All in the char: Try pizza for summer grilling

Summer is in full swing, which means only one thing for me – it’s the height of grilling season! There are so many things to love about the wonderful world of grilling, but today I’ll only be focusing on three: char, caramelization, and creativity.

The first thing I’ve grilled this year is a pizza. My recipe for grilled diavolo pizza is posted below, so if you’re feeling saucy, give it a try! Take some glamorous foodie pics and Facebook me if you make it. Alright, let’s get nerdy about food.

One of my favorite aspects of grilling is the variant heat. You can grill your pizza at a super high temperature quickly, and get a crispy, charred crust, or lower the heat to get a more even “browning” on your pizza dough. You have complete control of how you want to manipulate your ingredients. Char and caramelization are similar in some ways, but here’s how they differ:

Char is what some people think of as the “burnt” bits, but we true foodies know that the bits aren’t burnt, they are just perfectly charred. When the pizza dough hits the hottest part of the grill, the heat will expand the air within the dough and create thin air pockets. It is these thin areas surrounding the air pocket that will char first. This happens at about 400 degrees surface temperature. Be careful not to leave your pizza dough lonely and afraid on the hot grill; pay attention to the smell and appearance before you flip it over.

Caramelization is when sugars reach a temperature of about 300 degrees. The natural sugars in things like onions and peppers will begin to bubble and boil and take on a gorgeous brown color. The flavors run deeper and the sugars get sweeter. Ooh, I’m getting hungry!

Once you have mastered the art of charring your dough and caramelizing your veggies, you can get creative with all of the toppings your little heart desires. I like aged sausage and capers with a lot of fresh herbs, but you can use whatever you like. Get creative here. If you’re having a bunch of friends over, why not do a pizza bar? Fruits like pineapple and peaches are fantastic. Rub a touch of olive oil on the sliced side of both and pop them on the hottest part of the grill, cook them for 3-5 minute, then slice them to use as a topping. Grill some eggplant and Italian sausage with a touch of olive oil and salt and pepper, then sprinkle some goat’s cheese over the top. You could even try grilling scallops with a touch of truffle oil, and then add some arugula and fresh cracked black pepper -- the possibilities are endless. I hope you and your grill have a passionate love affair this summer. Please leave a comment below, so I can share in your grilling wins and woes, or you can make a suggestion for future recipes or videos you would like to see.

Stay charred my friends, stay charred.

Grilled diavolo pizza

Recipe by Nathan Lippy

Serves: 4

Time: 15 minutes


  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

  • 1 red bell pepper

  • 1 green bell pepper

  • 1 large red onion, peeled and sliced into 1/2 inch rings

  • 1/4 pound thinly sliced aged pecorino

  • 1/4 pound thinly sliced smoked gouda

  • 1/4 pound thinly sliced Sopressata

  • 1/3 cup pitted Kalamata olives, coarsely chopped

  • 1/3 cup sundried cherry tomatoes, coarsely chopped

  • 3 cloves garlic, minced

  • 3 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves

  • 2 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves

  • 2 teaspoons red pepper flakes

  • 12 caper berries in brine

  • 1 pound pre-made pizza dough

  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour for dusting

  • 2 tablespoons semolina flour or fine yellow cornmeal

Pre-grease and pre-heat grill. Create two heat zones on your grill by heating one half of the grill to medium-high and the other half to medium. 

Rub both peppers with 1 tablespoon olive oil and grill for 10-12 minutes over medium-high heat until skins blister and become charred. Remove from grill and let cool. Use a towel to rub most of the charred skin off. Discard stems and seeds. Thinly slice peppers, set aside. 
On the same side of the grill, cook onion rings until soft and charred around the edges, about 4 minutes per side. Remove from grill and set aside. 

Allow pizza dough to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes before using. Dust your work surface with flour and place pizza dough on top. Use your fingertips to stretch the dough into a rectangle roughly 18 inches by 26 inches. Sprinkle both sides of dough with semolina flour and place on a pizza peel or backside of a sheet pan. Carefully slice the dough onto the part of the grill set at medium heat. Cook for about 8 minutes per side or until dough is golden brown and has even grill marks. Remove grilled dough to a peel or backside of sheet pan. 

To assemble pizza: Drizzle half of the remaining olive oil over the dough and add half of the cheese and all the Sopressata, sliced peppers, and onion rings. Evenly sprinkle over the top the chopped olives, tomatoes, garlic, picked herbs, red pepper flakes, and caper berries. Finish with remaining cheese and olive oil. Slide pizza back on the grill, set at medium heat, and close lid. Cook for 4-5 minutes or until cheese melts. Remove from grill and serve hot.

Chef Nathan Lippy is the host of "Grill This" and "Crash Course Culinary 101" on the HUNGRY Channel and www.NathanLippy.TV