My life has been focused around two main goals over the last decade: winning Ironman Hawaii and building amazing pizzas.
Generally speaking, winning a world title is probably a fair bit harder, but that doesn’t mean that it creating thin crust masterpieces has come without some trial and error. Burned crust? Many times. Over-saucing and over-topping leading to sogginess? Definitely. The perfect pizza? Still in pursuit, but getting closer…
The pizza is one of my favorite foods, and often my pre-race meal. Almost every city and country has this staple on tap if you are traveling, and most of the ingredients are readily available if you want to build your own. It certainly ranks as a bit of a “comfort food,” but it can be fairly healthy, and sometimes that comfort and familiarity is helpful in calming pre-race nerves. Finally, this is pizza I’m talking about, people. Do I really need to say much more…?
So what have I learned in my many years of pursuing the perfect pizza? Just call Domino’s! Just kidding. Here’s a few rules to follow, and some instructuons for the way I make most of my pizzas now:
- Get a pizza stone. Although this isn’t the way I have been cooking my pizzas lately, it’s a great kitchen utensil to own, and will bake a pizza more evenly and quickly. Emile Henry out of France would be my suggestion.
- Make your own crust. This adds a little time, but it’s seriously easy to do and worth it. If you don’t have time or the inclination, stop at a local pizza place to buy some of theirs (most places will do this), or purchase pre-made dough at the grocery.
- Get creative, or keep it simple, but make sure things are fresh. We grow our own basil and tomatoes for margherita pizzas, and have even made our own sauces (still perfecting this one…).
- Generally speaking, hotter than you might think is better. For the oven, I aim for 450, and for the grill, closer to 500-550. Depending on your altitude, pizza construction, etc., this will vary a bit, but that’s part of the fun and challenge.
- From learning to toss and stretch your pizza dough to the optimal thickness, to spreading the right amount of sauce and ingredients, pay attention to what works and what doesn’t. I would generally say less is more. As in, aim for thinner crust, less sauce, and fewer ingredients.
My current “pursuit of pizza perfection” has led me to the following recipe, found online at:
As always, feel free to adjust as you see necessary… Experimentation can lead to great things!
When you grill pizza, you need to have everything ready to go — all the toppings, the sauce, the cheese. This is because the key to pizza on the grill is to top the pizza after you’ve put it on the grill. It also helps if you cook the dough for a minute or two, flip it, and then top it.
What You Need
1 ball pizza dough (about 1 pound), store-bought or homemade
1/2 to 1 cup tomato sauce, store-bought or homemade
Cheese such as torn mozzarella, grated Asiago or Swiss, and grated Parmesan
Toppings such as herbs, thinly sliced vegetables, pepperoni and salami, prosciutto, chopped greens such as kale, or diced tomatoes
Grill, gas or charcoal
- Heat the grill: You should heat it quite hot;my grill was about 600°F with the lid on while baking this particular pizza. Aim for at least 550°F. If you have a choice on your grill between direct and indirect heat, set it up so the pizza is over direct heat.
- Gather your ingredients and toppings:Set up a table or bench near the grill so you have easy access to everything. Good grilled pizza is as much about the organization and logistics as it is about actual cooking!
- Also have your tools close to hand:You will want a pair of long metal tongs. A spatula may be helpful, although not absolutely necessary. You may want a hot pad or oven mitt if your grill lid gets hot.
- Prep your dough:It should be stretched or rolled out into a thin circle. (Circle-ish — as you can see, my pizzas usually resemble continents more than they do the moon!)
- Brush the dough with olive oil: Brush one side of the dough with oil; this is the side you’ll lay down on the grill.
- Grill one side of the pizza: Take the lid off the grill. Lay the dough round on the grill with theolive-oil side down. Brush the top of the dough with a thin layer of olive oil, too. Let the dough cook for about 3 minutes, with the lid off, or 1 to 2 minutes with the lid on. Use the tongs to lift up the dough from time to time, checking on how it is doing. You want grill marks on it, but you don’t want the dough to get crispy; it should be just set.
- Top the pizza: Flip the dough over with the tongs or spatula. The dough should come up easily and flip without tearing. Now is where your organization comes in! You need to top the pizza quickly. Spread on a thin layer of sauce, some cheese, and toppings. It shouldn’t be too heavily loaded, or the pizza won’t cook well.
- Cook the pizza: Put the lid on and cook for 3 to 5 minutes. Use your sense of smell; if the pizza smells like it’s scorching, take the lid off and move the pizza to a cooler part of the grill or turn the heat down.
- Remove the finished pizza: Remove the lid and check the pizza. The edges should be crisp and well-done, and the cheese should all be melted. Drag the pizza off with the spatula or tongs. Let cool for 3 minutes, then cut into pieces and eat!
- Every grill is different! You know your grill and it cooks differently than mine. Your pizza may take longer or shorter depending on how hot the grill gets and where your areas of direct and indirect heat are. Consider your first pizza a sacrifice to learning just how to control your grill temperature.
- Cooking times will vary! On that same note, of course, you need to keep an eye on the heat. This method works perfectly every time on my own grill, but the timing depends on how thin you stretch your dough, and how hot your grill gets. Flipping the dough gives you an extra measure of control and certainty, though, that the crust will be cooked through by the time your toppings have melted and warmed.