that simple is always better when it comes to grilled pizzas as you don't want to lose the sublime, smoky undertones in a glob of toppings (not to mention that you don't want your pizza to be too heavy or it may tear and make a mess on the grill.) Pizzas cook fairly quickly this way, so you want to make sure that any ingredients that may take longer to cook (such as sausage or meatier vegetables like eggplant) are pre-cooked before you put them on your pie.
There are a few tricks I've found quite useful in my years of pizza grilling. The first is to add some wood chips that have been soaked in water to the fire. This is a sneaky way to impart some good smoke flavor, particularly if you're working with a gas fired grill. Just be sure not to go too heavy on the chips, or you'll find the flavors of your pie overpowered by smoke.
Another trick I've found to be invaluable, is to first have all of your toppings handy near the grill. Then, once the grill is hot enough (you want it hot enough that the dough sets up quickly, but not so hot that the bottom of the dough burns before the toppings are thoroughly melted– this is easier to control with a gas grill) you are ready to get started. First, stretch the dough out as thinly as possible and gently lay it down on the grill. Within a few minutes, the bottom of the dough will be cooked enough that you can use a pizza peel, or even a pair of tongs, to flip the dough over. Once flipped, you must work quickly to get your toppings on the pie and get the lid of the grill closed. Making your pizzas this way makes your dough a bit more durable and less likely to tear when you rotate it, because half of it is already cooked. This technique also imparts the char flavor from the grill grates onto both sides of of your crust, making it extra tasty. If I'm working with a big enough gas grill, I often set it to high on one side, and medium-low on the other. This way I get the dough to set quickly on the high side and then, when I flip it over, move it to the lower heat side so that the circulating heat will allow the toppings to cook, but the bottom won’t burn.
Yesterday I was fortunate enough to dine at a friend's house and he made grilled pizzas for dinner. He uses an approach I've never seen, but it worked quite nicely. He sets a heavy, metal griddle on top of the grill grates and cooks his pizzas on that. The results were great– a little less smoky than my method, but delicious in their own right and considering we were eating the pies so fast he had trouble keeping up, I’d say they were a hit.