Italian grillin’

Jun 23, 2004 at 12:00 am

Many of us Michiganders not deterred by the cold of winter have only to dress warmly while tending the pit in the quest for succulent grilled food. For those of you who mothball the grill or barbecue during winter, the time has come to cook outdoors.

While the terms are used interchangeably, for the sake of explanation, grilling is what we do to cook steaks and burgers, while barbecuing is the process of slow cooking, sometimes smoking, the likes of spare ribs or “bones” over a low fire.

Sam Higgins, barbecue aficionado, chef, caterer and writer, has been quoted as saying, “Good barbecue is cooked the way a cowboy dances: slow, easy and often. It’s as tender as a lady’s heart, as moist as her goodnight kiss and as lean as a cowboy’s wallet.” Higgins (being a Texan, I believe) was referring to smoked brisket, of course.

Being the pizza lover that I am, I’m going to offer you something you probably haven’t heard of before, something that will knock the socks off your friends should you have the courage to try it at a party: grilling pizzas.

The first time you grill a pizza, you’ll be sure it won’t work. It does. The only major failure I experienced was when I had a fire that was too hot and dough too thin and oily. The whole thing went up in flames.

Here is how it’s done right. Get the dough and the toppings ready. Keep it simple at first, perhaps some tomato sauce or thinly sliced tomatoes, some grated cheese — Parmesan or pecorino romano — and some fresh basil or other herbs. You will need a pizza peel or a large flat tray, some tongs and a spatula.

Use your favorite dough recipe. Store-bought will do. Although you can make pizza as large as your grill, you should start with smaller ones, 8 or 10 inches in diameter. This will require a dough ball about the size of a softball.

On a floured surface, roll out the dough to a thickness of about 1/8 inch. Brush it lightly on both sides with olive oil. Make sure that your grill is clean. Have a moderately hot fire. If you don’t know what that means the first time, you will the second. Put the dough directly on the grate. No, it will not fall through.

Do not be alarmed if bubbles appear. They will deflate when the dough is turned over. After a minute or so, check the dough by lifting the edge with tongs or a spatula. When it has light grill marks, in 2 or 3 minutes, depending on the heat of the grill, and is solid enough to lift easily, put it on a pan, cooked side up, and add the toppings. Work as fast as possible so the hot dough will begin to melt the cheese. Put the pie back on the grill. Close the lid. If it is a gas grill, lower the heat. In three or four minutes you will have a crusty pizza that will amaze you.

While I am comfortable cooking pizzas on a gas grill, I consider gas or propane only marginally acceptable as a heat source for cooking meat.

While some people argue that the flavor that distinguishes grilled meats comes from the fat burning on the coal or in the case of a hot gas grill, the lava rocks, I am prone to dispute that theory and go for the flavor that different hardwoods produce. There is no substitute for a handful of hickory, mesquite or applewood. Don’t overdo it. Too much will overpower the natural flavor of the meat.

I sometimes use Kingsford briquettes, but I find that hardwood chunk charcoal burns hotter and cleaner and can be added raw to a hot fire without tainting the flavor as I feel briquettes will do. GFS Marketplace, the restaurant supply company that is open to the public, sells 20-pound bags of Royal Oak brand hardwood charcoal for under $10. These stores are located throughout the metropolitan area with one on the west side of Telegraph Road, three or four blocks south of Ten Mile, in Southfield.

Salmon tastes excellent when cooked on a grill. I found Potlatch Seasoning — salmon and seafood spice rub — at Williams Sonoma. It’s a blend of salt, paprika, red pepper, chili pepper, oregano basil and coriander. I sprinkled it lightly on a salmon fillet and put a bit of brown sugar over that. When baked on the grill it glazed the salmon and the sweetness of the sugar mellows out the flavors of the rub.

There is a wealth of information available on the subject. A serious Web site is, which contains recipes, discussions about outdoor cooking techniques, sources for sauces, rubs and hardwood for smoking, and just about anything else you might need to become an expert.

For books, check out Weber’s Art of the Grill by Jamie Purviance, Tim Turner and Mike Kempster, Paul Kirk’s Championship Barbecue, Steven Raichlen’s Barbecue Bible and BBQ USA. The book I recommend for beginners as well as the experienced is How to Grill, by Steven Raichlen and Greg Schneider. This well-illustrated, 500-page book covers techniques for grilling and smoking. Their recipe for turkey pastrami is worth the price of the book.

Weber Grills has a Web site — — which, in addition to displaying their products and offering recipes, has a hotline where your questions are answered by some pretty knowledgeable people armed with recipes and tips. Last year one of their experts sent me a pamphlet about grilling pizzas, resulting in my recommendation above.

Parting Shot: Why does a chicken coop have only two doors?

Because if it had four doors, it would be a chicken sedan.


Here is a recipe for grilled chicken breast that is simple and delicious.


1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup lemon juice
3 or 4 cloves of minced garlic
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 bunch of parsley, stems removed, washed and chopped

Whisk all of the ingredients together.

Marinate 8 or 10 boneless chicken breasts in a glass or stainless steel pan or plastic bag, preferably overnight. Grill over a hot charcoal fire for 3 or 4 minutes on each side.

Jeff Broder is a foodie for Metro Times. Send tips and comments to [email protected]