Outdoor Entertaining Tips for Grilling Pizza on the Barbecue

Tips for Grilling Pizza on the Barbecue

Grilling pizza straight on the barbecue sounds daunting—especially with fresh dough—but it can be one of your most rewarding outdoor entertaining skills.

Making pizza on the BBQ is actually much easier than it sounds. In fact, I mistakenly procrastinated trying it because I was afraid of ruining my husband’s prized barbecue. I am sure that I’m not alone.

Grills do a better job of mimicking a wood fire than your interior conventional oven could ever do, plus the smoke injects more flavor. We’re talking pizzeria quality pie made at home in just minutes. Here’s how to do it.

Tools Needed for Grilling Pizza

You can likely manage with what you have already, but in a perfect world here are the utensils you’d use:

  • a gas or charcoal barbecue with grates large enough to handle a pizza
  • long-handled spatula
  • long-handled tongs
  • a pizza paddle

That’s it. Pizza stones also work extremely well on the barbecue but can be labor intensive and transport to clean due to weight. They are not at all necessary, nor are perforated pizza pans or cookie sheets. Why create extra dishes to wash if you don’t have to?

Make sure the barbecue grates are clean prior to grilling pizza in order to prevent the dough from sticking. Not sure how? We have tips for how to clean your barbecue grill.

Ingredients Required for Pizza on the BBQ

This part is largely up to you, but here are the basics:

  • fresh dough
  • flour to assist with rolling out the dough
  • olive oil
  • sauce (optional)
  • toppings
  • cornmeal (optional)

Since the grill will be hot anyway, consider tossing on asparagus or peppers to top the pizza with. Vegetable toppings must be par-boiled or precooked. The same goes for meat.

grilled onion pizza

Toppings cook differently on the grill than in the oven because the high heat applied to the crust requires fast overall cooking. Thick slices of cheese and uncooked meats just won’t do, because even with the lid on there isn’t enough time to thoroughly cook them on top of the pizza. Meat must be already partially cooked. Some grilled pizza recipes call for the cheese to be applied directly to the crust (to melt it faster) with dollops of sauce, toppings and a light sprinkling of cheese or a ricotta cheese on top. You get the picture.

Get Started Grilling Pizza

1. Allow dough to reach room temperature.

Make sure to allow time for refrigerated pizza dough to come to room temperature in order for it to shape properly. This can take between 1-2 hours depending on dough size.

2. Chop and prepare ingredients.

You’ll need to place these next to the barbecue because the crust cooks alone first.

3. Shape the dough.

Shaping pizza dough is probably the hardest part of this entire endeavor. Avoid making a lip at the edge of the crust as it interferes with the grill process since dough needs to be flipped. If you can massage the crust into an even thickness throughout, this is best. Thickness is a matter of personal preference though most pizza grilling experts suggest about 1/4″.

Flatten the dough with your hands on to a floured surface or use a rolling pin, if preferred. Another easy technique is to pick up the dough by the edges and let it hang while spinning the dough around to increase the size of the entire crust.

A perfectly-round pizza because it is very difficult to achieve with fresh dough because transferring it to the barbecue in exactly the same shape is challenging. Release your inner perfectionist and let it go.

Shape multiple pizzas at one time by placing parchment paper in between each crust. You can even flatten multiple pizzas in advance and store them in the refrigerator (make sure to allow them to come to room temperature before cooking). Depending on your kitchen utensils, a rectangular-shape pizza might be easier to maneuver on and off the grill (especially with a long spatula) and cut up for appetizers.

When it comes time to slide the dough on to the barbecue, place cornmeal on the pizza paddle. It adds a nice crunch to the crust while helping dough to slide off.

4. Oil one side of the pizza crust.

This is extremely important to both prevent the dough from sticking to the grates and for a crispy crust bottom. Brush a thin layer of olive oil all over the bottom of the crust. Be generous, but don’t make it drippy.

5. Place the oiled side directly on the hot barbecue.

Somewhere during the preparation process you will have cranked up your gas or charcoal barbecue to high heat. The higher, the better, with some pizza experts suggesting 600 degrees. Remember, a wood-fired pizza oven is hot!

Carefully slide (or toss) the pizza crust on to the barbecue. Once you’re able to move the dough without it sticking to the grates, shift it around periodically for even cooking. The dough will start to bubble, but that’s OK. Pop the bubbles or flip the crust over quickly to settle them before step number six (optional).

6. Remove the crust from the grill to add toppings.

If you’re daring, this can be done on the barbecue but it’s a risky proposition especially on a gas grill.

adding pizza toppings

7. Cook the pizza with toppings until the crust is golden brown.

A few black grill marks won’t hurt anyone and are likely to occur. Eyeballing a done pizza will take practice so don’t attempt this for the first time while entertaining guests. My first pizza crust was too thick—crispy on the bottom and doughy in the center.

Grilling Pizza Requires Organization

The most important thing you can do is have all of your toppings organized and right next to the barbeque. Have serving platters handy there, too, especially if grilling multiple pizzas.  Because the pizzas cook so quickly, there just isn’t time to run back and forth between the house.

Also, remember tomato sauce stains concrete but if you accidentally leave a spot overnight, we have information regarding how to remove concrete stains.

A Video Using a Charcoal Grill

Even though my grill is gas, I found this video about grilling pizza by Weber extremely helpful to watch prior to attempting it myself.

Outdoor Wood-fired Pizza Ovens

As discussed in our recent outdoor kitchen trends round-up, those with big budgets can actually install true wood-fired pizza ovens in their outdoor entertaining spaces. They’re gorgeous, impressive-looking and pricey, sometimes reaching up to $16,000 just for the oven.

But, we promise that with practice and patience, an awesome pizza on the grill is just about as good… if not as good.

Your Turn…

Do you grill pizza? Please share your tips and favorite toppings.


Photo credits: istockphoto, Flickr/galant, Flickr/j_regan