Despite being the world's most perfect food, pizza's place at the pinnacle of sustenance slips in the summer when not even home bakers want to crank oven temperatures to their outer limits. Takeout pizza remains an option for those who love unrelenting consistency like mosquitoes love bare legs. But pizza junkies who revel in the topography of a homemade crust and toppings inspired by the meat market's whim and garden-fresh produce find themselves in a pickle. They must either wait for the humidity to drop, or avert their eyes when the next electric bill arrives. Or they can try a technique that, by all logic, seems fraught with peril: throwing a pancake of soft, raw dough onto the grates of a hot grill. Two words: It works. In fact, grilled pizza may be yet another reason to fire up your outdoor grill year-round, or at least add another sort of pizza to your repertoire. Grilled pizza has its own character, with a smokier flavor and a slightly sturdier crust that varies between chewy and crackery. It's also a nice option for any vegetarians tired of being faced with feeble smiles and tofu dogs. We have an easy recipe for making your own dough -- and it's better if you make it early in the day and let it chill, even overnight. You also can buy ready-to-bake pizza dough at some Italian grocers, specialty shops or in freezer cases.

An array of choices

The key to successful pizza grilling is to have all the ingredients ready at grill-side. Once the dough goes on the grate, things move fast -- no running back into the house to chop more red peppers.

Next is having a light touch: a film of sauce, one or two toppings, and a smattering of cheese. The toppings need to heat through or melt before the crust becomes charred, so less is best.

Conversely, best means more flavor: By using fewer ingredients, it makes sense if they pack the biggest punch, so get the fresh-sliced pepperoni from the deli counter, along with a selection of cheeses. Fresh pesto adds garlicky vibrancy and color. Chopped olives, capers or fresh-picked arugula add bite, while grilled vegetables lend even more depth of flavor. Experiment!

You'll have the best luck with "personal size" rounds 8 to 10 inches across, which means guests can top their own pizzas. Just rein in the heavy-handed.

Heat your gas grill to medium, or about 400 degrees; if using coals, you should be able to hold your hand 6 inches over the heat for 3 seconds. Move the coals so that they heat half of the grate, to create areas of direct and indirect heat.

Lightly brush one side of a dough round with olive oil and place it oil-side down on the grate directly over the coals. Close the grill cover and oil the next round.

After about one minute, open the grill. The first round should look puffy and have clear grill marks on its underside. Remove it and flip it grilled-side up onto a cookie sheet.

Quickly spread it with toppings, then return it to the portion of the grate that's over indirect heat. Place the next oiled round on the grate over the coals. Close the grill cover. (We're creating a pizza-making cycle here.)

After another minute or so, open the grill to check on the untopped pizza. If it's ready, remove it, replace grill cover, then add toppings. The pizza in the grill should be done by now; if it is, remove it to a cutting board and place the newly topped pizza over that section of indirect heat. Place another oiled round over the coals, maintaining this system of topping and shifting until all the pizzas are baked.


Kim Ode • 612-673-7185