Wood-fired Pizza Recipe: Guide to a Perfect Pie

August 26, 2023

Wood-fired pizza might be the ultimate test of a grillmaster’s skills. First, you’ve got to make the dough, which lands you squarely in “baker” territory. Then you’ll test your talent at stretching a dough ball. After that, you’ve got to manage a blazing hot fire. But if you can master these skill sets, the results are so rewarding. I’m talking about pizza so good it will put the pizzeria around the corner to shame.

I love pizza, and I cook some up on my Kamado grill just about every Friday night. It’s a Smits family tradition at this point. I’ve played around with dozens of dough recipes, and I’m giving you my absolute favorite. I’m also here to spill the tea on my favorite tips and tricks for grilling up a delicious slice.

You might make every night “pizza night” once you get the hang of cooking pizza in your wood-fired oven. Let’s get to cooking!

Wood Fired Pizza Recipe

Neapolitan Pizza Recipe

My Neapolitan-style pizza dough is so good you could charge your guests money for eating it. This recipe provided is for a Margherita pizza, but you can make the dough and substitute whatever toppings please you. Just keep the toppings simple – no more than 3 per pizza. It’s easy to go overboard.

Making your own pizza dough at home is a bit of a chore, but once you get the hang of it the results are incredible. Grab your pizza peel and pizza stone, and let’s make some pizza.

Tools You’ll Need?

  • Pizza peel (also called a pizza paddle)
  • Pizza stone
  • Wood-fired oven (Although this is preferable, I’ve got instructions for other cookers later in this article. I am a fan of this model by Ooni.)

Prep time: 15 minutes to make the dough balls

Fermentation time: At least one day

Cook time: 60 seconds at 850°F

Makes: (3) 12-inch diameter pizzas

Dough Ingredients

  • 1 1/3 cup warm water (80°F-95°F)
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon dry active yeast
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (substitute canola or vegetable in a pinch)
  • 4 cups bread flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder

Pizza Ingredients

  • (1) 28 oz can whole San Marzano tomatoes for the tomato sauce. Crushed tomatoes work, too.
  • 6 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • Fresh basil leaves
  • 16 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt for serving
  • Red pepper flakes for serving
  • Grated parmesan cheese for serving
Wood-fired Margarita Pizza on White Parchment Paper

Make the Dough

  • Combine the wet ingredients. Combine the water, milk, yeast, sugar, salt, and extra virgin olive oil in a large bowl. If you have a stand mixer, use the bowl that attaches to it.
  • Add the dry ingredients. Add the baking powder and bread flour to the bowl.
  • Knead dough. If you’re using a mixer, use a dough hook attachment, and stir for 7 minutes on low speed. If you’re mixing by hand, lightly flour them, and knead for 7 minutes.
  • Divide the dough. Lightly dust a work surface. Divide the dough into 3 (12oz) balls on the lightly floured surface. Floured hands will help keep the dough off your fingers.
  • Refrigerate the dough balls. Place the balls on a greased baking sheet or in plastic bags coated with olive oil, and store them in the refrigerator for at least one day and up to four days. The time allows the yeast mixture in the dough ball to ferment, creating airy pockets in the pizza dough.
    When they’ve doubled in size, the dough is ready. The yeast has gone to work on the gluten and created rich, bready flavors.

    Note: after the dough ball has fermented in the fridge for a day, you can transfer it to the freezer and store it there indefinitely. (It’ll taste best if used within 6 months.) Allow frozen dough to come to room temp before stretching.

Make the Pizza

  • Preheat your pizza oven. Heat it up to 850°F. If you’re using a charcoal grill or Kamado cooker, get it as hot as you can. There’s more info on how to make this pizza on your grill after the recipe.
    Put your pizza stone, if using, in the oven while it’s warming up. You risk cracking it if you subject it to wild temperature swings. Some pizza ovens use a pizza stone at the bottom of the oven. Check yours to see what you’re working with.
  • Stretch dough. Allow the refrigerated dough ball to come to room temperature before trying to stretch. You’ll want a floured work surface to work the dough on. Lightly flour your counter or work surface. Flour your hands, too. Do not use a rolling pin – it removes all the bubbles the yeast worked so hard to make.
    Stretching dough can be a challenge, and the only way to get better is to practice. To stretch the dough, I use a combination of rotating the dough and stretching, stretching it with my fingertips while it’s on the counter, and holding it in the air, stretching with my knuckles, letting gravity pull the sides down. Check out this video if you’re stuck.
  • For best results, stretch it as thin as you can without tearing – the dough will rise and be perfectly chewy after you bake it. You want each pizza to be 12 inches in diameter. Have patience working the dough.
  • Make the pizza sauce. Stick the whole or crushed tomatoes and garlic in a food processor or blender and pulse until smooth.
  • Add the toppings. Spread 1/3 of the pizza sauce over each pizza. Place 1/3 of the thinly sliced mozzarella cheese on each pizza pie, then add as many basil leaves as you’d like. Drizzle some olive oil on the top of the pizza. Reserve the remaining toppings for after the pizza is cooked.
  • Bake the pizza. Generously, and I mean generously, sprinkle flour on your pizza peel. If the pizza dough gets stuck on the peel, you’ll have to pry it off with your fingers, and that pie you worked so hard to form into a circle will be ruined. Transfer the pizza to the pizza oven. Cook for approximately 1 minute, turning it with your peel every 15 seconds.
    At 850°F, the pizza is going to cook fast. Turning it helps ensure the edges don’t burn. A little bit of charred crust is great. Completely black edges or is not. Slide the peel under there, and rotate frequently.
  • Let it rest. When the dough looks crisp, and the cheese is melty and gooey, the pizza is done. If you’re not sure, pull the pizza from the pizza oven by sliding the peel under and checking. You can always cook it more.
    I let the pizza sit on a chopping board and cool off for around 5 minutes before I slice it up. You’ll burn your mouth if you don’t let it rest. Sprinkle some flaked kosher salt on the pizza while it’s sitting.
  • Feast. Time to enjoy your pizza creation. Cut the pizza into slices with a pizza wheel. Add red pepper flakes and/or parmesan cheese to individual slices, if desired.

Essential Techniques for Wood-Fired Pizza

Now that you’re armed with my favorite recipe, there are a few essential things I need to go over. How you cook something is as important as the recipe you follow. Follow this guide for the best homemade pizza on the block.

Get Your Grill or Wood Fired Oven HOT

One of the keys to cranking out pizza that will have your friends and family drooling is turning up the heat – conventional pizza ovens can hit temperatures of 1,000°F. While that’s not as hot as the face of the sun, it’s pretty darn hot. You want to get your pizza oven or wood-fired oven as hot as you can, in the 700°F to 900°F range.

If you don’t have a wood-fired pizza oven, fear not! You can use a charcoal grill or Kamado grill (these egg-style grills are excellent at getting extremely hot). Use lump charcoal, which burns hotter than charcoal briquettes and is made from wood. Toss some hickory or oak wood chunks on the fire, too, to boost that wood-fired pizza flavor. Use a pizza stone placed directly on the grill grate, and cook over high heat.

You may want to use another chimney of coals to raise the height of the coal bed (the pizza will be closer to the heat). This will also help crank up the heat.

If you’re using a home oven to bake the pie, the temperature likely maxes out around 500°F to 550°F. Crank up the heat and increase the cooking time to around 10 minutes.

Rotate the Pizza Frequently

One side of the grill or oven tends to get hotter than the others. Use a pizza peel to rotate the pizza often so you don’t end up with burned spots along the edge. Check out this video if you’re stuck.

If you’re using a wood-fired pizza oven, this means rotating 90 degrees every 15 seconds or so. In a 500°F oven, rotate the pie every 2 minutes or so.

Cook on a Preheated Pizza Stone

The key to a perfectly crispy crust is a preheated pizza stone. Warm it up when you’re warming up your pizza oven. The best crust is formed when you place the raw dough directly on the stone – don’t use parchment paper between the stone and the dough – the crust won’t get crispy.

Mix Up the Toppings

The dough and sauce work great with other toppings, so go with what you like. Classic pepperoni? You bet. Olives, onion, and pineapple? I’d try a slice!

If you’re using any meat, like chicken, sausage, or bacon, make sure it’s fully cooked before putting it on top of the pizza. Baking pizza in wood-fired ovens will not fully cook meat.

Swap out the classic red sauce with pesto. Or, try it with barbecue sauce, chicken, and onion. The options are truly limitless.

Freshly Baked Pizza with Garlic, Ginger, Sauce and Toppings

Final Thoughts

I’ve covered every tip and trick I know that will have you churning out delicious pizza in no time. The key to the dough is to let it ferment for at least a day (longer is even better – up to 4 days). Take your time and have patience when stretching the dough. Once you’re ready, hit that pizza with your favorite toppings. Just don’t go too crazy – let the wood-fired dough be the star of the show.

Cook the pizza as hot as you can, 850°F in a wood-fired oven. If you’re using a charcoal grill, get it as hot as you can and use extra coals if necessary. Cook that pizza on a pizza stone for a crust that is chewy, airy, and delicious. That’s all I’ve got. You’re ready to host a pizza party!

By John Smits
John bought his first home in 2012 and bought his first grill shortly afterward: the ubiquitous Weber kettle grill. He’s been hooked since the first time he fired up some coals. Now, after over a decade spent making countless delicious meals, John is a passionate advocate for live-fire cooking.
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