Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The pizza chronicles, part one

Anyone who works with wild yeast bread dough has a secret desire for a wood fired oven, but many of us just do not have the money necessary to install one for the minimal use in a home setting.  I am one of those people.

I love homemade pizza, made with wild yeast dough.  Until recently, I'd made it in my oven, but was never completely happy with the results.  A soggy crust, and over-cooked toppings were often the result, not to mention the mess.  After a layer of corn meal on a pizza peel, and a shake or two to get the pizza into the oven, and onto the tiles, I was often left with an oven floor coated in corn meal.  Ever smell burnt corn meal?  If not, let me enlighten you.  It stinks!

I decided it was time to move the pizza making to the great outdoors, and into my trusty Weber kettle, though I knew modifications would be in order.  I was ready to retire the Weber from its regular grilling duties, and dedicate it to the pizza making that takes place in our home.

I set a layer of charcoal a flame, set my grill grate in place, then added my four quarry tiles (these tiles are made for commercial ovens, and are certified food safe).  I let everything heat up, lid off, until the tiles were fully heated, and my coals were red hot.

Pizza on peel, I slid the pie onto the tiles and set the lid in place.  About 8 minutes later the toppings looked great, with nicely charred blisters along the crust edge.  I removed the pizza, which looked good, but upon further inspection, discovered the bottom of the crust was completely black.  I like some char marks, but a completely burnt crust wasn't what I had in mind.

I decided I needed more air space between my coals and my tiles, and a much lower clearance between the top of my tiles and the lid of the grill.  I wanted all the heat that rose to the top of the kettle to be trapped as close to the top of the pizza as possible.  I also needed more heat - about 400 degrees more than I was getting.

My solution was to add four broken bricks (I just happened to have some) to my grill grate, add a smaller grill grate on top of the bricks, then add my tiles.  This gave me exactly 2" of clearance between my tiles, and the top of the lid at the highest point - perfect!  It also gave me more air space between my coals and my tiles.

This was a good solution, but cooking time was still too long, yielding a crust that was crunchy vs. crispy.  Crunchy isn't what I want.  I want a crust that's crispy on the outside, with plenty of char, and 'leoparding', yet soft and chewy on the inside.  I'm still not there.

Higher heat and ventilation were two nagging problems.  More work to do, but for a first real effort, it wasn't a bad solution, and the pizza was good, if not great.

Stay tuned for more in the pizza chronicles.

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