Cooking Tips

You Don’t Need a Pizza Oven to Make Great Charred Pizza at Home 

 For a crisp-tender crust with light char and a touch of smoke, just fire up the grill.

Published Sept. 6, 2023.

I married into a family that’s fanatical about pizza. They’re longtime regulars at several of the excellent pizzerias in New Haven, Connecticut, and we love to laugh about when my brother-in-law asked my father-in-law for his blessing to marry his daughter—while they were in the restroom at Sally’s Apizza! He said yes, and they celebrated over a clam and bacon pie.

So when my in-laws visit, the question is never “What should I serve?” Rather, it’s “What style of pizza should I make this time?” To their delight, I’ve become proficient at several types over the years—pan pizza, Detroit, Sicilian—you name it.  

But as good as I've become at baking pizzas in my oven, it’s proved difficult to produce flavorful charring on the crust, a feature that my family loves. Thankfully, test kitchen alum Andrew Janjigian figured out how to produce a gorgeously charred, crisp-tender crust by cooking pizza on a charcoal or gas grill.

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For insight on grilled pizza, he visited Al Forno in Providence, Rhode Island. There, the pies are cooked on a custom-made wood-fired grill that features a brick enclosure that absorbs heat and then reflects it back onto the top of the pie, much like an oven would.

Simple Keys to Grilled Pizza

Producing similar results on a home grill is challenging because unlike an oven, which browns pizza from both the bottom and the top, a grill cooks pizza entirely from the bottom, which leaves the top soft and blond and the toppings undercooked, even when the grill is covered. To brown the second side, many recipes call for flipping the dough before applying any toppings, but this also causes the dough to puff up from edge to edge—more like a flatbread than pizza.

For top-notch results using a home gas or charcoal grill, Janjigian made a few adjustments to his thin-crust pizza recipe, including using less yeast and more water; stretching the dough in a generous amount of olive oil; arranging the coals in a ring shape; and choosing quick-cooking toppings. Here’s the rundown.

Use Less Yeast and More Water

Using a tiny amount of yeast minimizes air bubbles in the dough so that it won't puff during cooking. To make the dough easier to stretch, we also increased the amount of water. The relatively slack dough is easy to expand into a thin sheet but not so wet that it is soupy.

Stretch the Dough In Oil

Rather than stretching this wetter dough in flour, we took a cue from Al Forno’s executive chef, David Reynoso, who stretches the dough for his pizza in a generous amount of olive oil. The fat not only keeps the dough from sticking but essentially fries the exterior a bit and helps it crisp. Prepared this way, the pizza grills up thin, tender, and richly flavorful, with a crisp shell that’s not the least bit greasy.

How to Avoid Burning Pizza on the Grill

Though it sounds counterintuitive, a conventional single-level fire with the coals spread across the grill causes the crust to burn at the center. This is because the pizza is not just subjected to heat from below; the curved kettle walls also reflect the heat inward, creating a hot spot at the center of the grill. For more even heat, we arrange the coals in a ring, which cooks the center of the pizza through reflected heat only.


A single-level fire concentrates both direct and indirect heat in the center of the grill, burning the pizza.


A ring of coals heats the grill center through reflected heat, avoiding the creation of a hot spot.

Choose Fast-Cooking Toppings That Won’t Sog Out the Crust

Scattering a thin layer of finely grated Parmesan over the pargrilled dough creates a flavorful barrier that prevents the sauce's moisture from rendering the crust soggy. Dolloping the sauce (warmed ahead of time so that it’s hot by the time the pizza is cooked) and scattering chunks of fast-melting fresh mozzarella over the dough, rather than covering the pie in sauce and cheese, also helps it stay crisp.

Be Prepared!

Grilled pizza cooks quickly and is best eaten right away, so be sure to have everything you’ll need at the ready. In fact, it’s best to pargrill all three pies before topping, grilling, and serving them one by one. Have everything you need—all three sheets of stretched dough, sauce, cheese, and tools—at the ready so that you can cook and serve the pizzas as quickly as possible. 


Big Flavors from Italian America

Big Flavors from Italian America

Ready to cook? Click here for our full recipe for Grilled Pizza.


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