We can see it on the horizon, coming clearer into focus as it trundles ever closer, a vision of fire and smoke: Grilling Season approaches. For many, summer means stocking up on classic barbecue mains and breaking out your best heat-resistant tongs, letting the neighborhood know what time it is by pumping the scent of flame-licked pork and chicken into the air. Likely you have a few favorite recipes that you return to every year: go-to marinades and proteins that have become synonymous with backyard cooking in your house because of their repeat appearances. This is good! Having a repertoire is good. But Grilling Season is long and should contain multitudes, so this year we’re advocating for switching things up. Expand your barbecue horizons—and the choices on the dinner table—by making pizza on the grill with the help of a trusty pizza stone.
Short of using a dedicated wood-fired pizza oven, placing a pizza stone (or baking steel, more on the difference below) on a hot grill is the best way to achieve a leopard-spotted and chewy crust at home—with lightning fast cook times to boot. Stone and steel are able to withstand extremely high temperatures and hold heat evenly, so the underside of your pie will cook perfectly all the way across in a fraction of the time it would take in the oven. Plus, by preheating the tool on the grill before you add your pizza, you’ll shock the dough with a blast of heat the second it comes into contact with the surface, which helps the crust puff up around the edges. Some recipes approximate this phenomenon by calling for you to slide your pizza onto an upturned sheet pan at the bottom of your oven, which is a great alternative, but the aluminum won’t get nearly as hot. Also, you’ll be missing out on the smoky outdoor grill flavor; imbuing your pie with those fiery notes takes the whole thing to the next level.
As opposed to pizza made directly on the grill (also extremely good, don’t get me wrong!), grilled pizza cooked on a stone or steel is slightly more forgiving. You don’t need a special dough recipe that’s stiff enough to hold its shape directly on top of the grate, so your favorite works just fine. It’s also a set-it-and-forget-it kind of deal, with no transferring your crust to different heat zones; after your gently place your pizza on the stone or steel, you can turn your attention to other things on the grill or refill your drink until your pie’s ready to move to a cutting board. Finally, pizza cooked on a surface gets to be fully topped before you grill it, as opposed to on-the-grate recipes, which are topped after the fact. You don’t get fun grill marks on the bottom of the crust, but you do get melty cheese, heated-through sauce, and wilty and crispy other ingredients. If you want to get meta about it, you can even top your ’za with chopped up things you’ve just grilled, like sweet peppers or sturdy greens.
For people who don’t eat meat or who, by the end of the season, are suffering from major grilled protein fatigue, pizza is the ideal alternative. Instead of being relegated to the side dishes or tasked with bringing their own alt-meat products to the party, the meat-avoiders in your life can make their own vegetable-forward main that doesn’t compromise on seasonal smokiness. Grilled pizza can even be vegan, with a slick of olive oil standing in for the cheese under your bevy of toppings. For maximum efficiency and personalization, let everyone build their own pizza from an array of summery toppings, then grill and slice one by one—you can keep the process going all day while the stone is hot on the grill. When the weather is cold again, just bring your pizza stone back inside to resume ’za production in the oven; it won’t be as good as the stuff you make outside, but it’ll be enough to tide you over until Grilling Season comes back to town.
The best tools for the task
The Original Baking Steel won our product review for pizza stones and baking steels by being durable, heavy-duty (it weighs 15 pounds!), and an absolute workhorse all around the kitchen. Aside from using it on the grill, you can use it in the oven for bread baking and on the stovetop as well, where it functions as a griddle. But for pizza specifically, steel is a great choice because of how quickly it conducts heat; you’ll get golden brown crusts with spots of char just like at your local pizzeria. Just make sure you get a size that allows you a little wiggle room around the edges (i.e., don’t buy a steel that covers your whole grill from end to end), so there’s space for air to circulate.
$99.00, Baking Steel
Alternatively, the Emile Henry pizza stone offers about the same cooking surface area as the above steel but with a few different perks. Made of porous ceramic, it heats evenly and draws out any excess moisture from the crust, ensuring a crisp and chewy finished product. It also retains heat extremely well, making it a good option for all-day-long cookouts. It’s coated in the company’s “proprietary lead-free black Flame glaze,” which is chip-resistant and makes the stone safe for cutting on as well. But perhaps best of all are the handles, which makes it much easier to move on and off the grill even while hot than a totally flat steel or stone.
Guides to get cooking
Any good pizza—grilled, baked, wood-fired—begins with a good batch of dough. These are three of our favorite recipes, if you don’t have a go-to of your own. Whether you’d rather get your hands dirty with some heavy kneading, let it rise without your help, or complete the whole thing in a food processor, there’s a dough-making method that’s right for you.Jim Lahey
Bon AppétitKatherine SacksCarlo MirarchiBrandon HoyChris ParachiniKatherine Wheelock
Do you need to be told what to put on your pizza? Probably not. Pizza, like a Triscuit (a personal opinion, but an infallible one nonetheless), is perfect with pretty much any topping. Fennel and sausage? A classic pairing. Asparagus and fingerling potatoes? Delightfully spring-y. Cheesy greens and a few cracked eggs for a runny-yolk-and-the-bread-to-sop-it-up all-in-one? Genius. Follow the lead of one of these recipes or invent your own grillable combination.Joe BeddiaClaire Saffitz
Bon AppétitAndrea Bemis
SelfJeanne Thiel Kelley
Originally Appeared on Epicurious