Pizza! If you’ve followed me here or on Facebook then you know that as much as I enjoy great “Q”, I am equally intrigued by baking pizza in the BGE. The egg is a perfect domed, clay, wood-fired pizza oven that is totally capable of high temps for proper baking of many types of pie.
Am I an expert pizza baker? NO! I’ve got a long way to go but I’ve learned much. All too often as folks talk about what novel they are reading I’m entering the conversation with what cookbook, baking, or Q technique books I’ve got parked by my recliner – or maybe it’s the latest site I’ve bookmarked to visit and revisit for hints and ideas. The Pizza Bible by Tony Gemignani has been occupying a lot of read time lately. Pizza isn’t “rocket surgery” but if you are going to get really serious about it then it comes darn near to that! For you Q followers let me put this guy in perspective for you – he’s the pizza equivalent of Aaron Franklin or Myron Mixon in the Q world! Even if you never attempt to make a pie this would be a great read for anyone that likes – no loves – pizza. It’s a super way to understand all things pizza! Just be warned that this book will cause you to want to cook a different pizza almost every night!
Gemignani walks the reader through an initial “master class” as the first pizza assignment of the book. This one involves 24 hours of bulk fermenting for the dough followed by another 24 hours after forming the dough balls. Great pizza isn’t something you can decide this afternoon that you’ll whip some up to serve tonight. He also has a recipe for sauce and topping suggestions. The “class” involves making 2 types of pizza and I’ve done one of those – well sort of – Glenn’s traditional “load ‘er up with toppings” always seems to win in my kitchen. But next batch of dough might get me back into the class…..forgive me Tony, for I have sinned!
While studying pizza theory I’ve also been reading and surfing way too many folks ideas on how to bake a pizza on the BGE. Many of you remember my earlier post on a technique for stone placement – well, forget what I said because I’ve changed my mind. Here’s the old post: https://angrymanbbq.com/big-green-egg/pizza-cooking-on-the-big-green-egg/
I have to confess that I am most partial to my XL BGE as a pizza oven though I do bake in the Large as well. The size of the BGE pizza stone for the XL is massive and gives even a large pie a lot of real estate on which to bake. The large stone limits the pie size to smaller than the pans I use….that means less to eat and that makes me an Angry Man! Remember, we’re all about avoiding that angry side we all seem to harbor.
Anyway, here’s how I’m setting up the BGE these days. Load lots of lump! You want to have plenty of fuel for a somewhat hot fire so don’t hold back. Fill the firebox and let it mound – but that’s how you should be doing for every cook in a BGE. Light 3 or 4 spots so they are burning well and then let it catch up before inserting the plate setter with the legs up as we’ve always been told to do (for newbies a plate setter is the old-school name for a conveggtor – a name our friends in marketing came up with back when they created an “Egg-name” for everything they sell.) Toss in the standard cooking rack and then center you pizza stone on the rack – it’s that easy. Close the dome and stabilize your BGE for about 550°. Once it’s stable then leave it to heat the stone for at least 45 minutes to an hour. Hey – you started the dough at least 2 days ago so this really isn’t long in the grand scheme. Place on your side table about four copper Ts – oh, ¾” will do great (who knew pizza baking required a trip to the plumbing department?).
I’m still a fan of pizza pans that are much more holey than righteous – the Airbake pan with holes is a fabulous tool for pizza bakers. Easier to use than a screen and unlike parchment that so many online “experts” recommend, it’s a non-flamable base for building and transferring your pie. (Get one of those blue 20% off coupons before heading out to the local BB&B where they are about $14 prior to coupon) This pan does more to eliminate frustration, aka Angry Man Syndrome, than any pizza product you might ever purchase – trust me here please, go buy the pan.
Now, you don’t have to spend days making your dough. My dough recipe from an earlier post is still a great crust for a quick mix. I like the dough balls from Publix when I’m pressed for time and folks tell me some frozen dough balls are good too. My thoughts for the rest of this post are for almost any dough you can find. Enough verbosity already – let’s make a pie! Here’s my easy dough recipe: https://angrymanbbq.com/bread/pizza-crust/
You will want your dough ball of choice at pretty much room temp for working with it. Pressing out and stretching dough isn’t that stinking difficult – most of us master this in kindergarten with red, blue or yellow playdough so just think like a kiddo. Surf a few BGE sites and you’ll see pies that appear to have been the victim of a massacre – really – a pizza should never look like the baker attempted to shape it like Texas or god forbid it looks like Florida. But trust me, these states happen on far too many pizza stones! On a well floured surface, press the center of the ball a little then start stretching. I use flat outstretched hands and tug outward while leaving a ridge around the outside for a great rim crust. Be gentle, let it relax if it’s pulling back and slowly work out your circle. In these pictures I’ll be cooking on the Large BGE so I have to make a little smaller pie to fit the stone. I know that’s just a bit larger than all the holes in the Airbake pan. I don’t toss my dough – cleaning all the flour that would fly around the kitchen just isn’t my idea of fun (and the Pleasant Lady surely isn’t going to clean up after me!). Spray a bit cooking oil on the Airbake and then place the stretched dough on the pan.
Toppings are personal choice. I still use Dei Fratelli crushed tomatoes for sauce. I have a couple of Mozzarellas that I like and we almost always add ground beef (browned first), pepperoni, onion & peppers – that’s my pie. Often I’ll put some of the meat under the cheese. Always top as pleases you! When our daughter is joining us for pizza I have to leave off what she doesn’t eat and that’s fine too. The key here is to have your toppings ready and construct your pie as quickly as possible so your dough doesn’t get soggy before baking.
Now – here’s the baking technique – and this is technique not timed steps. Every pie bakes a bit differently and yours will always vary from mine – use good judgment here! Take the pie to the BGE (or your oven in the kitchen works too) and place the 4 copper Ts on the stone just prior to setting the Airbake pan on top of those. Close the lid or door and give the pie about 5 minutes to bake with the air circulating between the pan and the stone. At this point you should be able to slide the pie from the pan directly onto the stone. It’s a good time to rotate the pie as well. A slight bit of tender encouragement by lifting the edge of the crust with a spatula might be needed – just be tender. Starting on the pan and letting the crust set and the toppings bake a little avoids that maneuver of yanking a peel out from under the moist pie. It also holds down chances of burning the crust with the hot stone. Remember that many store bought dough balls will be more likely to burn than home-made dough (it’s all that sugar added to make foods “good” to consumers). Close the BGE or oven for the pie to finish baking and brown a little.
Give it a check after a few more minutes and rotate again if it seems to need to even out. Use the spatula again and lift an edge to slide the pie back onto the pan from transport to your slicing station. If you have guests then this is where you pull out that fancy pizza peel and snag the pie so that you can dance into the kitchen singing about what a wonderful cook you are – and you will have a beautiful round pie!
The challenges – crust, toppings and temperature. Yes, I know classic Neapolitan pizza is baked at just shy of 9,000° but odds are that’s not your crust, style or skill level. Slow down a bit and make a pie that you, your family and guests can enjoy (aka not burned) and you’ll avoid being an Angry Man or Woman.
The easy – a simple baking technique that will make you look like you baked pizza in Italy for a couple of years while you were doing your foreign study for that rocket surgery degree.
Enjoy your pizza! Try the old crust – check Tony’s book – pick up a dough ball at WallyWorld – just give it a try!