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Pizza on the grill

Cooking your pizza on the grill keeps the heat out of the kitchen and results in a crisp-crust pie with smoky elements that mimic the flavor of a pizza cooked in a wood-fired oven. Photo by Jim Flint.
Keep the toppings light for a perfect grilled pizza. Red sauce, onions, crumbled cooked sausage, pepperoni slices and grated whole milk mozzarella are a great combination. Top with torn fresh basil leaves after it comes off the grill. Photo by Jim Flint.
It’s easy, delicious, and doesn’t heat up the kitchen

If you’ve never grilled pizza before, what are you waiting for?

It’s quick. It’s easy. Best of all, whether using charcoal or gas, you get a hint of smoky flavor that mimics pizzas cooked in a wood-fired oven.

And who wants to heat up the kitchen oven on a hot summer day? When you use a grill, you keep the heat outside where it belongs.

The trick is to grill the plain pizza dough on one side, remove it, flip it, add the sauce and toppings, and return it to the grill to finish cooking.

It works with any kind of pizza dough. You can make it yourself from scratch, buy a ball of dough from your favorite pizzeria, or use a refrigerated dough from the supermarket.

If you’re having a party and need more than one pizza, stretch out the dough for as many pizzas you’ll need, grill lightly on each side, let crusts cool on a rack so steam underneath won’t make them soggy, then refrigerate until ready to use. When it’s party time, add sauce and toppings and finish cooking on the grill.

The dough

Shape the pizza dough with your hands on a lightly floured surface, using your fingers to stretch it out. You can hold up the dough with the backs of your hands, letting it hang while working around the edges of the dough, pinching as you go.

It will be easier to transfer to the grill if the dough is still cold. If you let it warm up, it can stretch too much during the transfer. In fact, if you’re using supermarket refrigerated dough, just unroll it onto the grill.

So, if you’re making dough from scratch or from a ball of dough, refrigerate a few minutes after stretching to help keep the shape.

If you make a hole in the pizza while stretching, just overlap the dough and press with fingers to patch the hole.

The sauce

You can use a store-bought pizza sauce. There are some good ones available. But for the best taste, make your own. It’s surprisingly simple and easy to do.

A bad red sauce can ruin a pizza, the kind where the tomato flavor is overpowered by garlic powder and oregano. With just a few ingredients from your pantry, you can make your own heavenly red sauce.

Start with a can of crushed San Marzano tomatoes. If you can’t find them at the store, any canned Italian-style tomato puree will do. Here’s what you need for the sauce:

28-oz. can crushed tomatoes

1 small onion, halved and peeled

6 cloves of garlic, smashed

2 sprigs basil

1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves, crushed

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 pinch crushed red pepper flakes (plus more to taste)

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil to finish

In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, add tomatoes, onion halves, garlic, basil, oregano, salt, and red pepper flakes. Stir to combine.

Bring to a simmer, reduce heat to medium low, and partially cover. Cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Take pan off heat and let sauce cool. When the sauce reaches room temperature, remove and discard the onion halves, basil sprigs and garlic cloves. Stir in the olive oil. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.

Unused sauce can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week. You can also use the sauce for dipping garlic bread or mozzarella sticks, and it’s delicious tossed with pasta for a quick weeknight dinner.

The toppings

Don’t load up your grilled pizza. Keep it light to avoid soggification.

Because it takes so little time to cook on the grill, some toppings will still be raw when the pizza is done. For some veggies, that’s okay if you want a little crispness. But meats must be pre-cooked before placing on the pizza. Mushrooms are best sauteed ahead of time, to sweat out the water content.

Grate your own cheese from a hunk of whole milk mozzarella. It has a better melt and taste than packaged grated cheese.

For a tasty 12-inch pizza, use these ingredients in the following order:

1/2 cup red sauce

Thinly sliced onion

Lightly scattered pieces of cooked sausage

Sauteed mushrooms

Light covering of grated mozzarella

A few slices of pepperoni (delicious with those charred edges)

Torn fresh basil leaves to add after the pizza comes off the grill

For a vegetarian pizza, skip the meat and add a few green bell pepper slices and halved grape or cherry tomatoes, with the cheese added last.

Grilling the pizza

Preheat the grill for high, direct heat. Adjust so temperature is between 500 and 600 degrees. A hotter grill may burn the crust.

Prepare a small bowl with olive oil for greasing the grill grates and for brushing the pizza when you flip it before topping it.

Get the toppings ready to go for the pizza.

When the grill is hot, dip a tightly folded paper towel in the olive oil and use tongs to wipe the grates.

Lightly dust an upside-down cookie sheet or pizza peel with corn meal and slide on the stretched pizza dough. Open the grill lid and carefully slide the pizza onto the grates and close the cover. After 2 minutes, open the grill and check under the dough to see if it’s lightly browned. If not, leave another 30 seconds.

When the underside of the pizza is lightly browned, remove it from the grill with a peel or drag it onto a cookie sheet with tongs. Oil the grates again, and leave the grill covered while you top the pizza.

Flip the pizza and lightly brush the browned side with olive oil. Add the toppings and slide back onto the grill.

If you’re using a gas grill, reduce the heat to medium. With a charcoal grill, close the vents on the cover almost all the way.

Cook the pizza for another 2 to 3 minutes until the bottom begins to char and the cheese is bubbling.

Pull off the grill onto a cutting board, add bits of torn fresh basil, finish with a drizzle of olive oil, and let the pizza rest for a couple minutes. Slice, serve and enjoy!

Reach Ashland writer Jim Flint at jimflint.ashland@yahoo.com.