A Lot From a Little Series 1, Post 2: Grilled BBQ Smoked Chicken Pizza

I’m starting a new semi-regular feature here at Table for Two, in which I will try to offer some tips and tricks on eating well without breaking the bank, especially when cooking for a small number of people.

A Lot From A Little Series 1, Post 1: How to Smoke a Chicken

Now that you’ve smoked your chicken and broken it down, you’ve got this big pile of delicious, moist, smoky chicken meat staring you in the face and begging to be used. So, you might ask, what exactly do I do with this stuff?

Well, for starters, you could eat it, just as it is. Whip up a batch of cole slaw, boil or grill some corn on the cob, slice a few tomatoes and drizzle with EVOO and sprinkle with salt, and you’ve got yourself one hell of a tasty and healthy end-of-summer dinner. We’ve done meals like this with subtle variations many times in the past, and its always delicious.

Or, you can just use it wherever you might otherwise use roasted chicken. It’d make a killer chicken noodle soup, or be a really interesting riff on chicken parm if mixed with a light and acidic tomato sauce and baked with a bit of fresh mozzarell and basil on top. (In fact, I think I’ll be trying that next time…) Throw it in your favorite chicken pot pie or stew recipe, or sautee it in chili sauce for chicken enchiladas, burritos, or tacos. The light hickory smokiness would complement all of those things, and probably with very little recipe alteration.

However, if you’re looking for something perhaps a little more creative or interesting than standard comfort food, let me tell you what we did with ours.

The day we smoked it (which, btw, was a Sunday, and I absolutely recommend making this a weekend project so you can take your time with it and relax a bit while the bird takes its smoke bath – perhaps by sitting outside with a beer and a good book) we used some of the meat to make grilled pizza for dinner. We’ve been trying to perfect our grilled pizza method all summer and wanted to get one more attempt in before the weather gets too cool and the days too short for grilled dinners. And I have to say that this time around was the absolute best yet – still not quite perfect, but we’re close. So very, very close.

BBQ Chicken Pizza is hardly an original concept, and I have to admit that when its done right, I like it even better than regular tomato-and-mozzarella style pizza. I’m a sucker for sweet bbq sauce on just about anything, but when you throw in chicken and lots of cheese, well lets just say I’m not terribly proud of the lack of self-control I exhibit. Its downright shameful, it is. But I can’t help it.

But when we made up our minds to smoke this chicken, and decided to give the grilled pizza another shot, it was just a natural jump from there to realize that the smoked chicken would be a perfect topping for a slightly charred and crispy crust off the grill. And if we were going for smokey and charred, the next logical step was bbq.

I pulled my beloved Williams-Sonoma Essentials of Baking off the shelf and thumbed over to the Pizza Margherita recipe, whose dough has been the basis of my experiments so far. This time around I halved the recipe, and used half bread flour and half semolina flour instead of all bread flour. Who knew semolina would make such a difference? The dough was softer, silkier, and stretchier, and rolled out to a perfect thin-but-stable round for the pizzas. And when it went on the grill, it bubbled and puffed and charred just like it would in a real pizza oven. I can’t even describe how satisfying that was to watch – as soon as it started developing those big tell-tale bubbles, I knew I’d gotten it right.

Unfortunately our grill isn’t big enough to make the pizzas completely outdoors, as you need to be able to move them away from direct heat in order to top them on the grill without burning the bottoms, so we grilled both sides and then brought them inside to finish them off. The crusts were topped with a thin layer of J’s best-yet homemade sweet bbq sauce, followed by a generous amount of the shredded smoked chicken, some thin sliced red onions, a few slices of fresh mozzarella, and a generous sprinkling of an equal blend of shredded sharp cheddar and smoked gouda. The topped pizzas went on a baking sheet and under the broiler for just a few minutes until the cheese was melty and everything was hot, and the crust had taken on a bit more char around the edges.

When we took them out, this is what we got.

Looks pretty amazing, doesn’t it? Almost like real pizza. And it damn near was.

I know we’ll never achieve real pizzeria pizza at home without a brick oven – a standard kitchen oven will just never get hot enough. But I’m now a believer in grilled pizza as the best possible alternative – the high direct heat helps the dough to actually get crispy and to rise quickly enough to develop those big airy bubbles that I see as the hallmark of a real pizzeria pizza. And the crust this time was so, SO close to what I’ve been looking for in a homemade pizza crust. It was a bit on the dry side, perhaps, which I think I can remedy by adding more olive oil to the dough, and still a bit too dense and chewy in places, which I think could be fixed by letting it rise a bit longer than I did (which was almost not at all) to let the gluten develop. But I’m making progress, and I think next time I just might get it right.

But, I know, what you really want to know is how was the chicken on this pizza?

It was delicious. Perfect, really. The smokiness mellowed a bit among the sweet sauce, sharp onions, and creamy cheese, but was kept at the fore with the help of the smoked gouda. Everything melded into a near-perfect synchronous whole, all sitting atop that glorious crust… it was our best pizza effort to date.

And as a bonus, it was equally good the next day for lunch. Who says brown-bagging it has to be boring?

Next up in this series: Smoked Chicken Salad Over Greens.

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