Pizza Napoletana [Moved from General Topics board]
I have recently been trying to master the art of making this style pizza on the grill since you need to get the temperatures around 800 degrees or so. I was able to cook the pizza in about 2 minutes with a wonderful thin crust adapted from a recipe in Peter Reinhart's Bread Bakers Apprentice Book. The dough calls for a slow cold fermentation process which developes the flavor nicely. The problem I am have is that the crust gets very dark on the bottom in a short amount of time, thus the heat. Should I raise the stone a little with a few bricks or should I maybe just take it off earlier and finish the toppings under the broiler, the later suggestion would be a NO NO in the real world of Napoletana. Any suggestions ??
I think the stone is probably a lot hotter than you think it is, certainly hotter than the grill top where most thermometers are. (I'm assuming that you cook with the grill top closed.) I'd try insulating the bottom of the stone with a half sheet pan underneath it, so there's an air space between the flames/coals and the stone. This should help to equalize the temperatures in the grill, and let the toppings cook without burning the crust.
Heston Blumenthal (of "The Fat Duck" fame) in his book and BBC tele series "In Search of Perfection" tackled Pizza Napoletana. He tried making it on a kettle grill, but gave up due to insufficient heat and uneven temperature. He even rigged up a fan to force air through the bottom of the grill to increase the temperature, which got it hotter, but didn't do anything for the uneveness.
He finally ended up baking it on the surface of a heavy cast-iron skillet, which was pre-heated on the stovetop on high for a good 10 minutes or more. This was then placed upside down just inches below a broiler in the oven, with the pizza carefully slid onto the cast iron skillet, barely clearing the broiler elements above.
I've been experimenting in making a pizza in my residential oven as well, though of course getting no where near the blistering temps called out by the E.U.'s definition of a Pizza Napoletana (was it 500 degrees C?). In my setup I use bricks lining the bottom rack of the oven, as well as more bricks and a pizza stone on the top rack. The pizza goes directly on the bricks on the bottom rack.
I left a space between the top rack and the pizza stone, (the pizza stone is propped up on a pair of bricks), to eventually place bincho-tan charcoal. Bincho-tan charcoal, a specially produced charcoal created in anaerobic conditions, is almost glass-like and burns mostly in the infrared. It should provide much radiant heat on the top, somewhat simulating the radiant heat of a masonry oven.
Although I do not expect the oven temperature to get much above 550-570 F, the maximum it seems to go in normal use, the contribution of the radiant heat from the bincho-tan above the pizza should substantially increase the temperature of the pizza toppings over and above what can be done by these air temps alone.
I've had many a successful thin-crust pizza w/o the bincho-tan, though I can't reach the 90 - 120 seconds bake time of the Neapolitan Pizza at my oven temperatures. I hope to get nearer to that mark once I incorporate the bincho-tan as part of the bake.
I think you're heading in the wrong direction. They guy who owns Stop 50 in Michigan City,Chris Bardol, has showed me that the key to getting a wood fired pizza done w/o burning is to have the radiant mass of the oven throughly heated. If the pizza take more than 90 seconds the oven has not heated up enough. The floor of Chris' hearth is about 900, but the dome is a good 300-400 degrees HOTTER. That is what flash cooks the top AND it often comes out with stuff SMOKING...
Just running the grill as hot as you can get it is not enough. You need to increase the thermal mass of the cooking device so that you have stones/bricks all radiating heat toward the pizza so that the whole thing cooks super fast. I gotta think that this cold weather is also quite a hindrance as it takes so much more preheating time. Not even sure how much you can get the "dome effect" to work on a grill with a removable lid. (Though those ceramic komodo/big green egg cookers certainly seem more feasible...) It is also the reason that I don't think an outdoor "pizza hearth" is going to work except in a near-Mediterranean climate or you burn enough wood to earn you place of shame of the planetary CO2 list of top emitters...
You also have to make the pizza small enough and "sparsely topped" so that the whole thing is completely cooked at the same time the crust is done.
I think you would be surprised at what I have turned out in this grill, as far as pizza. This isn't like it is a whim thought, I have been practicing this for a bit. I do understand what is needed in a perfect inviroment but I am trying to get the best effect for what I have. I think you are correct at the sparsely topped comment but i doesn't need to be small, just thin. All these elements I have achieved and the nice "airy" crust bubbles along the rim, got that also. I don't prick any holes in the crust since I think a bubbled out crust gives the pizza character. I guess as long as what I am making at home is better than what I can buy, I am happy ;-)
Also the lid of my grill is dome shaped, so where does the heat radiate if it cannot escape once closed. The toppings were actually cooked in the 90 seconds just the crust was a little darker than I have seen at some restaurants in Southern Germany and Italy.
In my opinion, I think I am heading in the correct direction.
I think we're all heading in the same direction, actually. If the ideal oven is a wood fired masonry oven, then the goal in the grill should be to have temperature distributions that are similar to that. In a wood fired oven the top of the oven will get the most heat I think because the hot gases flow upward, just as the hot gases in your grill flow upward to heat your baking stone, which is the effective bottom of your 'oven'. The top of your grill/oven not only does not get the benefit of uninterrupted heating, but it's probably thin steel, and in any event not insulated so never gets as hot as your stone. If you are cooking the pizza in two minutes that may not put much demand on the thermal mass of the lid, but its lower temperature will make the top of the pizza cook slower than the crust.
Here's an interesting experiment: take two slices of bread, and a sheet of aluminum foil, loosely folded over on itself 3-4 times, to created a good insulator, and assemble them into an 'aluminum foil sandwich', with the bread on the outside. Place the sandwich on your baking stone at your normal heat, and remove it when the top starts to brown. Check the bottom, and I'll guess it will be more brown. You could use this sandwich to test the evenness of your oven, top vs. bottom.
I still vote for shielding the bottom of the stone. Could you share some of your tips that you've discovered in making pizza on the grill?
I work for a glass manufacturing company and have talked to a few people there about thermo dynamics and recieved a few answers as to the air flow and mass temp control, they laugh when they find out I am asking for creating the "perfect pizza. I brought home a few bricks which they use to make the "forehearth" for melting glass and places these under the pizza stone or surface stone, in doing so I have brought the conducted heat more to the middle of the cooking area and less direct of the coals or heating element. I could go to the extent of using an infared eye to take the temp of the stone but feel that I am pretty close but "not under law" of the napoletana values.
I am not yet ready to use my kitchen oven on self clean cycle to reach the temps I need, this has been done before with by passing the oven door lock.
I have found that a wetter dough with just enough flour to slide it off of the peel yields better results due to the fact the the outside sears rendering it crispy and the inside stays moist. with too much flower the loose or dusting flour becomes bitter on the crust. Of course less is more when it comes to toppings, creating the perfect balance of bottom crust cooking and toppings melting at the same time is what is to be achieved. As far as my tips, I would tell people to use the recipe for the dough in Peter Reinharts Bread Bakers Apprentice and don't use it until it has cold fermented for 2 days, it will give you the perfect texture and flavor but cannot be rushed.
This link can give you more tips than I can but we all strive for something similar, yet in out minds the flavor may be just a little different.
Be quick, Be alert and Enjoy
I thought I read somewhere that placing foil on the stone will keep it a bit cooler while you're trying to get the interior temp up. Actually, it's from the seriouseats link you have below.
Quote: "... to cook evenly, the top of the oven should be hotter than the stone. To achieve this, I cover the pizza stone top and bottom with loose fitting foil. This keeps it cool as the rest of the oven heats up. When I take a digital read of the stone, I point it at the foil and it actually reads the heat reflected from the top of the oven. When it hits 850, I take the foil off the top with tongs and then read the stone. It's about 700-725. Now I make my pizza."