Before my son could say the words “grill” and “cook,” he referred to our grill by a combination of sounds: “Phooo, Phooo, pssst.” The first two sounds he also used for candle flames, fire places, and food too hot to eat unless mommy or daddy blew on it. The final sound mimicked the whoosh of air escaping from the top of a beer can. Thus a literal translation of his sounds for grill is “fire and beer.” — Not a bad description of how we cook in the summer.
I love grilling in the summer. Heat stays outside of our pre-central-air-conditioning home, and I can assign some portion of the dinner preparation to my hubby. While we often cook hot dogs, hamburgers and sausages, one of our favorite grilled foods is pizza.
Grilled pizza is the closest replica of wood-fired pizza I can produce at home. Besides being pizza, which is wonderful on its own, grilled pizza has a crispy crust, delightfully charred edges and a slightly smoky flavor.
Summer is prime pizza season. Freshly picked tomatoes are prefect nestled in oozy cheese, but until we discovered the joys of grilling pizza, the dish was banned from my summer menus. The scorching heat of July discourages me from turning on my oven — especially not to 550 degree, which my favorite pizza dough requires.
My usual pizza crust is made from a 100% whole wheat no-knead dough. (It’s based off a a recipe in Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day.) There’s no kneading, no careful monitoring of rise times, and the dough can be sit in your refrigerator for a week — a true convenience food! Best of all it results in a thick, moist crust with a complex sourdough flavor.
Sadly, the high moisture content that produces a no-knead bread also made it very challenging to grill. Every time I prepped the dough for the grill, my husband looked at it askance. We would briefly debate the dough’s potential for seeping through the grill and onto the fire. It never has. Instead it has clung to the ridges of the grill plate, creating a different challenge. How do we flip this dough without tearing it to shreds?
To appease my grill master, I abandoned my no-knead pizza dough and began looking for a more grill-friendly recipe. I had a few requirements:
- The dough must be stiff enough to grill easily.
- I wanted a 100% whole wheat recipe. (Even pizza should be a little healthy!)
- The crust had to have a great flavor — something with a hint of sourdough and lots of garlic and herbs.
None of the recipes I found perfectly fit these three requirements, so I created my own.
To achieve a sourdough taste, I made a sponge by mixing a portion of flour, water and yeast together ahead of time. This allowed for wild yeast to colonize the dough, which created a complex bread flavor. Slightly sourdough pizza at last!
I sauteed the garlic in olive oil so that the flavor of garlic permeates the entire dough — not just isolated in little garlic bits. (I love little garlic bits too.) For the same reason, the herbs are added to the hot oil before mixing into the dough. I recommend using hardy herbs that withstand heat. Sage, thyme, oregano and rosemary are all wonderful choices. I reserve more delicate herbs like basil and parsley for the pizza topping.
Grilled Whole Wheat Pizza Dough
- 2 cups water, divided
- 1 teaspoon active dry yeast, divided
- 5-6 cups of whole wheat flour, divided
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1-3 cloves of garlic (the amount depends on your passion for the flavor and the size of your cloves)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon or more of minced fresh herbs (sage, oregano, thyme or rosemary are great choices)
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- cornmeal for dusting
1.) Make a sponge. The morning before grilling, stir together 1 cup warm water, 1/4 teaspoon active, dry yeast, and1 1/2 cup whole wheat flour. Cover, leave in a warm place and allow the mass to bubble happily.
2.) One to two hours before grilling, saute garlic in olive oil until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add herbs, pepper and salt to hot oil and saute for a few seconds more.
3.) Mix herbed oil with the sponge and then add 4 cups of whole wheat flour, an additional cup of water and 3/4 teaspoon yeast. Mix with a wooden spoon, a food processor or a Kitchen Aid for a minute and then evaluate the dough’s consistency. If it seems too moist, add a little more flour (no more than a 1 cup) or if it’s too dry, adjust with water. You are aiming for a pliable dough with some resistance to the touch. (With all breads, this takes a little Goldilocks-style experimenting – not too soft, not too stiff, but just right.)
4.) Knead the dough using your favorite kneading device for 5-10 minutes. (Standing mixers and food processors work faster than fingers.) Evaluate the dough’s elasticity by stretching it between your fingers. It’s perfectly kneaded when the dough stretches enough that you can see daylight through it. (When stretched, the perfectly kneaded dough reminds me of a bubble gum bubble.)
Let the dough rise for one to two hours until doubled.
5.) Set your grill temperature to medium-high. Dust parchment paper with cornmeal. Divide into three balls and then stretch each ball into a pizza shape on the parchment paper. Use the parchment paper to flip the dough onto a grill rack and then peel off the paper. (Removable grill plates are very helpful!)
Grill the dough for 3-5 minutes on one side. Flip the dough over, add toppings of your choice, and grill for an additional 3-5 minutes until the cheese is melted and crust is cooked through.
Slice and enjoy.
Unusual topping options:
I often use leftovers to top my pizza. Many of these result in wonderfully odd pizza toppings. Here are few of our favorites:
- Leftover beef or chicken and a drizzling of barbecue sauce
- Salsa, onions, pepper and leftover taco meat
- Fresh tomatoes, ricotta cheese, mozzarella and lots of basil. Top with a drizzle of olive oil and garlic.
- Grilled vegetables
- Arugula and goat cheese
- Tomato sauce with mozzarella and cheddar cheese