Jeff has three grills. Once I asked him why, and the short version is that they are all different, but he loves them the same. Like children. Smoky, gassy, highly-flammable children. My interaction with them has largely consisted of admiring Jeff’s grill marks whilst handing him the Holy Meat Thermometer.

Not anymore.

When Tara from Barefoot Bloggers told me I was the group’s August Bonus Recipe Challenge winner, I knew exactly what recipe I would pick: Grilled California Pizzas. I thought it’d be the perfect opportunity to learn how to grill using something besides a.) an expensive piece of meat or b.) a hot dog. And I wanted to try the Barefoot Contessa’s pizza crust.

First, the crust. Basically, you combine the ingredients with your Kitchen-Aid, knead the dough a little, let it rest 30 minutes, and divide it into six balls. The recipe says you can refrigerate the dough for up to four hours, but I’m here to testify that, should company come and offer to pay for a delicious steak dinner, you can store it in the fridge overnight.

So, while I was waiting for the refrigerated dough to come to room temperature, it was time for the Grilling Tutorial. Jeff had already cleaned the grill, so all I had to do was pour the charcoal inside, stack the briquettes into a pyramid shape to control the heat (BABY! I LISTENED!), poured on the lighter fluid, and lit the charcoal. Then it went out, and I lit it again. And again. And one more time. And I MADE FIRE!!!

Once the coals are lit, it takes 30 to 45 minutes to heat the grill. In the meantime, you stand there with the tongs, looking cool, moving the ashy coals to the outside of the pyramid and bringing the still-black coals closer to the fire. Or, if you’re like me, you do that for about 90 seconds and then pass the mic to your husband while you run to the kitchen to prep the dough and pizza toppings.

To prep the dough, you roll and stretch each ball into an 8-inch circle and place the crusts on baking sheets sprinkled with cornmeal.

I didn’t go Contessa-crazy with the toppings. I grabbed some small prep bowls and filled them with odds-and-ends we had in the fridge – tomato slices, red pepper, yellow pepper, red onion, and basil – plus pepperoni, fresh mozzarella and grilled chicken.

Then, it was Business Time.

The pizza-grilling process moves very quickly, so you want to have everything nearby: crusts, toppings, plates, a fresh set of tongs, pastry brush and olive oil.

The trick is to slide the crusts onto the grill using the baking sheets like pizza peels. It took me two crusts to realize that. The dough looks like it would sink through the metal grid, but the heat sets it up quickly. Grill the crusts for one minute, then turn them over, brush them with olive oil, pile on the toppings, and cook them with the lid down for five minutes.

I went skimpy with the toppings on the first few pizzas, because I was afraid of weighing down the crust and making a hot mess. Trust me, PILE THEM ON. Don’t be afraid to add sauce, either. Once the dough has cooked on the grill for that first minute, the consistency is like flatbread. Load it up.

The recipe makes A LOT of dough, so you might want to scale it back or invite some people over to make their own pizzas. Coming up with different combinations is pretty addictive. While I was grilling, Jeff and I were talking about what we want to try on the pizzas the next time around: homemade pizza sauce; grilled fruit, walnuts and mascarpone; hot sausage and grilled peppers; chicken, onions and barbecue sauce; grilled veggies and goat cheese; chocolate.

And one more thing … I made the full amount of dough, because I was afraid of scorching a few crusts into oblivion, but this recipe is a beginning griller’s dream. Even when I threw two rolled-up crusts onto the grill, they cooked perfectly and tasted delicious. Ina Garten must have a deal with the devil. Or three grills for practicing.

Grilled California Pizzas

From Ina Garten’s “The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook”

Makes six individual pizzas

Dough:

  • 1 1/4 cups warm (100 to 110 degrees F) water
  • 2 packages dry yeast
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 3 tablespoons good olive oil
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for kneading
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt

Toppings (select up to 8):

  • 1 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 pound fresh mozzarella, grated
  • 1/2 pound Italian Fontina, grated
  • 1/2 pound mild goat cheese, such as Montrachet, sliced
  • 1 red or yellow bell pepper, cored, seeded, and julienned
  • 1/4 pound prosciutto, thinly sliced and julienned
  • 1 bunch arugula, cleaned and dried
  • 6 plum tomatoes, sliced 1/4-inch thick
  • 4 pork or turkey sausages, cooked and sliced
  • 1 bunch basil leaves, cleaned and dried
  • 4 garlic cloves, roasted
  • Crushed red pepper flakes

For Prep:

  • 1/2 cup good olive oil
  • Cornmeal
  1. For the Dough: Combine the water, yeast, honey, and olive oil in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook. Add 3 cups flour, then the salt, and mix. While mixing, add 1 more cup of flour, or enough to make a soft dough. Knead the dough on low to medium speed for about 10 minutes until smooth, sprinkling it with flour, if necessary, to keep it from sticking to the bowl.When the dough is ready, turn it out onto a floured board and knead by hand a dozen times. It should be smooth and elastic. Place the dough in a well-oiled bowl and turn it several times to cover it lightly with oil. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel. Allow the dough to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.
  2. Divide the dough into 6 equal parts and roll each one into a smooth ball. Place the balls on a baking sheet and cover them with a damp towel. Allow the dough to rest for 10 minutes. Use immediately, or refrigerate for up to 4 hours.
  3. If you’ve chilled the dough, take it out of the refrigerator approximately 30 minutes ahead to let it come to room temperature. Roll and stretch each ball into a rough 8-inch circle and place them all on baking sheets sprinkled with cornmeal. (You will be able to fit 2 pizzas on each 18 by 13-inch baking sheet.)
  4. Light your grill and wait until it’s hot.
  5. Place the pizzas directly onto the grill and cook on 1 side for 1 minute. Turn the pizzas over and brush with olive oil or garlic oil.
  6. Top the pizzas with any toppings you wish, piling them high. Drizzle each pizza with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Put the lid on your grill and cook for 5 minutes more, until the crust is crisp and the toppings are cooked.