Monday, August 18, 2014

The Ultimate Grilled Pizza:

Part 2: The Crust and Pizza

The next most important part of the pizza is the crust. For me the perfect pizza crust has those big air bubbles in it that are slightly blackened / burned. Yet the inside is still a bit chewy. That comes from cooking the pizza fast and at the highest heat you can reasonably achieve. And no, I don't mean throw it into a campfire. I'm talking about grilling them.

Next comes the toppings. If you take my advise on anything in this post, listen to this little tidbit of knowledge: When it comes to toppings, you MUST exercise restraint. Restraint is one of the hardest lessons I've ever learned in my years as a cook both at home and professionally. One of the biggest mistakes new chefs / cooks make is this: "Well if a little is good, a lot simply has to be better". Nope. Nope. Nope. I over did it with salt, with garlic, chile peppers, you name it. And I over did it with toppings. The first several times I made pizza, I piled everything on it. I mean these things were a solid 2-3 inches thick. A little cheese is awesome. But a ton of it is gonna blow my mind, Right?......(again) Nope. It won't. You'll end up with something that can't be described as anything other than a hot mess. A hot, soggy, raw in many parts, overcooked in others, inedible mess. 

The issue here was touched on in my last post. It boils down to heat. If you have a commercial pizza oven at home, you might able to pull off a thick pizza like in my early attempts. But if you're like me and you just have a gas grill, keep it simple. Don't expect the world from equipment that can't provide it. My rule of thumb is to keep it to three or four toppings. Of course, this is not including cheese or sauce. And again, exercise restraint in the amount of those ingredients. If you do, you will be rewarded with a simple and very delicious pie. 

Now I'm a traditionalist when it comes to pizza. At my house, we keep it old school. My favorite combo: Bell peppers, red onion, mushrooms, and sliced black olives. My wife? Pineapple. That's it. This is where the crust and the sauce shine. You can put whatever you want on yours. That's the beauty of it all. It's yours and only yours. Just keep it as I described above and you'll emerge victorious. 

As far as I'm concerned, the only way to cook a pizza at home is on a grill. As such, it's the medium of choice for this post. Can you make pizza one in your oven? Sure you can. And they come pretty good too. But I've always gotten much better results from the grill versus the oven. The reason is because I can get my grill much hotter than I can get my oven in the house which only reaches 500º F. I can get my gas grill between 600º and 650º F, which for me, is the perfect cooking temperature. 

For the actual grilling of the pizza, obviously you can't put your pizza directly on the grill. You'll need a pizza stone. I definitely recommend getting one made for grilling. Personally, I use the cast iron stone made by Lodge. It holds heat very well an will last a lifetime if you take care of it. I've used the ceramic ones in the past. Busted three of them on the grill so far. They snapped right in half. I just don't think the ceramic can handle the heat the grill puts out. And at $25 bucks a pop, it's just not worth it. So I invested a tad bit more, around $38.00, on the cast iron one and have not been happier. In fact, I think I'm gonna get another one so I can grill two pizzas at once. My wife's birthday is coming up in a few months......hmmmmmm. Two birds, one stone. Get it? As in one pizza stone. Ha! I'm funny. But I'd be willing to bet she won't think so. 

I feel I need to address the challenge of transferring the pizza from the peel to the stone. If not done correctly, your pizza will stick to the peel and good luck getting it to slide onto the stone. There are two ways of resolving this issue. The first way is to avoid the peel altogether. That would mean you'd want to heat the grill and stone as hot as you can get it, about 600 to 650º F. Then, once the grill and stone are up to temp, you would open the lid and build your pizza directly onto the stone. If you choose to do this, keep in mind you'll lose a substantial amount of grill heat and you likely won't achieve that balance of crisp crust and just melted cheese / just cooked toppings. 

I prefer the peel. For those not familiar with the term, it's that giant spatula looking thing that's they use to slide the pizza on the cooking surface and to subsequently remove it. The way to succeed in the transfer is done by doing two things. Thing number one is the ensure the stretched dough is not still sticky. Simply dust it with a light coating of flour so that it won't absorb the dusting on your peel. 

The next thing is the peel. It needs to be dusted to stop your pizza from sticking to it when you are trying to slide the pizza from the peel onto the stone. You can use flour or you can use corn meal. 

This pizza dough recipe I found in Bon Appétit magazine. It's an 18 hour dough that is "no knead". It's super simple to make. The only real thought behind it is the timing, which doesn't have to that precise, just a ballpark timing. There was no knead to change it (ha!, I'm on a roll). It's a fantastic recipe that I could not approve upon so I didn't bother to try. 

Tip: Start with a clean grill. Because you are heating your grill to high temps, you don't want to end up with a grease fire from residual grease or food drippings from previous uses. 

Tip: The biggest challenge I find is transferring my pizza from the peel to the stone. The best way to make sure your pizza doesn't stick to the peel is the make sure your dough is dusted with flour, making sure there are no sticky parts on the dough. Next, dust your peel with a little corn meal. I use corn masa like you'd use to make corn tortillas and it works very well too.

Tip: This dough can be made up to three days ahead. If you do, wrap each portioned dough ball in plastic wrap and refrigerate. When you're ready to use the dough, unwrap each portion and let them rest on a floured work surface or cookie sheet, covered with plastic wrap for 2-3 hours. 

Tip: When my pizzas are done, I pull them from the grill and slide them onto a kitchen towel. I then drag  the towel out from under the pizza, using the towel to rub the bottom of the pizza as much as possible. Why would I do such a silly thing? I find the cornmeal gives the under part of the dough a cornmeal flavor that I don't prefer on my pizza. Using my patented "towel slide" technique, this removes the corm meal so you don't get that flavor. Don't check with the US Patent Office. I didn't really patent that. 

Tip: Relax. You first few pizzas might be a bust. That's okay. I ruined a few too. My only real challenge was the peel-to-stone transfer. But once you get the hang of it. you're good to go. Enjoy. 

Pizza Dough


  • 7 1/2 (1000 grams) cups all-purpose flour + more for shaping. If you can weigh out the grams, do it. You'll get a better measure
  • 4 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
  • 3 cups water


1. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and yeast. 

2. Using a wooden spoon, gradually stir in the water until it mostly mixed. Gently finish off with your hands to bring the mixture together into a rough ball. 

3. Place the dough ball into a large clean bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let dough rise at room temperature (about 72ºF) in a draft free area until tiny air bubbles cover the surface and the dough doubles in size. This should take about 18 hours. This time may vary depending on the temperature of the room.

4. Once risen, transfer your dough to a floured work surface and gently shape into a rough rectangle. Divide the dough into 6 even portions. Working with each portion, gently fold the side under to form a nice round ball. Dust the ball with flour and set onto a baking sheet or floured work surface. 

5. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let rest for one hour until the dough is soft and pliable.

To Make The Pizzas:


  • 3-4 cups of shredded mozzarella
  • toppings of choice: we use mushrooms, bell peppers, red onions, sliced black olives, basil leaves, pineapple. But this is just our preference. Use whatever you like. 
  • pizza sauce (use this recipe)

1. Prep your toppings. Shred your cheese. Get your sauce ready to be spooned onto the dough. Make sure they are all ready to go so that when you start to make your pizzas, you don't have to stop to prep anything. Once you start making your pizzas, you want the assembly to go quickly. 

2.  Place your pizza stone on the grill and heat your grill on high with the lid down until your temperature gauge reads at least 550ºF but no more than 650ºF. Chances are, your grill won't really go much higher than that anyway so you don't have to worry too much about over heating. I usually throw my pizzas on at 600ºF. If you don't have a gauge, turn your grill on high with the lid down for about 20 minutes.  

3. Prepare your pizza peel. Make sure the peel is clean and dry. Dust the peel generously with the corn meal, corn flour, or corn masa, which ever you prefer. Set aside.

4. On a floured work surface, shape your pizza dough into a round making sure the dough is dusted enough so that there are no sticky parts of the dough. Now place the shaped dough gently onto the peel. Quickly spread your sauce on the dough, then toppings and cheese. 

5. Slide your pizza from the peel onto the stone and close the grill lid. If your grill is at 600ºF, you pizza should be done in about 9 minutes. Don't be a looky-loo. Keep your lid shut or you'll lose your heat. If you must look, lift the lid just enough to peek in make sure all is well, but don't do it unless you must. 

6. Remove pizza from grill, slice and serve. 

Makes 6 personal sized pizzas.  

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Ultimate Grilled Pizza:

Part 1: The Sauce

One of my fondest memories comes from eating one of the worst pizzas ever made. I remember as a child, my parents use to take me the drive-in movies. I'd get my blanket, my pillow, put on my jammies and off we'd go. I guess the idea was that, since it was going to be a late night, I could just crash in the back seat whenever I got tired. But it never worked out that way. I was always wide awake through both movies. In between movies, we'd play on the swings and the monkey bars. Then we'd run to the snack bar and get sodas and a pizza. Paper thin, greasy, floppy, cardboard tasting pizza. It was exquisite. This was back before those little plastic three pronged things were invented (patented in 1985, in case you were wondering) that they now put in the center of the pizza to keep the cardboard lid from sagging into the pizza cheese, thereby lifting half the cheese off the pizza when you opened the box. 

Pizza in my house is a two day project. Let me tell you, I take this stuff very seriously. A pizza pie is very simple in nature, but man, it's easy to crap it up. And, dammit, I don't do crappy.....well at least I try not to. So if it's gonna take two days, so be it. I usually make my sauce and get the dough started on day one. Then, on day two, it's just a matter prepping the toppings and baking it. And really, I make it sound like a huge endeavor but it isn't.   

We usually make pizzas when we have people over for an actual pizza party, so I like to get as much done the day before so I'm not spending too much time in the kitchen when everyone shows up. The dough recipe (next week's post) will make six personal sized pizzas, about 10" in diameter. But that's just a guess-timation because ours never turn out round. They're usually oblong, kidney shaped, or triangular and that's okay though because I think those odd shapes give the pizza character. And when it's time to start making the pizzas, I can get the guests involved in the process. Everyone has a different idea of their perfect pizza and this way they can pick exactly what they want on it. 

This sauce is a bit on the thicker side. It's not too thick but it's not runny either. I like it better that way because it doesn't run on your pizza and it helps to keep your crust crispy. You have to keep in mind that homemade pizzas don't cook quite the same way as pizzeria pizzas for the simple fact that your oven or grill can't really achieve the high temperature it takes to properly cook the pizza. But fret not, we're gonna get as close as we can with what we have. In the next post, we'll make the crust dough and finish the pizzas off. 

This recipe was inspired by this here

Pizza Sauce


  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 cup white onion, 1/4 inch dice
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 15 oz. cans tomato sauce
  • 1 6 oz can tomato paste
  • 2 Tbsp parmesan cheese, grated
  • 2 tsp dried basil
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 2 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp celery salt
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 2 bay leaves


1. Heat the oil in a skillet over a medium high heat. Once shimmering, add the onion and saute for about two minutes. Now add the garlic and continue to saute for about 1 more minute until the onions are translucent and the garlic just begins to brown. Remove from heat 

2. In a medium sauce pan add the remaining ingredients. Place over a medium heat and add the onion and garlic mixture

3. Bring the sauce to a simmer and lower the heat to low. Cover and continue to simmer for about 20 minutes. Stir every few minutes or so make sure the sauce doesn't scorch at the bottom.

Serves 6-8

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Chickpea Salad:

This Is A Mock-Free Zone

My wife was looking for a new recipe to try a few weeks back. She told me she missed tuna salad sandwiches so she did a search for "vegetarian tuna salad". After a little looking around online, she came up with a few recipes for "mock" tuna salad using chickpeas. Most of the recipes she found are very similar to tuna salad recipes. So, at first, we just made them the way we did in the past. Only now, we used chickpeas instead of tuna. It wasn't quite right at first and need just a little tweaking to get the flavor profile and the texture right but eventually we nailed it.   

I'll admit, I was pretty skeptical about this one at first but the more I imagined it my mind, the more it seemed to make sense. So I figured I'd give it a shot. She made me a sandwich and I'll be darned if it wasn't pretty tasty. It's easy to make, it goes together quickly, and it's somewhat versatile. You can eat it all on it's own. Or maybe on a bed of crisp lettuce and topped with some diced tomatoes. You can put a spoonful on a cracker or on a crostini. You can fill a pita pocket with it along with some sprouts, a few tomato slices and few cucumber slices or you can put it between two slices of bread. You could even make a "melt" with it. More about that later.

Although this recipe was found originally by searching for "vegetarian tuna sandwich". It's really not that at all. It's a proper chickpea salad. And it should be regarded as such. So no "mock" salad here. This is chickpea territory. 

Tip: To make the melt, heat a skillet over a medium heat. Butter two slices of bread on one side only. Place a slice of cheese (I recommend provolone) on one side of the bread making sure the butter side is down so it's the side touching the skillet when you cook it. Then spread a layer of the chickpea salad on top on the cheese. If you like a lot of cheese, put another layer of cheese over the chickpea layer then top with the other slice of buttered bread, again butter side out. Place in the skillet and let it cook until the bottom slice is golden and the cheese begins to melt, about 3 minutes. Then flip the sandwich over and allow the other side to get golden and to allow the cheese to fully melt. 

Chickpea Salad


  • 1 15 oz can of chickpeas, drained
  • 3 Tbsp celery, chopped fine
  • 2 scallions, chopped fine
  • 2 tsp capers minced + 1 tsp of the caper brine
  • 2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 2 tsp vegetarian Worcestershire sauce (in a pinch, use soy sauce - but use the Worcestershire if possible)
  • black pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup mayonnaise, depending on your preference

For Sandwiches:

  • 6 slice bread
  • leaves of crispy lettuce (I prefer romaine or iceberg lettuce)
  • tomato slices


1. Place the chickpeas into a food processor. Using the metal blade, pulse until the chickpeas are finely chopped but not pureed. It's up to you how chunky you want your salad. I like the chickpeas to be similar in size to rice.   
2. Remove the chopped chickpeas to a medium bowl. Add the remaining ingredients and mix with a spoon until fully incorporated. 

3. You take this recipe from here. Make sandwiches, make a melt, do with it what you will.  

Serves: 3 (if making sandwiches)