Fresh Ideas: Pizza on the grill

One of the things I’ve come to love about living in south Louisiana is how early summer starts and the endless opportunities to cook outside.

When I was growing up in the Northeast, grills would sit covered and dusty until about mid-June, sometimes speckled with frost during the first weeks of May. But, not in Louisiana.

By April, my grill gets a good cleaning, the grates are scrubbed and the outdoor cooking utensils organized, prominently placed by the kitchen door, reminding me about the other options Louisiana cooking permits.

As much as I love to make good use of my gas stove, I take my dinner outside and onto the grill, seeing what happens with a simple vegetable or homemade bread over flaming charcoal briquettes. (Yes, even bread can be transformed on the grill.)

Here’s the truth: Great pizza starts at home.

And, great pizza can attain even higher status with the smoke from a grill and smart, quick cooking tips that make any night a pizza party right at home. Here are some tips:

Smart cooking. Always cook your pizza dough first before topping with the rest of your ingredients. When the crust begins to take a char, remove it from the grill, flip the dough and start loading up the cooked side with your favorite toppings and sauces. The results yield a perfectly cooked crust every time.

Homemade dough. Use the dough instructions with the Grilled Buffalo Chicken Pizza recipe for an effortless homemade pizza dough or buy pre-made dough balls from the store for just a few bucks. (Whole Foods sells a great one in the bakery section.) However, don’t be tempted by those middle-of-the aisle prerolled creations that have been vacuum-sealed.

For this recipe, fresh is best, and you’ll be grateful you took a few extra minutes to roll out the dough whether you made it or bought it fresh.

Creative cooking. For this Grilled Buffalo Chicken Pizza, I’ve swapped regular tomato sauce for a sweet and spicy barbecue sauce made by Stubb’s and saved a lot of time using a store-bought rotisserie chicken, freshwater mozzarella and caramelized onions.

Since no pizza is finished without a few crunchy garnishes (green onions, for example), I’ve suggested a few extras that add flavor and creativity to any homemade pie. Try a combination of green onions with blue cheese and basil for a gourmet-style pizza right off the grill.

Grease those grates. When grilling, be sure to grease the grates beforehand and have a fire that’s hot, but no more than medium-high. Use a paper towel dipped in olive oil and run it quickly over the grates with grilling tongs.

Blackened, not burned. Typically, I use a coal-burning grill and a product called Flare Down to keep the flames from scorching the bottom of the crust.

Gas grills run less of a risk for burning, but in my experience with coal grilling, the crust simply blackens and will not burn unless directly exposed to a flame the entire time. So, watch your grill.

This May, take advantage of south Louisiana’s extra-long spring by moving dinner outside with this easy Grilled Buffalo Chicken Pizza.

Helana Brigman is a food writer, photographer and cookbook author. She can be reached with daily recipes at http://clearlydeliciousfoodblog.com or via email at hbrigm1@tigers.lsu.edu.