Grilled Pizza is Hot!

It’s a hot debate whether grilled pizza began in Memphis or Rhode Island. Some say, owners Johanne Killeen and George Germon served the first at Al Forno restaurant in Providence, RI. Others swear it was Coletta’s in Memphis.

Whether Northern roots or Southern, what is true is that the flavor and smokiness from grilling pizza on real charcoal cannot be beat. If you then add pepperoni on the pizza, you will double the smoky flavor of both the pizza and the pepperoni. Fire roasted bacon will also add tremendous flavor and a bacon-goodness smell to your restaurant.

New York City’s famous Lombardo’s on Mulberry Street made a name for itself by using a coal-fired oven to impart the grilled burned flavor that is so famous. Given the restrictions on coal burning in most cities, real Pizzaiolos that want that authentic flavor had to find an alternative. American ingenuity moved in and the backyard grill took center stage.

The secret to good grilled pizza is to use a thin dough. After rounding, place it directly over the fire of a grill, and then turn it over once the bottom has baked. There may be some stickiness on the grill, but after a few minutes of cooking, the dough will release for you to pull it off. Place a thin layer of toppings on the baked side. This is a fast bake – 1-2 minutes – so keep toppings thin so they heat through. Many chefs suggest making one with chunkier toppings like sausage or peppers, and precook the items before placing on the pizza. Add garlic, herbs, or other ingredients to the crust to maximize the flavor.

On the operation side, grilled pizza has both positives and negatives. The fast cook time speeds service to the table or for packing for delivery. People love the flavor and the lighter crust is perfect for summer meals.

On the challenge side, running outside creates more complication as an opened back door is never good for management of flies or thieves. The thin crust does not hold heat as long, so the product cools faster. Once your customers are “hooked” they will want grilled pizza rain or shine, so you need a “Plan B” for rainy summer days and nights. Finally, check with your local health department to insure you are not violating any health codes with outdoor cooking.

From a profit viewpoint, feature individual size pizzas with a few choices of toppings.

In addition to pepperoni, you can add shredded Parmesan, as the fast bake will allow the cheese to retain its shape and texture. The nutty flavor of Parmesan will cut through light sauce applications and truly enhance the overall flavor profile. Consumers will perceive these pizzas as a real value-added item, so price high and let the pizza fly.

As to the origin debate, Memphis is the home of BBQ so it is logical to assume the idea sprang there first. We suggest you add grilled pizza and a nice marketing name, Authentic Memphis BBQ Pizza.