How to cook a real Pizza Napoletana into your Grill

This post is also available in: frFrançais (French)

If I had to make a ranking of the most common questions that have been posed to me in the several classes and various events I had the honor to held, probably those relating how to bake pizza in the grill would be in first place.

Actually I have to admit that this is not one of the most intuitive cooking among the many made possible by barbecue devices, even from the most modern cooking instrument and much less if we approach it on charcoal. Starting by saying that the results given by a wood pizza oven are hard to beat, baking a good pizza in a barbecue device it involves a minimum of attempts on which to develop expertise and the application of correct basic setting. About the experience I’m afraid no one can replace you but about the spreading of what I consider to be the best possible setup, I think I can do something. Contrary to popular fears in avoidance of doubt, in a common cooking device you can replicate a pizza higher in quality than the average level guaranteed by a common pizzeria. If you think about it, this is not so surprising: the shape of a grill with lid resembles that of the classic wood-burning pizza oven. So the key to replicate as closely as possible the operating conditions and the behavior of this latter during cooking. I omit here all considerations related to the dough because we don’t want them to be the object of this post.

It’s useful as first thing, to image what we face every time we go to a pizzeria. The pizza oven is in essence a dome built in refractory material. If any of you have ever tried grilling on a brick structure, you know how this material reacts to heat: the heat raise up to a saturation point and then it gives back it consistently over time with an intensity similar to the one It was fed with. The oven structure has accumulated constant heat during the continue using for days, or even weeks, and then gives back inside the oven a “soft” and enveloping warmth.

Now, if you notice, there is always burning wood on the back of the pizza house oven. The hard wood, such as Beech that typically is used in our pizzerias, has a very high combustion point, easily exceeding 800 ° C. This extremely intense heat invests pizza by convection through the dome. So to sum up, the cooking of pizza is through the exercise of two forms of heat: a “soft” and enveloping returned from the structure of the oven and responsible for the correct bubbles creation into the dough and the other intense and powerful, responsible for surface browning.

A valuable ally that helps us to replicate the effect of the structure of the pizza house oven in our barbecue, is definitely the pizza stone in refractory material, which should give us the soft, enveloping warmth that I described above. And here it is the first rock on which by my experience I see shattered the pizza chef aspirations of most of rookie grillers in grass and that leads them to use it twice and then sadly set aside the pizza stone in the shed. The biggest mistake is to be in a hurry, to pretend to get home from work at 7 pm and eat pizza at 7:15. Because you know that the pizza stone must first be heated and, as it is always latent the idea that the pizza oven works best in the order of 400° C, here is undergoing the pizza stone in the heat of the flames of ‘ hell for hurry things. There are two factors that the rookie griller does not consider. The first is that even if they looks similar in terms of conformation, a pizza oven and a kettle are not the same thing. You imagine the size, the mass and the thermal inertia of an oven, and compare it with one of our grill and you will understand quickly how difficult it is to fully and necessarily apply on both the same performance parameters. The second is that the refractory material has in this sense an extremely transparent behavior giving back to us exactly what we give to him.

It is completed this way the typical picture of the first baking of pizza. The rookie griller heat the pizza stone into the replication of a blast furnace he performed in his kettle and after 10 minutes he put its pizza in cooking on it. The stone has not yet reached its point of saturation temperature, so the dough does not rise, remains thin, while the heat is incredibly intense and inevitably dry it out leaving the inside raw. The rookie griller is disappointed but not defeat and put the second pizza in baking. Meanwhile the stone has reached the thermal saturation and it gives back what has been given to it, that is a cherry bomb blast. The result is inevitably a burned pizza. Raw pizza as first, burnt pizza as second: this is the most classic clichés.

The best set up in my opinion to avoid this tragic end, it is as follows:

  • Place the pizza stone on the grid, the closest possible to you and place a half chimney of burning briquettes on the combustion grate at the side opposite to the stone. Let heat the stone with the lid on and wide open ventsfor at least 30-40 minutes. If you have the Weber Gourmet System stone you can also use this set up, leaving it in its central slot although in my opinion the ideal thing in this case is to use the two leading coal baskets supplied and split between the two the amount of coal. If you have a gas device place the stone on one side and turn on the opposite burner at 3/4 or full capacity, depending on the power available. The aim is to accumulate a sweet and soft heat in the stone, reaching the thermal saturation and to have back the same heat intensity.
  • Bring to a complete combustion a whole chimney of briquettes or coal and add it on grid to that used to preheat the stone. Close the lid, let the flames quiet for a minute and then immediately place in baking your pizza on the stone. If you have the Gourmet System do the same thing but dividing the fuel between the two leading coal baskets. If you have a gas device take the burner to full power and add if necessary and you have it available, the one of the furthermost burner from stone, between those off. The aim in this case is to replicate the effect of the flame burning on the back of the pizza oven.

So we replicated the two types of heat at the base of pizza baking. Before leaving you to the practice, a final comment on the firing temperature. What we often see is people obsessed by the pursuit of the highest possible temperature because they believe that this will ensure a better pizza. For what is my experience, it is an important factor up to a certain point. The first phase, the preheating one, it determines the quality of the pizza baking. The second, the thrust combustion one, it determines the speed with which i’m cooking my pizza. In other words, if I do a good preheating I will obtain in any case a good pizza, regardless of the temperature may reach 50 ° C higher or lower in the second phase. In this latter, the choice of fuel is particularly relevant. If you opt for the briquettes you will not have pizza in a very short time, measurable in about 8 minutes, but you can cook up to a couple of hours. On the opposite if you use coal, the timing may drop to 4-5 minutes but every twenty minutes you’ll have to add a half chimney. The best performance I got was using at this stage the charcoal of a well known chain of Cash & Carry. To give you a comparison an extremely powerful device like a Napoleon of the LEX series with ceramic burners is able to cook a pizza in about 90 seconds.

Now it’s time to heat up the stone: tonight pizza! And you, what kind of set up do you use for your perfect pizza?

Marco Agosti

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