Don’t think your dear old grill can’t sense it. That gradual, subtle seasonal shift signaling that, once again, it’s time to hand the baton off and let the oven and stove reclaim your undivided culinary attention. So why not use this Labor Day as an occasion to celebrate something the grill does better than the oven: Make pizza.
Unconventional though it may sound, the grill is actually a very logical choice for making great Neapolitan-style pies. Because it can get so much hotter (and in a shorter period of time, too) than a traditional oven, the grill actually functions as a closer approximation to a wood-fired grill. It’s a perfect way to consistently achieve that kind of swoon-worthy crisp, charred crust and still-doughy interior. Plus, the grill (both charcoal and gas work) lends the dough a lovely, light smoky flavor.
And, bonus, it really doesn’t require all that much work (Labor Day is about not working, after all).
All you need to do is make a basic pizza dough, which you can do the night before, divide it up into rounds, stretch it out, and shape it into something round-ish and manageable-sized (it doesn’t need to be pretty). Then, prep some toppings, fire up the grill, and lay the dough down directly on the grates. Wait a minute or two as the dough starts to puff up and bubble, checking for even doneness on the underside and shifting as necessary, and then flip. Add your desired topping, close the top, and another couple minutes later—boom—pizza’s ready.
Just keep the following in mind to avoid some common pitfalls:
Because you’re working over a blazing hot grill here, you’re going to want a fairly sturdy dough that is easy to work with and won’t require much finicking. It helps to have a dough that is nice and dry, not sticky (you can imagine what kind of mess that might make). Some recommend adding just a touch more flour than you normally might to help ensure this, or even using bread dough, although this risks sacrificing some of the chewiness.
Dough Size and Shape
Grilling pizza is all about embracing amorphous round shapes. It doesn’t need to be a circle, and it doesn’t need to be perfect. “Rustic” is your inspiration word here. And no need to make that classic rounded pizza edge. Remember, the side the ends up with the toppings is going to hit the grill first and the raised edge would interfere with the even cooking. Be careful not to make it too big and thin—it’ll be too difficult to transfer to the grill and will also likely cook faster than the toppings have a chance to heat up. Somewhere around ¼ inch thickness is usually good.
Hot In Here
A bit of a no-brainer, but it doesn’t hurt to be extra clear: For this to work well, your grill needs to be real hot. Most recommend preheating your grill for about 10 to 15 minutes. A temperature of around 500 degrees works real well or, for the daring, until it’s too hot for you to hold your hands over the grill for more than a couple seconds.
Oil Up Good
Greasing up is essential to helping make the dough easy to handle and not stick. Before laying your dough down on the grill, grab a pair of tongs to brush an oil-soaked, folded paper towel across your (very clean!) grates. It also doesn’t hurt to to brush a little oil on the side of the dough you’re going to grill first. Oh! And don’t forget to lightly oil the raw, top side as the bottom is grilling so that it’s ready when you need to flip.
Grilling pizza takes what you know about the traditional topping process and turns it on its head. Unlike in an oven where heat surrounds the pie, using a grill means that you basically just have the flame underneath to cook the dough and heat the toppings. Therefore, adding the cheese first, before the sauce, helps ensure proper meltage. This works especially well if you’re using large pieces or big dollops of cheese, and you can ladle the sauce in sections around them. Similarly, any toppings that need to be pre-cooked or pre-heated should be prepped and ready to go as such before hitting the dough. Remember, these pies cook up fast (about a minute or two per side) so having your mise en place on point is key. Another quick word on that quick cook time: If you’re not comfortable working over the hot grill to top your pie (because, you know, hot flames), feel free to transfer the half-cooked dough to a cookie sheet or clean work station to conduct your topping artistry before returning it to the fire to finish.
Hungry yet? Here’s some recipe inspiration to help you achieve Grilled Pizza Master status.
As much as I’m a toppings maximalist, the simple, classic Margherita pie will always reign above the rest from me. The combination of zesty tomato sauce, plump mozzarella, and fragrant fresh basil the standard of transparent, ingredient-focused perfection all pizzas should reach for. Get our Mozzarella, Tomato, and Fresh Basil Grilled Pizza recipe.
Give tomato sauce the night off and give garlicky, basil-packed pesto a chance to shine instead. The punchy sauce is as good on pizza as it is on pasta, and is a perfect platform for fresh asparagus, crumbled bacon, and spoonfuls of tangy goat cheese. Get our Bacon, Asparagus, and Goat Cheese Grilled Pizza recipe.
The classic sausage and peppers combo of deli sandwich fame is out of the hoagie here and living it up large on a crisp, char-grilled slab of pizza dough. Get our Roasted Pepper and Spicy Sausage Grilled Pizza recipe.
Even if you’re not normally a white pie person (like me), this sauce-less pizza is sure to convert you. Inspired by the iconic rendition at the famed Frank Pepe’s in New Haven, Connecticut, this grilled version features the same winning combination of briny-sweet chopped clams, garlic, and punchy Pecorino Romano cheese. Get the recipe.
Grilled corn is a summer staple, so, really, it’s only fitting that it makes a dynamite topping for a seasonal grilled pizza. The light char gives the sweet kernels a subtle smokiness, while the rosemary adds a bright, woodsy herbaceous note. (Or, if you want to get a little luxe with the concept, you can always add sweet corn’s best friend, lobster, to the mix.) Get the recipe.
Grilled peaches with honey and ice cream are a favorite warm weather dessert, but it turns out the grilled fruit works equally well in a savory application, as this pizza proves. Here, the slices of charred peach are matched up with generous strips of salty prosciutto, creamy mozzarella, fresh basil leaves, and spicy red pepper flakes. Get the recipe.
A classic cheese board pairing gets the grilled pizza treatment here, partnering wedges of luscious figs, tart balsamic onions, and rich, funky-savory gorgonzola. Pass the wine, please. Get the recipe.
Guilty food pleasure confession time: I love California Pizza Kitchen’s barbecue chicken pizza. Chalk it up to childhood nostalgia, I don’t know, but I just have a soft spot for that craveable combination of tangy-sweet BBQ sauce, juicy grilled chicken, melted mozzarella, and thin slices of zesty red onion. It’s not quite the original, but this grilled pizza rendition might even be better. Get the recipe.
Arugula, goat cheese, and cherries sound like the makings of a great salad. One way to make it even better? Take it all and throw it on top of a piece of grilled pizza dough. Sorry not sorry, as far as I’m concerned, carbs always improve a party. Get the recipe.
For those who feel like mushrooms always get the shaft in the toppings department, playing second fiddle to superstars like sausage and pepperoni, this pizza is for you. A mix of portabella, shiitake, and oyster mushrooms, this umami-fest of a pie gives the beloved ‘shroom the spotlight it deserves. Get the recipe.
I like pizza in the evening, and at supper time, but there’s something about having pizza in the morning that just feels like an extra-special treat. Crispy, salty strips of bacon, sunny-up eggs with decadent runny yolks, and plenty of gooey melted cheese on thin grilled pizza dough? Brunch game status: legendary. Get the recipe.
Veggies may not always elicit the excited “oohs” and “ahhs” that some other pizza toppings do, but this zucchini pie is here to lend the concept some legit street cred. Ribbons of summer squash are kept raw to retain a slight crunch, and dollops of fluffy ricotta and aromatic lemon zest keep it light and bright. Get the recipe.
Enjoy blueberries in a different kind of pie with this clever, perfect-for-summer dessert grilled pizza. The crisp, slightly smoky dough is the perfect contrast to the cool cream cheese and sweet, gooey berry compote. Get the recipe.
Look, anytime Nutella is in the picture, I’m a happy camper. But when it’s slathered over grilled dough and topped with roasted fresh fruit, I’m even happier. Plus, a grilled pizza is a hell of a lot easier to make than a crepe. Get the recipe.
Related Video: American Pizzas That Aren’t From New York or Chicago