Pizza Gone Retro – On the Grill Recipe

I occasionally find myself with a little extra time on my hands when I am in Anchorage transitioning from one lodge to another. Whenever I get these stolen moments, I can easily burn a few hours lingering in my small library downstairs in my midtown home. It’s really just a corner of the laundry room, but I have perhaps twenty shelves or so of old cookbooks and culinary magazines I can’t bring myself to throw away.  I have a small file cabinet filled with menus from long ago trips and recipes clipped from newspapers — remember when we used to do that? I have over thirty years worth of various magazines, many from publications now out-of-print and long forgotten.

If I randomly flip through an old magazine — say, Cuisine Magazine from October of 1980, the first thing I notice is how shockingly outdated the food shots seem. A photo essay of a 1980 dinner party looks heavy and deep-fried by today’s clean and simple standards. All those cigarette and alcohol ads are a reminder of how far we have come. As I look through the magazine, some recipes — and even a few photos — hold their own. It’s proof that good design prevails, even in cooking.

One dish that was popularized in 1980 that can still hold its own is grilled pizza. Widely attributed to Johanne Killeen and George Germon, restaurateurs from Providence, Rhode Island, grilled pizza is as popular a novelty today as it was then.

When making grilled pizza, step one is to plan your toppings. I decided that for my pizza, I would grab what was already in the fridge. The recipe that follows makes dough enough for two pizzas, so I decide on two different styles. For one pizza, I’ll add smoked salmon, grilled apricots, red onions and goat cheese. For the other, I’ll combine prosciutto, tomatoes, and a buttery fat sheep’s cheese from Spain called Idiazábal.  Killeen and Germon favor pizza Margherita, which for them means a combination of garlic, fontina cheese, Pecorino Romano, basil and canned tomatoes.

To make a good pizza on an outdoor grill (versus an oven), start with a good olive oil you like. I say this because it seems to take quite a bit of oil to lube up the top and bottom of the dough and the barbecue grill itself.  I like to use fruity oil (like Mustapha’s Moroccan olive oil, a favorite of mine) rather than oil that is deep green and bitter like some Italian olive oils. Green oil burns easily.

Roll the dough out flat and thin, and don’t make a lip around the edge. The size of your pizza dough shouldn’t extend the width or length of your grill. One trick to making this whole thing work is to have a couple of areas on your grill that are variant in heat — a hot spot and a cooler spot. When one section of the grill is good and hot, drape the dough right onto the (well-oiled) grate so the dough will develop nice, crusty grill marks. Cook the dough over the fire for just a minute or so. It will puff up slightly.

Next, flip the dough over and move it to a cooler part of the grill to cook at a more moderate temperature. Brush the surface with olive oil. And, then it is back to the hot part of the grill, but keep the dough moving by turning it with a pair of tongs. This allows the dough to finish cooking without burning the bottom.  Add on those things you want to be hot and add later those things you want to be left on fresh.

Below is a variation on Killeen and Germon’s debut grilled pizza dough recipe. Over the years there have been variations made — a little sugar, a pinch of whole-wheat flour or rye flour –but there is always plenty of olive oil in the mix.

Pizza Gone Retro – On the Grill
Recipe type: Entree
Makes dough for two 9 by 13-inch pizzas.
  • 1 envelope active dry yeast
  • Water
  • 3½ cups high-gluten flour
  • 2½ teaspoons kosher salt
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  1. Sprinkle the yeast over 1-1/2 cups warm (105 to 110 degrees F) water and allow it to dissolve and activate, about 5 minutes.
  2. Combine the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add in the yeast and water mixture, slowly combining the liquid and the flour together. Add in a little bit of extra water if necessary. This can all be done in a food processor or by hand. When the dough is firm enough to hold its shape, form a ball and knead the dough until the mass is smooth and shiny, approximately 7 minutes.
  3. Transfer the dough to a bowl that has been brushed with olive oil. Brush the top of the dough with a little oil to prevent any skin from forming, cover the bowl with a tea towel and let it rise in a warm place away from drafts until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour. Punch down the dough and knead once more. Let the dough rise again for about 40 minutes, punch down again and form dough into 2 balls. Before grilling, roll the dough out into two rectangles. Make sure you have everything at hand close by before you begin to grill. Pizzas take about 7-10 minutes on the grill to cook.