Sunday, July 12, 2009

Bites: Grilled Pizza Fail

When I first created Bites, I promised it would include both my successes and *my failures* in the kitchen. Today, I make good on that promise by showcasing my spectacular failure at grilled pizza.

Right before the long Fourth of July weekend, I solicited your best pizza dough recipes. I received a whopping... one. One! And so, I resorted to the Google, which is rife with pizza dough recipes. After much weighing of pros and cons, I settled on this one from Simply Recipes:

Simply Recipes' Homemade Pizza Dough
(Makes enough for two 10 to 12-inch pizzas)

1 1/2 cups warm water (105 - 115 degrees Fahrenheit)
1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) of active dry yeast (I used Fleischmann's)
3 1/2 cups bread flour or all-purpose flour (I used all-purpose flour)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon sugar

In the large bowl of a heavy duty electric mixer (I used my Kitchen Aid), add the warm water. I used a candy thermometer to make sure it was the right temperature, so I wouldn't kill the yeast. Sprinkle the yeast over the water and let sit for 5 minutes, until the yeast is dissolved. Stir to dissolve completely if needed at end of 5 minutes.

This is how it looked after 5 minutes. The yeast had dissolved and "bloomed."
I gave it a little stir to make sure it was all evenly distributed.

Attach the mixing paddle to the mixer. Mix in the olive oil, flour, salt and sugar on low speed for about a minute. Mine looked like this:

Remove the mixing paddle and replace with a dough hook. Knead using the mixer and dough hook, on low to medium speed, until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. If you don't have a mixer, you can mix and knead by hand.

Now, this is where I should have known I was getting in over my head. Because it took 25 minutes of kneading with the mixer and an "extra" 1/2 cup flour to get the dough to come together. I say "extra" because there was a moment when I was measuring out the flour that I thought to myself, "Hmm, was that 2 1/2 cups, or 3 cups? Probably 3..." So there's a definitely possibility I was short 1/2 cup of flour when I started kneading, explaining the need for extra. At any rate, the dough did indeed become "smooth and elastic" and formed a ball (which I forgot to take a picture of, of course).

Place the ball of dough in a bowl that has been coated lightly with olive oil. Turn the dough around in the bowl so that it gets coated with the oil.

It was in a ball before this, I swear...

Cover with plastic wrap, like this:

See how the plastic wrap is touching the dough? That's what the photos
accompanying the instructions looked like, so that's what I did.

Let sit in a warm place (between 75 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit) until the dough doubles in size, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours. If you don't have a warm spot in the hou
se you can heat the oven to 150 degrees, and then turn the oven off. Place the bowl of dough in the warmed oven to rise.

After about 1 1/2 hours, my dough had more than doubled in size.

This is the point where you punch the dough down. Once again, I hit the Google to find out what exactly this entailed. Then I felt silly, because it's exactly what it sounds like. You punch your fist in the middle of it to knock out all the air...

One swift punch later.

And then fold the sides down into the center...

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, divide into two equal pieces, and set aside to rest for about 10 minutes.

They kind of look like lungs, don't they?

Now, this is where things took a turn. I used my fingers to spread the dough, resulting in some spots that were too thick, and others that were so thin they tore. Next time, I'll use a rolling pin for better uniformity.

I referred to several different websites and blogs for advice on grilling pizza, and cobbled together my method from all of them.

I have a charcoal grill, so I started the coals in a chimney and built a fire for indirect heat. The grill seems to have gotten pretty hot - around 525 degrees Fahrenheit.

I brushed the grill grate with olive oil, and brushed the top of the dough with olive oil. Lacking a fancy-schmancy pizza peel, I improvised and dusted my unrimmed baking sheet with flour, then put the pizza dough on. I headed out to the grill, went to slide the dough onto the grill and found that it.... stuck. Like glue. After scraping with a spatula and prying with my fingers, I finally got the dough onto the grill. I tore a few holes in the dough in the process. After patching, it looked like this:

Not pretty.

Most sites recommended that I let the dough cook for a few minutes, until it was golden brown on the side closest to the coals, then rotate 180 degrees. I went to do this, and discovered that the side furthest from the coals was completely uncooked. Rotating the dough was a nightmare that resulted in more tearing and patching. Now it looked like this:

Even less pretty.

After the bottom had finished cooking, I pulled the dough off the grill (not easy). I brushed the top (uncooked) side with olive oil, the flipped the dough over so the cooked side w
as facing up. I topped the cooked side with fresh mozzarella, fresh tomato, and basil, then returned the dough to the grill, clamped the lid on, and repeated the cooking process: cook, rotate, cook. The pizza broke into several pieces this time, and came out looking like this (apologies for the blurriness):

Final product tasted better than it looked.

The second pizza came out much the same. In both cases, the thickest spots in the dough never cooked through. I loaded the second pizza up with too many toppings, which actually made that one a little bit soggy.

I think this method has potential, but I'll do a few things differently next time.
1. I'll make 4 smaller pizzas, instead of 2 larger ones.
2. I'll roll the dough with a rolling pin for more uniformity.
3. I'll dust my makeshift peel with cornmeal instead of flour, since that supposedly helps the dough slide off more easily ("it's like little ball bearings" one person said).
4. I'll build the fire differently. I'll try scattering a layer of coals all across the bottom of the grill and cook the dough with the lid on from the beginning, in the hopes that it will cook more uniformly.
5. I'll top the pizzas sparingly.

Have any of you ever tried grilled pizza? Got any tips for next time?


  1. Looks like you had some trouble. You might want to try and start with a little more coals and make pyramid before you put lighter fluid on them. Ignite with lighter fluid or chimney starter. After the coals are grey and ashy knock over the pyramid and then place the pizza dough on the grill. You can also invest in a pizza stone if you would like or just scrape and oil the grill properly.If you would like more tips you can visit

  2. Thanks, outdoorgriller! Your site looks like a great resource, and I'll definitely be referring to it when I try this again. I noticed under the "tips for grilling pizza" section that you recommend putting the lid on the grill when you're cooking the first side of the dough. I think I'll try this next time - maybe trapping the heat will help the dough cook more evenly? Thanks again - I clearly need all the help I can get on this one!

  3. Definitely use cornmeal on your peel. And don't be afraid to be very generous with it - not just a dusting, it needs to make a whole bed of tiny ball bearings under every single part of the dough or just one part will stick.

    I also read a method recently that i'm going to try - you simultaneously pre-heat your broiler and put a cast iron skillet on the stovetop on high, both for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes are up, flip the skillet upside down, put it into the broiler, and zoom your pizza onto the bottom of the skillet. You then broil for 1 minute and 35 seconds. This is supposed to produce the perfect crisp outside, chewy inside crust. Though I must admit, I don't see how the dough can cook in one minute, but hey, what do I know.

    Also try Wolfgang Puck's pizza dough recipe. It works well.