HARRISONBURG, Va. — Once, two summers ago, I tried to turn a kettle grill into an 800-degree coal oven. The pizza pictured is not the result of that experiment.

My ersatz coal oven produced no pizza. It used a whole bag of charcoal and never got over 500 degrees. It was no better than the oven in my then-apartment. I was disappointed and cursed/drank heavily through my failure.

There are ways to retrofit/hack a kettle grill into a pizza oven. They involve advanced metal-working skills and tools, both of which I do not possess. You can learn about them on the Internet. You also can buy a pizza-oven attachment for a kettle grill, which, according to reviews I’ve read, isn’t worth buying.

But it’s not impossible to fake an 800-degree-oven pizza. Using a Baking Steel — a stainless steel slab you put in your oven that conducts heat better than a pizza stone — and the oven’s hottest setting in tandem with the broiler, I made that pizza. You can see it. It’s the picture atop this post.

I started messing with pizza about 10 years ago and wasn’t good at making it until the last three or four years. It became, much like barbecue, a part-time obsession. I read books, the Internet and watched YouTube videos. I went (and still go) to New York primarily to eat pizza and ask questions — but not as often as I’d like. It’s expensive and there is, so far, no strike to get reporters at smallish newspapers $15 an hour. Maybe one day I can be fortunate enough to work in the fast-food industry…

Eventually, I devised this pizza recipe, which led to the Neapolitan-esque pizza pictured above:

  • 2 cups of flour (Caputo 00 if you’re fancy; bread or all-purpose work, too)
  • 1 cup to 1 1/2 cups of warm water
  • 2 tsp of salt (1 tsp per cup of flour)
  • 1 tsp of instant-rise yeast (1/2 tsp per cup of flour)

The sauce is just a strained-and-blended can of San Marzano tomatoes with a bit of extra-virgin olive oil and sugar. The cheese is torn from a mozzarella ball. Also on there is a bit of fresh basil. The dough recipe works for bread and rolls, too.

To cook the pizza, heat the oven, preferably with a pizza stone or Baking Steel inside, at its highest temperature for 30 minutes to an hour. Slide the assembled pizza onto the top rack (where the stone or Steel is) and turn on the broiler. If the bottom’s not done when the top is cooked, put the pizza in a pan on the stove.

This pizza is simple and relatively not awful for you. It’s also probably better than most pizzas you can order — especially in Harrisonburg, a noted black-hole pit of crushing pizza hell.


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