Fire Escape Pizza Grilling

City living is tough in the summertime. It’s rare to have backyard access so most of us have to get through an entire summer waiting for invitations from friends with rare outdoor space. But some of us make do with what we have and the results are even more interesting because of the difficulties provided by circumstance. Case in point: my friend Michael Berman (of the recently relaunched makes stunning pizza using a tiny charcoal grill stationed on his third floor fire escape. He’s been boasting about these grilled pizzas for years and this week I finally had the opportunity to pay him a visit on a beautiful June day.

I was amazed at the simplicity of Michael’s operation. He made a bowl of dough but didn’t portion it out for even pies. Instead, he grabbed a hunk of however much he thought he needed and proceeded to stretch it aggressively on an overturned baking sheet perched on a dormant radiator. Instead of flouring the tray, he dosed it with olive oil. This proved crucial for grilling because it prevented the dough from sticking to the hot grate. The shapes he made were slightly oblong, which was perfect because of the way he performed the bake on such a tiny grill. 

He shifted all the coals to one side of the grill and baked his undressed dough skin directly over the heat. As soon as sufficient char was achieved, he flipped the crust, slid it away from the coals, an topped as needed. For pies with cheese that needed to be melted, Michael covered the grill with a lid. 

The results were totally delicious. I couldn’t stop eating slices. My favorites were the most gently topped, like this roasted cherry tomato parmigiano pizza. It’s key to play with the char you’re undoubtedly going to get when grilling directly on the grate. No need for a pizza stone in this situation; it would totally cool off on top and make a slower pie – not to mention taking up all the real estate on the grate, preventing hotdogs, hamburgers, portabello mushrooms, and the like from getting in on the action. This direct-on-grill method is awesome. Read more about it on Serious Eats.

Big thanks to Michael Berman for inviting me to his fire escape pizzeria! I hadn’t had grilled pizza in years but his ability to speedily bang out several different pies without heating up the apartment really made me rethink my current dependance on the oven. 


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