Backyard pizza: Use your grill for that wood-fired taste

Steve Peters / Photo

Steve Peters

I hardly ever think to make pizza on the grill, but it’s actually a much closer experience to wood-fired pizza than you can get from a household oven. Not to mention, you don’t have to heat up the house by cranking the oven up above 400 degrees. That’s an especially motivating factor during summer.

With the right approach, pizza on the grill is simple. By sticking to a few techniques, I’ve never had a problem with pizza falling through the grates or burning.

First, I lay the dough lengthwise across the grates. That way, the edges of the dough can’t droop down into the flames below. That’s right, the dough goes directly on the grill, and it works fine. Second, I assemble the toppings for the pizza right on the grill. I just haven’t found a good technique to transfer the pizza to the grill with the degree of gentleness it requires. I’ve seen recommendations to cook the crust on one side then remove and top and transfer back. But why all the work if you don’t have to?

Another helpful strategy is to keep the pizzas relatively small. I like to roll ½ pound of dough out as thin as possible. That makes a modestly sized pizza that could feed two or perhaps just one hungry individual. I don’t do much in the way of a crust, but do keep a small border around the edge of the dough when I add toppings. At this size, it makes it easy to make multiple kinds of pizza if you’re cooking for a crowd.

This time, I was inspired by the eggplants I’m just starting to harvest from the garden. That, and fresh herbs, which are just about everywhere you look around my backyard. I’d let them take over completely if I could. Since eggplant doesn’t have a strong flavor of its own, I used smoked paprika, which I think works particularly well with fresh rosemary. If you don’t have smoked paprika, regular paprika with a little ground chipotle would also work.

It’s not the typical pizza topping of tomatoes or sauce and basil, but there’s certainly nothing wrong with that either. Tomatoes are slowly engulfing my kitchen counter, and I’ll be making homemade sauce before long — perfectly suited for a future grilled pizza.

I’m using my grill more and more as a replacement for the oven during this insanely hot summer we’re having. Luckily, I broke down and bought a new one at the start of the season, and I don’t think I’ve ever grilled more. It has one of those handy side burners, and I have no qualms about cooking multiple components of a meal with the grill. I use sheet pans on it all the time and foods cook just like they would in the oven, though often a bit faster. Next up, I’ll have to attempt a full-on baking project out there. I bet even a grilled cake would come out fine. Stay tuned.

Smoky rosemary eggplant pizza

serves 4

1 pound pizza dough

Olive oil

2 medium eggplants

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt

1 heaping tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped

½ medium red onion, thinly sliced into rings

Crushed red pepper, to taste

½ cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

¼ cup chopped fresh parsley

Let the dough come to room temperature, then divide it into two even balls. Lightly coat each ball with olive oil and use a rolling pin to flatten out each ball as thinly as possible, without tearing. Coat the dough with a little more oil if it sticks.

Heat your grill to 400 degrees. Peel the eggplant and slice it into ½ inch pieces. On a baking sheet, toss the eggplant with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, the paprika, 1 teaspoon of the salt and the rosemary. Make sure everything is well coated, then transfer the baking sheet to the grill and cook 10 – 15 minutes, until the eggplant is tender. Use a spatula to toss around the eggplant occasionally during cooking.

When the eggplant is done, remove the tray from the grill and turn up the heat so that the temperature reaches about 500 degrees. Let the grill heat for a few minutes, if necessary. You want the flames to remain relatively low so that the pizza won’t burn.

Gather all of your ingredients, including the eggplant and the pizza dough, and set everything within easy access to the grill. One at a time, wrap the pizza dough onto the rolling pin and gently transfer directly to the grill, unrolling and positioning the dough so that it lies across the grates.

Cover each of the pieces of dough with the eggplant, then the red onion and crushed red pepper, to your liking. Sprinkle the pizzas with a bit more of the salt and a little olive oil. Lower the cover and allow to cook for about 15 minutes. Check periodically to make sure the dough isn’t burning.

Top the pizza with the mozzarella and cook with the lid down until the cheese is melted. Use a large spatula to lift the pizzas off of the grill and onto a cutting board. Top with Parmesan cheese and the parsley. Cut and serve warm.

Steve Peters

Steve Peters is a cook, gardener and baker living in Rutland.

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