Once you've had grilled pizza, you'll never want to eat pizza any other way. Grilling solves the age-old problem of a soggy pizza crust. This is because the toppings go on after the crust is already grilled, so every slice will always be crispy, crunchy and slightly smoky.
In summer, I love to create lighter pizzas that highlight my favourite produce, and tomatoes top the list. In my BLT pizza, I like to use an assortment of red and yellow cherry tomatoes for the "sauce." You cut the garden-ripe tomatoes and mix them with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic and basil for a classic "crudo," or uncooked tomato sauce. This keeps the brightness of the tomatoes intact and brings out the best of the season.
Because I quick grill the lettuce before cutting it into confetti like ribbons, the lettuce has a lot more flavour than the stuff than lands on an average BLT, and will be able to stand up to a combination of cheeses. I like to use both a stronger blue cheese or a ripe brie, as well as a mild grated mozzarella to complement the fresh tomatoes, smoky bacon and grilled lettuce.
There are a few tricks that will help you perfect pizza on the grill. It is not essential that you make your own dough; you can buy it from the grocer or from your favourite pizzeria. But it is essential that you take the dough out of the refrigerator an hour before you want to use it. This will warm the dough and allow it to relax, making it much easier to work with.
And don't worry about rolling the dough into a perfect circle. In fact, I prefer a more organic and odd shape. It goes with the rustic nature of grilled pizza. When rolling out the dough, dust your surface with grits or polenta (not cornmeal) to keep things from sticking. And keep the crust thin, about 1/4 inch. It will puff up plenty as it rises and puffs on the grill.
Finally, the key to grilled pizza is using a combination of direct and indirect heat. You start by grilling the crust on one side over medium direct heat. Then you flip the dough, add the toppings to the grilled side, then continue cooking everything over indirect heat. This prevents the bottom from burning while the cheese melts.
GRILLED BLT PIZZA
When grilling pizza, it is important to have all of your toppings prepped and nearby before grilling the crust. Once the crust is on the grill, the pizza comes together very quickly. You'll need a rimless baking sheet to help transfer the pizza during cooking. Don't have one? Use a rimmed sheet turned upside down.
Start to finish: 30 minutes
1 heart of romaine lettuce
1/4 cup uncooked grits or polenta, for rolling the dough
1 ball prepared pizza dough, at room temperature
1 cup summer tomato-basil sauce (see recipe below)
8 strips centre-cut bacon, cooked and crumbled
3 ounces blue cheese or brie, sliced or cubed
4 ounces grated mozzarella cheese
Ground black pepper
Heat a grill to high. Once the grill is hot, reduce it to medium. If desired, place a ceramic or cast-iron grill pan on the grates and let it heat before making pizza. You also can grill the pizza directly on the grates.
Cut the romaine heart in half lengthwise, keeping the core intact. Using 1 tablespoon of oil, brush both halves with oil on all sides, then sprinkle with salt. Grill over direct heat until the outer leaves are charred but the inside is still crisp, about 2 to 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a cutting board and let cool. Trim off and discard the tough end/core of each half, then slice crosswise into 1/2-inch-wide ribbons. Set aside.
Dust a work surface lightly with grits or polenta, then roll out the dough over it. Aim for the dough to be about 1/4 inch thick. Brush the dough liberally on both sides with olive oil, using about 2 tablespoons.
Place the dough on the grill grates or grill pan and immediately close the lid. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the bottom of the crust is marked and golden brown. Use tongs to transfer the dough to a rimless baking sheet, flipping it grilled side up as you do so. Turn off one side of the grill or bank the charcoals to one side to prepare for cooking with indirect heat.
Drizzle olive oil over the grilled side of the dough. Spoon the sauce over the surface of the pizza, then sprinkle with bacon and both cheeses. Using tongs to guide it, slide the pizza off the baking sheet and onto the cooler side of the grill. Cover and cook for 7 to 10 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the tomatoes are warmed through.
Use tongs to return the pizza to the baking sheet. Top the pizza with the romaine, then season with salt and pepper. Slice and serve immediately.
Nutrition information per serving: 450 calories; 290 calories from fat (64 per cent of total calories); 33 g fat (12 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 50 mg cholesterol; 20 g carbohydrate; 2 g fiber; 3 g sugar; 21 g protein; 1,120 mg sodium.
SUMMER TOMATO-BASIL SAUCE
Start to finish: 10 minutes active
Makes 1 3/4 cups
1 pint cherry tomatoes, quartered (or 1 pound vine-ripened or heirloom tomatoes, diced)
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 large fresh basil leaves
In a medium nonreactive metal or glass bowl, mix together all ingredients except the basil. If serving within 1 to 2 hours, let stand at room temperature so the tomatoes release their juices. Otherwise, cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours. When ready to use, mix, then drain through a mesh strainer to remove excess liquid. Just before using, chop and mix in the basil.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Elizabeth Karmel is a grilling and Southern foods expert and executive chef at Hill Country Barbecue Market restaurants in New York and Washington, as well as Hill Country Chicken in New York. She is the author of three cookbooks, including "Soaked, Slathered and Seasoned."