How to Grill Pizza + My Go-To Pizza Sauce Recipe
I know Memorial Day weekend just ended, and you probably feel like you could go a few days without grilling your meals, but I bet you’ll feel differently after reading this post.
My love for pizza grilling started about 4 years ago. My roommate Anna and I discovered the fresh $1 dough at Trader Joe’s, and on the package it mentioned that it worked well for pizza grilling. Intrigued, we took our little Smokey Joe grill out to the backyard and gave it a go. Admittedly, we had some trial and error, but once we got the hang of it grilled pizza became our go-to meal. Anna, our friend Leah and I began grilling pizza every weekend. I learned how to make our own dough and sauce, and to this day one of the best things I’ve ever eaten is the heirloom tomato pizza we created in the summer of 2010. Excuse me for a moment while I daydream…
At one point I became a little too cocky about my pizza-grilling skills. Anna was always in charge of starting Smokey Joe, but one night when I had a date I asked her to write out step-by-step instructions so I could grill pizza for a guy. My date offerred to start the grill when he came over, to which I replied, “Oh no, don’t worry about it – I do this all the time!” After rolling out the dough like a champ, I put it on the grill, waited the 5 minutes it usually took to cook, and then flipped it over, ready to impress.
The crust was not just overdone, and not just the kind of burnt where you can scrape off the outside. The crust was blackened all the way through. I may have actually turned whole wheat dough into pure charcoal. I tried to laugh it off, and I served the side that was (kind of but not really) less burnt. We ended up going across the street to dinner that night, and then I never heard from him again. Ufffffda. All for the best, but…whoops.
Pizza grilling goes more smoothly for me now that we have a gas grill, but don’t be discouraged if you use charcoal. With charcoal you’ll enjoy a nice smoky flavor, and it’s really not any more complicated than gas, assuming you know how to light the grill…because that’s apparently crucial.
To make sure your pizza-grilling experience goes as smoothly and deliciously as possible, I’ve put together a step-by-step process with pictures below, and included my favorite simple sauce recipe. Note that the below steps and approximate times are for our gas grill. Since the heat-level of a charcoal grill is less predictable than gas, you’ll want to check it more often.
If you’re wondering why you should grill pizza instead of sticking it in the oven, I’ll give you three reasons. First: it’s FUN. I’ve gotten over my burnt-pizza rejection, and The Beast and I have grilled pizza date nights all the time when the weather is nice. Second: it’s really simple and quick. Last but not least: the CRUST. The crust gets crispy on the outside, but remains chewy on the inside, and gets a nice char from the grill. It’s really heavenly, and so summery. Do it.
Step-By-Step Guide to Grilling Pizza
- Pizza dough (make your own, or Trader Joe’s has a great fresh dough for about $1)
- Cutting board/Pizza peel
- Olive oil
- Pizza sauce (I always use the recipe at the bottom of this post)
1. I almost always make my dough using the no-knead method from Artisan Pizza and Flatbread in 5 Minutes a Day. Sometimes I add a 1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder to the dough, sometimes I add some dried basil, and sometimes I just leave the recipe alone. It’s very versatile, and I’ve described how to make the whole wheat version in this post. Anyway, step 1 of pizza grilling: make (or buy) your favorite dough, and grab a handful about the size of a softball. You can make a bigger pizza, but it will be a bit more difficult to get on and off the grill.
2. Place the dough on a floured surface that you can pick up and move easily (a pizza peel or large cutting board works well), and press down to flatten slightly. You can stretch the dough out further with your hands, but I usually use a rolling pin. I like to make my pizzas pretty thin, but they will be a bit easier to handle while grilling if you leave them a little thicker. Once you have the dough rolled out, drizzle with olive oil and brush it evenly across the dough.
3. Carefully lift the dough from the surface, balancing it mostly on the back of your hands and knuckles so your fingertips don’t poke through the dough. Place the dough oil-side down on a grill set to medium-low, then put the cover back on the grill. After 5 minutes, check the dough to see how firm it’s become. You may have some bubbles in your dough, and that’s okay. I usually use a spatula to gently lift up one of the sides to check the level of done-ness. When the dough is ready, it should be simple to slide it off the grill using a spatula. On our grill, it takes about 10 minutes before the dough is ready to come off. When you remove the dough, turn the grill to low heat.
4. Remove the dough from the grill, and set it down on your portable surface with the oil/cooked-side down. Drizzle olive oil over the uncooked side, then flip the dough.
5. Top your pizza with whatever toppings you desire. I like to keep mine pretty simple, with sauce, fresh mozzarella, and basil. The Beast, however, goes to town (see below). Once your pizza is topped to your liking, set it back on the grill and close the cover. The reason the grill should be set to low heat for this step is to keep the bottom of the crust from burning before the heat melts all the toppings.
6. It usually takes about 7-10 minutes until the pizza is ready, but it will depend on the amount of toppings you layer on. For example, The Beast’s monster pizza takes a few minutes longer than mine to be ready.
Once you get the hang of it, you will never want to make pizza in the boring old oven again. I’ve actually grilled pizza in January before…this is not recommended, but sometimes you can’t ignore cravings, especially when you’re a Minnesotan who’s been taught to make the most of the weather.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 28.2 ounce can crushed tomatoes (look for cans with BPA-free lining)
- ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
- Kosher salt to taste (I usually use ½ teaspoon)
- Heat the olive oil in a medium-sized sauce pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook for about a minute, until fragrant. Pour in the tomatoes, salt, basil, and red pepper flakes.
- Bring to a boil, then reduce to medium-low heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes, until thickened.
- If you used diced tomatoes instead of crushed, you can process the sauce in a food processor to make it smooth. I usually process it even when I use crushed tomatoes just to make sure it’s completely smooth. This is totally optional and really just indicative of how ridiculous I am.