COOKING: Zen and the Art of Grilling Pizza with Trader Joe's Pizza Dough

We were at my sister’s house this weekend, and we were in charge of dinner. This was a unique  circumstance because usually my mom cooks and plans the meal when we get together (a true alpha Italian Mamma, shall we say?).  What ends up happening is that there is way too much food and stress to get it all on the table in a timely manner. So with Mom coming late, we girls were in charge! We wanted to keep it casual while the kids played. So we decided to make pizzas on the grill. (My mom was not thrilled., she prefers a sit down multi- course meal). But, we got our way.

Unless you have a huge grill, or more than one going at a time, it is hard to have a sit down meal with only pizzas off the grill. For this kind of meal, you eat and chat as you make pizzas. Especially because we wanted to try various toppings, and nail down the process as we went. We had both read so many ways to do it, we were not sure which way was best. So we created an assembly line with my husband at the grill and ate as we went. It was fun and different…maybe too different for my mom!

First thing was the dough. Now don’t gasp, but we used a premade pizza dough from Trader Joe's. Like I said, we wanted it easy. (My strict Italian  mother approved of the dough after tasting it, fyi). They have a plain, herb and whole wheat flavor. It was really easy to work with once you got the hang of it. You can make your own dough, of course (here is one from my favorite Italian chef, Mario Batali). But these store-bought bundles at $1.29 a bag kept things fast, cheap and still very fresh and homemade tasting.

We tried a pizza stone and pizza screens. We tried just cooking the pizza all assembled raw, and precooking  the dough. By the end of the night, we had it down to delicious. Here is our advice:

Dough prep: Let the Trader Joe's dough sit out at room temp for 20-30 minutes. I split one dough ball in two, and roll out one on a well floured surface. Brush the topside with olive oil. Flip oiled side down on to the mesh pan. Brush lightly the dough now facing up. It is ready to be grilled.

Fire: Have two sides of a grill, one side with the coals up high and hot. The other side of the grill with little direct heat…sparse coals low and around the edges of the cooking area. You can do this with two smaller grills. One with high heat, say a gas grill with hot flames, and a charcoal grill with the coals low and lining the edges, creating an indirect baking area in the middle with little flame.
Here’s why:
After failed attempts at assembling on raw dough and grilling as well as using the pizza stone, we decided to precook the crust on the mesh pans, then top. But we also discovered that both phases needed different heat. Crisping the crust needs a direct flame/ heat. Baking the top while finishing the crusts needs indirect, slow heat. Thus the above approach to the heat. One area is for high heat/ flame for crisping the crust. One area is for finishing the pizza.

Cooking method: We tried the pizza stone, but could not get it quite hot enough. We decided to use our pizza mesh pans, and they worked perfectly. They allowed the flames to lick the crust to a golden smokiness. Our best pizzas were ones we precooked. Cook one side on the higher flames for 2-3 minutes, covered if possible. Then with some long tongs and a spatula, cook the other side for 2-3 minutes. Pull off the grill, top with toppings. Drizzle with extra olive oil, then cook on the indirect heat, covered, until top is melted and bubbly. Let sit for a couple minutes off the heat before slicing.

Have fun topping things.  I will be posting our favorite one tomorrow that we whipped up.



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